Tudor fights back from shadowlands

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The Independent Online

REMEMBER Alex Tudor? Young guy, big smile. Bowls fast, bats - so they say in Wisden - like an overgrown Gavaskar. That is in this year's Wisden by the way, just in case you are having trouble with the memory. They say it is the ecstasy that does it. Memory loss. Then again it might just be the relationship English cricket has with its bright young things.

REMEMBER Alex Tudor? Young guy, big smile. Bowls fast, bats - so they say in Wisden - like an overgrown Gavaskar. That is in this year's Wisden by the way, just in case you are having trouble with the memory. They say it is the ecstasy that does it. Memory loss. Then again it might just be the relationship English cricket has with its bright young things.

Saturday's Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final against Glamorgan gives Surrey's Tudor the stage on which to jog some memories. There is the 99 not out that overturned New Zealand at Edgbaston last year: full of strokes, out of the blue and one of the few sunny spots in England's miserable summer. Before that there were the deliveries that whistled out the Waugh twins at Perth, his first Test wickets. Sharp and, more to the point, well "shaped", as the vernacular has it. At 21 Tudor looked to have the world at his feet. Instead he went in the knee and was forced to pull out of last year's Second Test at Lord's.

The injury meant he also missed much of Surrey's season, including their NatWest semi-final against Somerset. "I was a foot-soldier by then," Tudor recalls as he looks forward to Saturday's game at Cardiff. "This is my sixth season and I've never played in a final or a semi-final. They're a great spectacle. You get more spectators, so you want to put it on; to perform in front of the crowd."

There are the cameras as well to put it on for. The opportunity to remind the cricket world that Alex Tudor is not the forgotten man you would think he was from reading reports on last winter's tour of South Africa. The general consensus was that his bowling had gone backwards. "What on earth has gone on?" asked David Lloyd, England's coach when he was taken to Australia as a wild-card selection.

Tudor can answer that as well as anyone. He is an articulate young man with a realistic appraisal of where his career stands. He was coming back from that knee injury. He was looking for time to build up gradually towards the Test matches. The deck did not fall that way. "Myself and Darren [Gough] went out to South Africa and we weren't 100 per cent, no way. Then Dean Headley went down early, so I had to play in games when I was hoping instead to get in the gym and do some work on my fitness. I played in five of the out-games, but when you're trying to find your form you need time to bowl. The team's trying to win games, so you don't always get to bowl as many overs as you can. I was coming in off my short run-up and that held me back as well."

He admits he is not a great net bowler. There is only so much you can do in the nets, he thinks, and he would not be alone there. He has a lot of time for the work Bob Cottam put in with him - the same Bob Cottam, incidentally, whose role as bowling coach was downsized last week. Even so, bowlers get their best practice by bowling in the middle. You can experiment to your heart's content in the nets; you do not know if it works until you have gone against batsmen in a match.

Saturday brings Tudor and his Surrey team-mates up against one of the best opening batsmen playing county cricket. "He's a fine player," he says of Glamorgan's Matthew Elliott. "It shows how strong Australia are when he can't get into their Test side. I played against him when I toured there." And bowled him for eight, he could have added.

"There's him and Matthew Maynard, a great strokemaker. They're going to be the key wickets for us. But then if you key those players, someone else like Michael Powell and Crofty [Robert Croft], who opens up a bit, can be just as dangerous. It's important we put on a good bowling display to keep them down to as low as we can. Totals at Cardiff haven't been too high this season, so it could be a low-scoring game."

Tudor knows he will not want to give away as many runs as in the quarter-final against Yorkshire. But he did take two top-order wickets and, amazing as it sounds, this was his first experience of Headingley, other than an England Under-19 game there five years ago, when he and Andrew Flintoff opened the bowling. "It's very difficult coming downhill there. I like to run in, but at Headingley you have to let the hill take you with it. I struggled early on, but then I got into it."

Should Surrey beat Glamorgan, they will look back to the day they thought their B&H campaign was a done dog. By the time they played Hampshire in the last qualifying round, Surrey had managed only one win, courtesy of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis, plus some points from three rained-off games. When Hampshire beat them in a 10-over slog at The Oval, they assumed that was it.

"Then all of a sudden Charles Colvile came in and said, 'You're playing Yorkshire at Headingley'." Surrey had gone through on run-rate as one of the best third-place teams in the groups. "From hearing a pin drop in the dressing-room, everyone was shouting and yelling. We were elated." Given the fickle way sport goes about things, who is to say the side that scraped into the quarter-finals won't go all the way to Lord's?

"We're a confident bunch," Tudor continues. "We fancy ourselves against anyone, and we know we can't afford to be complacent. Teams are going to be out there trying to beat us. People talk about the talent we have here, but if it doesn't perform, it's no good. If we do perform the way we know we can, though, I don't feel there's many who can stay with us."

What everyone wants to know is just how well Alex Tudor can perform. At 22 he still has time on his side, but people, especially England selectors, have short memories. "It's a case of working hard at Surrey and doing as well as I can. Duncan Fletcher came and spoke to a few of us recently. I know I'm still in their thoughts. I wouldn't be playing the game if I didn't think I'd be good enough to play for England. That's my goal." Look out for him on Saturday. He is the one with the smile.

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