Lectures and plans do not work in a crisis, strong men do

England have been here before. And there is a way out if they have the character to find it
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The Independent Online

Duncan Fletcher will change very little before Tuesday's Fifth Test here. Nor should he. When a team are on the verge of a 5-0 whitewash, the last thing the coach needs to do is transmit panic to his players. The groundwork should have been completed by now and any tinkering will have only a detrimental effect.

Fletcher will remind the team of the plans they have in place and attempt to instil some belief into his demoralised party. Videos of happier and more successful times will be aired to show the batsmen they can score runs against Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath. The bowlers will watch footage of Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden being dismissed.

But all of that will disappear into the ether once the players leave the sanctuary of the dressing room. Standing at the end of your run-up with the new ball in your hand is a lonely experience when you fear that it may be clobbered for four. As is waiting for a bowler to run in and bowl the first ball at you when you know that the slightest mistake could result in a hasty and humiliating return to the pavilion. Once you are out in the middle the game becomes a test of desire and your willingness to compete.

Experience is a word often used by Fletcher when his team have been beaten and the old handsneed to show the way now. Expecting Alastair Cook or Sajid Mahmood to resist a rampant Australia is unfair. It is Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and Andrew Flintoff who need to step forward now.

This is not the first England side to find themselves in such a miserable position. Four years ago, Nasser Hussain's men travelled to Sydney under the same black cloud. Fortune then smiled on Hussain, however. Injury prevented Warne and McGrath from playing and England pulled off a memorable - if only consolatory - win.

A whitewash also appeared imminent during the winter of 1993-94 when the mighty West Indies stormed to a 3-0 lead after three games in the five-Test series. Michael Atherton's side, of which I was a member, were as despondent then as these tourists are now.

We had just been bowled out for 46 in Trinidad. West Indies used only two bowlers in the second innings - Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh - and extras (with seven) were the second highest scorer after Alec Stewart with 18.

It is hard to believe matters could have got worse but they promptly did in Grenada where we played a West Indies Board XI. We put in the most abject performance imaginable and were thumped by eight wickets.

So as we travelled to fortress Barbados, where West Indies had won their previous 12 matches and had not lost a Test since 1934-35, it was not surprising that "whitewash" was all anyone was talking about.

My wife claims that it was the arrival of the player's families that allowed England to produce a remarkable turnabout. She may have a point. Seeing loved ones for the first time in 12 weeks and spending time with your children did put what was taking place into some sort of perspective. When we were away from a cricket ground the conversation was, for once, not about cricket. The current squad's families, by contrast, have been here since before the First Test.

When asked about our chances in the build-up to the Barbados Test, Keith Fletcher, then our coach, is believed to have said: "Well, funnier things have happened."

And they did. But not because Atherton made a Churchillian speech or Fletcher found a brilliant new way of dealing with Ambrose and Walsh. What happened was simply that three or four senior players rose above the wreckage and performed.

Sitting in a corner and feeling sorry for yourself will get you nowhere. This Test in Sydney is a test of character and we will see how much some of the current England side possess.

Back then in Barbados there were ironic cheers from the huge number of England fans when Atherton punched an on-drive for four to take us past 46. He and Stewart put on 171 for the first wicket, with Stewart going on to score the first of two brilliant hundreds in the match.

When West Indies batted, I managed to burgle eight wickets to give England a handy lead. Stewart and Graham Thorpe then took the home side's pace quartet apart, pulling and cutting all over the famous old ground. Andrew Caddick and Philip Tufnell then shared eight wickets before Chris Lewis knocked out two of Ambrose's stumps to complete the most satisfying victory of my career.

Caddick, Thorpe, Tufnell and myself revelled in the win but it was Atherton and Stewart who set it up by providing strength and determination when it mattered most. Do this side possess players with similar qualities?

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