Onwards, upwards - and around in a full circle

Cricket Diary

You will have noticed that we are constantly being told England are at last going onwards and upwards. This is probably so, though it is perhaps pertinent to note how they are making the trip.

You will have noticed that we are constantly being told England are at last going onwards and upwards. This is probably so, though it is perhaps pertinent to note how they are making the trip.

David Graveney has been chairman of selectors since 1997, in which time England have played 39 Tests, making a total of 429 caps. Six of the side who played in Graveney's first Test in charge (remember it: Edgbaston, June 1997, the incredible victory against Australia?) also appeared against West Indies at The Oval.

Between them this sextet have won 185, some 43 per cent of those caps. The men in question are Alec Stewart (39), Nasser Hussain (36), Mike Atherton (35), Andrew Caddick (26), Darren Gough (26) and Graham Thorpe (23).

Yet, as if to confirm how difficult the art of selection is and how Graveney and his cohorts might have been casting around in the dark until now, the remaining 217 caps have gone to no fewer than 38 players.

Of these, 25 have played in five matches or fewer, although it should be noted that five of those are on this winter's tour. Ashley Giles, Ian Salisbury and Craig White are part of Graveney's continuing belief in the comeback, while Matthew Hoggard and Marcus Trescothick represent the category known as the next good thing.

The tour party, bizarrely announced last Monday, is shorn of 10 of the players who embarked for South Africa last autumn. Eight who did not make that trip are making this one, just seven have been retained. That septet includes five of what might be called the Graveney Six, Thorpe being the odd one out, having declined to tour last year.

Hussain, the England captain, has stressed often that they are proceeding towards a settled unit, although five of the side who played against Zimbabwe in the first Test of this summer are not in the last three months later. Two who were announced with a fanfare, Steve Harmison and Chris Schofield, are not on tour, and Harmison has yet to play a Test.

The six picked for The Oval who are not in the Graveney Six - Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Craig White, Dominic Cork, Ashley Giles and even Graeme Hick - should know that precedent is not on their side. The axe surely awaits.

 

Cricket, as in Jiminy the insect, and cricket as in the greatest of games, have a different etymology. The creature comes from the Old French word criquer, meaning to creak, referring to the sound made when they rub their legs together; the game comes possibly from the Old English cric or creag, but nobody is sure.

None the less, the two could be synonymous, as the Zoological Society of London said last week. The society have made it their mission to save the British field cricket (apparently the other cricket does not now need saving). If action had not been taken in 1991, they would have been extinct in six years.

So, the society now regularly release captive-bred crickets into the wild, and areas near rural cricket pitches happen to be perfect haunts. They thrive on short, tussocky grass near bare ground.

Mike Edwards, consultant entomologist to the society, said: "Many sites actually used to be near cricket grounds and are now heathland. We have also introduced several crickets to places very close to cricket grounds."

Last week 1,000 crickets were released in Hampshire at Broxhead Common, near Lindford cricket pitch. And at Arundel Castle cricket club, the groundsman Colin Dick makes it his business to ensure that crickets and cricket live in harmony. "If only that site was bigger for breeding purposesit would be perfect," said Edwards.

 

Apart from England's renaissance after 31 years, the other landmark in the Fifth Test was the passing of Cornhill. The once small-time insurance company, now owned by a German concern, are withdrawing from cricket after sponsoring 131 home Test matches, more than any England player has appeared in.

The firm were recruited in 1978 after the game had been split asunder by Kerry Packer. They are easily the game's most enduring sponsors, and while nobody doubts their commitment to the cause it has not all been plain England sailing under their aegis.

Of Cornhill's matches, England have won 39, lost 43 and drawn 48, a win record of 30 per cent. In away Tests during that time they have won 22 from 106, or 19 per cent, making an overall 25 per cent victory record.

This compares with pre-Cornhill England, when a total of 536 games yielded 199 wins, a ratio of 37.12 per cent. It was obvious that this had to be improved, and 22 years was quite long enough to prove that it was not going to happen.

BOOK MARK

As the analyst for Channel 4, Simon Hughes has added a valuable new dimension to the art of explanation, albeit in a somewhat deadpan tone with a voice that was not created for the microphone. He is funnier, with the added bonus that you do not have to listen to the undulcet tones, in his latest autobiographical book, Yakking Round The World, a sequel to his deservedly award- winning A Lot Of Hard Yakka.

Hughes takes us to the cricketing places that he has visited and awards marks. England's winter tourists might like to know that only Pretoria in South Africa receives fewer than Pakistan's 12 from 30: "Just don't go there for a beach holiday. The only bit of sand I found was littered with rabid dogs and old car tyres, and the local women were paddling in veils," writes our hero.

Man in the middle

In his third and most recent Test match he made 99 not out and England won the match. It was the highest score by an English nightwatchman. Alex Tudor (right) was then injured and has not played another Test. His tour of South Africa was marred by injury and poor performance. If he is to have an international future, it is, of course, as a fast bowler, and the signs are that he may be responding to the pressure to perform. He reduced Yorkshire to tatters at Scarborough last week, and has been put on standby for England this winter. Tudor began at 17 and we should be aware that he will not be 23 until next month.

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