On the Front Foot: Gatting wants a few 'kicks up bums' as hopefuls head Down Under

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The Independent Online

It might not have been Australia's week (stop laughing at the back) but English cricket still knows where it can learn. This winter 18 cricketers between the ages of 19 and 21 are off to various Antipodean cities to try to become cricketers who can cope with responsibility.

"There is a different culture in Australia, that's just the way it is," said Mike Gatting, the England and Wales Cricket Board's managing director of cricket partnerships, offering the reason for the scholarship programme if not for his convoluted job title. It will not be a jolly in Australia, insists Gatting: "They'll have to work hard. I don't want to be unkind, but we've had a few too many pats on the back and not enough kicks up the bum in our coaching in this country in the past few years."

The ECB will spend £1 million on the programme in the next four years. Gatting thinks Australia is the perfect place to learn how to play tough cricket, to try to win from any situation. "We want them to take responsibility, and grade cricket there can do that. But I'll also look at South Africa."

Six players in the 16-to-18 age group have also been awarded scholarships. Not all in the 19-to-21 group meet the criteria: John Sadler, of Derbyshire, is coming up 27. Every county has provided a player except Worcestershire, where presumably they will be too busy mopping up water to bother playing cricket Down Under.

Lewry not oldest

swinger in town

Talking of age, it will not have delighted everyone that Jason Lewry has signed for Sussex for another year. Lewry, still the best swing bowler in England, will be 38 by the start of next season. He deserves his year. Of course, he will not be the oldest bowler around. That honour will go to Andrew Caddick, 40 later this month, and determined to have at least one more full season. Mark Ealham will be 40 before next season is out – what a smart piece of business it was by Kent to release him to Notts four years ago. Dominic Cork, now of Hampshire, will be 38 and Martin Saggers of Kent will be 37. Bowlers do not fade away quietly any longer.

Udal turns back the clock

Of all the touching stories about old cricketers not leaving the crease, none beats that of Shaun Udal. Pensioned off by Hampshire last year, Udal, 40 in March, suddenly finds himself in charge of Middlesex this winter. He will be in Antigua this week and in India for next month's Champions League. "I had a bit of coaching and after-dinner speaking lined up when Hampshire let me go," he said. What a story he can tell now.

Malik is still out of line

On the grounds that people should be rehabilitated, it was good to see that Salim Malik's life ban after being found guilty of match-fixing has been lifted by a lowly Pakistani court. But nobody should think Malik was innocent of the charges. The trouble with exoneration is that a murky recent episode is being quietly forgotten. The consequences could be serious.

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