Scene-stealing England leave audience on tenterhooks

The best day's cricket I have seen was definitely at Edgbaston a year ago, when a World Cup semi-final between the two best teams in the one-day game ebbed and flowed like a Test match on speed before ending in a tie. The best day's Test cricket? That's trickier. Was it last Friday, when England bowled out the West Indies for 54, or Saturday, when they suddenly remembered how to bat and inched to an outrageous victory on a muggy evening in London. Bliss it was in that dusk to be alive, but to be at Lord's was very heaven.

The best day's cricket I have seen was definitely at Edgbaston a year ago, when a World Cup semi-final between the two best teams in the one-day game ebbed and flowed like a Test match on speed before ending in a tie. The best day's Test cricket? That's trickier. Was it last Friday, when England bowled out the West Indies for 54, or Saturday, when they suddenly remembered how to bat and inched to an outrageous victory on a muggy evening in London. Bliss it was in that dusk to be alive, but to be at Lord's was very heaven.

What a shame, the pundits have been saying, that the Test series now takes a month-long break. I'm not so sure. The place to put a major scene is either at the end of the show or just before the interval. This match was so full of drama and interest that we will still be talking about it next year, never mind next month. And the idea that England will lose momentum is highly arguable.

It's when Tests come back to back that beaten teams make instant comebacks - as England did, against the West Indies, in Port-of-Spain two years ago. The West Indians now have weeks to brood on how on earth they let England escape, how they can possibly not be winning a series they have dominated for three-quarters of the time. Even Curtly Ambrose, back home on the beach to rest his apparently untiring limbs, will ask himself if he got it wrong for once in his life. (Answer: yes. His length was neither one thing nor the other - not short enough to put fear into the batsmen, nor full enough to take the edge as the ball seamed prodigiously. Let's face it, Curtly, you were Mike Hendrick with a better haircut.)

Another temptation is to paint the game as a glorious one-off, of the kind that has become almost as much of an England speciality as inglorious collapses. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. Well, no, it's not, but Friday's final session was as close as England cricket teams get to waging war. The batsmen were not so much attacked as subjected to aerial bombardment. Alec Stewart, the sergeant-major taking over from a wounded officer, radiated belligerence. The bowlers were disciplined, calculating and ruthless, as they had been against Zimbabwe on the same turf a month earlier. There was even a parade.

There is plenty for England to take away from this match and deploy when battle resumes, as long as they use the powers of analysis for which Stewart is, shall we say, not famous. The fact that Nasser Hussain could not play looks more like a blessing in disguise. On the field, Hussain's tactical acumen was missed only for the first two sessions. In the whole second innings, Stewart needed to make just one bowling change.

In a match in which no England batsman made more than 50 in both innings combined, an out-of-form Hussain is unlikely to have made more than the 45 that his understudy, Michael Vaughan, managed. And by being there but not there, sitting on the balcony with Duncan Fletcher, Hussain has the best possible chance of seeing which bits of this historic match to learn from, which to try and repeat and which to ignore.

The vital lesson lies in the part played by Dominic Cork. At the start, Darren Gough and Andy Caddick had one of their off-hours and the West Indies raced to 50. Stewart brought on Matthew Hoggard and Cork, the debutant and the comeback kid, and they restored a measure of order. Hoggard started well - for a debutant. He flagged at the end of his first spell and, in his second, he showed his inexperience by feeding Franklyn Rose's legside hoicks. Meanwhile, Cork started quietly, then, when the wind got behind him, he found his swing, switched on the aggression, and, helped by a good catch from Hoggard, turned the tide. From then on, every little thing he did was magic: four wickets in the first innings, three in the second, two catches, and finally, triumphantly, some calculated risks with the bat, to make sure not only that England won but that they got there on Saturday. And Hoggard? He was not needed. If he had been, he would have been quite entitled to collapse in a heap.

The moral of the story is: don't pick a boy when you can pick a man, and don't bother with rabbits when you can pick a decent lower-order batsman.

Cork had seen England through in a run-chase before, at Christchurch in 1996-97. He is used to running the show for Derbyshire (probably the most political cricket club in the world). He is a big figure. He is a far, far better pick than Hoggard, or Ed Giddins, or Chris Silverwood, or Alan Mullally.

We need more like Cork. Which is no problem, because we have got them. Who was more likely to take wickets on a seaming surface at Lord's: Matthew Hoggard or Angus Fraser? The old workhorse might be surprised to find himself likened to the man once unkindly described as a show-pony, but they share a will to win and an ability to make things happen. The rest of this series is going to be as tight as a disgraced South African captain. Private Fraser, your country needs you. And there can not be any jibes about Dad's Army, because you are not half as old as Curtly or Courtney.

Graham Thorpe must come back too. There are mutterings about his demeanour off the field but, on it, he shows as much skilful combativeness as any England batsman. Mark Ramprakash should join him in the middle order, where he averages 41 in his past four series. And please, General Graveney, either free Stewart to get back in the runs (since his hundred against Zimbabwe, he has made 84 in six Test innings) by calling up Jack Russell, or make proper use of the spare place at No 7 by giving it to a batsman rather than a patently redundant fifth seamer.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly and wisden.com.

News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballDoes Hodgson's England team have an identity yet?
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss