Those who think Australian, play Australian

Marsh is not a man to make a banquet out of a cheese biscuit. He demands performance levels below which there is simply no future
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The Independent Online

After Mark Ramprakash made what seemed like his breakthrough century for England in the West Indies a few years ago, he stood in the shower for some time, letting the water wash over him in a strange and deeply personal purging of all the years of frustration. Later, you had to be impressed with the ferocity of his ambition to build on that achievement which had been so elusive.

Strange, then, that Ramprakash should in the last few days have been such a forceful voice against the appointment of Rodney Marsh as head of the new England cricket academy. If ever there was a cricketer open to the value of new ideas, a new approach, one that might just unlock the imprisoned talent of a player as gifted but tortured as himself, you would have thought Ramps would have been the man. But, no, Ramprakash thought the job should have gone to an Englishman, Gatting or Gooch, he didn't seem to mind, but an Englishman for sure.

It makes such a forlorn statement about so much of the thinking in English cricket. It seems to say that somehow we will muddle through, and that to give the reins to such a rumbustious Aussie as Marsh is a kind of defeat. It is in fact quite the opposite. It is to signal terminal weariness of defeat. It is to admit that we are roundly stumped.

Some may say that we are in danger of giving too much reverence to the Australian way of doing things in sport, that the last of our resolve is draining away and that we cannot re-make it with a job-lot of Australian coaches. Of course we cannot. But we can be wise enough to recognise long-standing deficiencies. We can say that in so many areas of sport we have simply lost our way, and that if the Australians have found a superior way only pig-headed chauvinism prevents us from taking some advantage.

Certainly that was the approach of the British swimming authorities when they appointed their Australian performance director, Bill Sweetenham. At the Olympics last year our swimmers were almost as futile as the Irish team at Montreal in 1976, which provoked Peter Byrne of the Irish Times to write: "Good news from the Olympic pool – none of our swimmers drowned." Last week, Britain picked up seven medals at the World Championships in Japan, and Sweetenham's reaction was significant. "We're not on track yet," he declared. "We still need a massive change of attitude from the governing bodies."

That is the style English cricket has bought into with the signing of the formidable, reformed hell-raiser Marsh. Like the swimming guru, he is not a man to make a banquet out of a cheese biscuit. He demands performance levels below which there is simply no future. Shane Warne learned that on his conversion from beach bummery. Marsh's other proven knack is in recognising high talent and then drawing it out.

It is here that the differences between Australia and England in an Ashes series which has already become a travesty of competitive values has been so painful. While an Australian Test player of the competence of Justin Langer is obliged to give way to Damien Martyn, a batsman in the hottest of form, England's chairman of selectors, David Graveney, talks about the value of the untried Nottinghamshire batsman Usman Afzaal as a "street fighter". One of the keys to street fighting is knowing what you are up against. In the first Test at Edgbaston, Afzaal, rather embarrassingly, squared up to Warne and promptly had his wickets mown down. As Steve Waugh deploys his troops, Graveney plays a game of chance and speculation.

Wherever you look in the English game you are confronted by waste. It was poignant over the weekend to hear the view of some experts that Phil Tufnell had bowled himself back into contention, only to listen to Graveney explaining why Robert Croft, a splendid pro but with Test figures of bewildering feebleness, had again got the nod. It is wearisome to hear so often that Tufnell remains the best slow bowler in the country, but that his nature betrayed any chance of a sustained impact. Inevitably, you think of the bolshie young beach boy Warne. What might Marsh have made of Tufnell?

Or John Crawley? The Lancashire captain, who has a Test average of 37 plus and is still two months short of his 30th birthday, scored nearly 200 runs in the Roses match over the weekend. He batted with depth and composure, and it was easy to remember him performing with much promise at the Sydney Cricket Ground against well-stacked odds a few years ago. What went wrong? The usual things, not least the absence of someone to shake into him an awareness of what he had to win – and lose. Someone like Rodney Marsh.

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