On the Front Foot: No fumbles or dropped catches – that's Halsall's field of dreams

What this Ashes tour has done (so far, for let there be no crowing, counting of chickens or any other foraging in the menagerie) is to reinforce the status of the specialist coach. Far from everyone's liking – some former players would ban all coaches and let the players get on with it, though they tend to be the ones who make their living in the media rather than through direct involvement with the game that made them – this England team adore their backroom staff.

So that, for instance, Richard Halsall, the fielding guru, is credited in almost every interview with the indubitably raised standards of ground fielding, throwing at stumps and catching in all areas. It is Halsall's ambition to record the perfect game – no fumbles, missed throws or catches – which did not happen in Adelaide last week during the excellent innings-and-71-runs win in the Second Test. Harsh judgement it may be, but there were two dropped caught-and-bowled chances (Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad) and one missed behind by Matt Prior after a ball from Graeme Swann spat viciously from the pitch. Frequently mentioned, too, is the great Graham Gooch, whose method is simple and effective.

He stresses to the players the importance of not wasting starts, of going on and on once in. Now, it may be thought odd that a professional batsman had not recognised the importance of big hundreds as opposed to small ones but there you are. Dr Mark Bawden, the team psychologist, now regularly crops up in interviews as having an influence on performance. Maybe all this is because the team are winning, but maybe it is because all these chaps really are helping them to win.

Why did he get the Beer in?

There was much surprise about Australia's amended squad for the Third Test in Perth. The selection of the 26-year-old left-arm spinner Michael Beer, after only five first-class games, was stunning. It prompted Steve Bernard, the Australian team manager, to tweet yesterday: "The changes to the 3rd Test squad has attracted quite a bit of interest. I have not seen Michael Beer play or met him. I look forward to it." Might it be the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Miller's tales go down well

Remember the Schofield Report? That was the inquiry into English cricket that was launched after the 5-0 Ashes loss four years ago, involving some of the great and good of the game. Among its recommendations, most of which were quietly ditched, were that a selector should always accompany the team abroad (this was because the coach at the time, Duncan Fletcher, virtually ignored selectors). The duty man for this part of the tour has been the full-time chairman, Geoff Miller, who must be feeling justifiably pleased with the turn of events. Miller is still somehow finding time between his duties to pursue his other career as an after-dinner speaker, and addressed a black-tie dinner at the MCG on Friday night.

Can't duck the issue

When England play at the MCG it invariably recalls the first international match to be played in Australia. On New Year's Day 1862, Heathfield Stephenson's England XI started their three-day match in Melbourne against a Victoria XVIII. Stephenson, who had raised a team of English professionals for the tour, led the side to victory by an innings and 96 runs. No fewer than 16 ducks were recorded by 13 of the 18 members of the home side (there were three pairs). So far it has not been suggested that the Australians may once more require 18 to take on the Englishmen.


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