CRICKET:England left hoping for a midsummer rest-cure

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The Independent Online
Unless you have taken a camping holiday in the middle of the Nullabour Plain, there is no shortage of ways to amuse yourself in Australia in midsummer, although this will currently be of small consolation to the thousands of England supporters who had been hoping to watch their team playing cricket over the next six days.

When it comes to buying tickets, it is not much less touching an act of faith to fork out for an Elvis Presley concert than for an event in which England have to pre-qualify, and their supporters are now having to decide between watching Australia play Australia reserves two or three times, or making paper aeroplanes out of their match tickets and heading for the beach.

Australians, too, are slightly miffed that England have fouled up in their World Series competition, and are now faced with the problem of deciding which of their own teams to cheer for. However, it scarcely seems to matter to them who is playing in a day-nighter (most of the cheering on Thursday revolved around people bouncing a beach ball around the SCG grandstands) and bumper attendances are guaranteed for both or all the best-of-three finals.

England, meanwhile, will be indulging in what their captain, Michael Atherton, described as "much needed rest and recuperation", although some are less in need of this than others. In fact, if Joey Benjamin gets any more R&R on this trip he will have to be helped to his feet and taught how to walk again.

So desperate were England to qualify that for their final game they abandoned their oft-stated stance of not selecting from outside the official squad, and thrust the accidental passer-by, Chris Lewis, into the fray ahead of Benjamin, with little thoughtapparently given either to Lewis's past performances or his lack of match preparation. Atherton even chose to bowl Lewis (who has now been released to await the next injury call-up) in the final-slog overs, having already used up Angus Fraser's allocation. It was a high-risk gamble, and no surprise that Atherton lost his shirt on it.

However, Benjamin's match preparation was not appreciably greater than Lewis's, given that his profile on this tour has been so low that he could have been on every Interpol Wanted poster throughout Australia and comfortably evaded detection. Since earlyNovember, Benjamin has bowled 45.3 overs in Australia, which works out to a stamina-sapping three deliveries per day.

There was not much consolation for any England supporter on Tuesday night, save perhaps those from Yorkshire, who discovered that their new overseas signing, Michael Bevan, does after all know one end of a bat from the other.

Bevan is a high-class player who has merely been horribly out of touch, a fate which has recently befallen Graham Gooch.

Gooch again got himself out on Tuesday by failing to persuade his feet to move, and if he has now adopted Ray Illingworth's entreaties for the players to talk to themselves more, a sample of Gooch's dialogue would probably be: "silly old bugger, you should have stayed at home and spent the winter watching the Hammers."

It would be a tragedy if the player who has been far and away England's best batsman over the past five years was now to end his international career batting like Philip Tufnell in a blindfold, and it is also a case of a tour too far for another waning veteran, Mike Gatting.

He might have made a double century in Toowoomba, but on the bigger stage, Gatting has consistently fluffed his lines. Had Atherton named names when he went public on not getting the team he wanted out here, he would have mentioned both the inclusion of Gatting and the exclusion of Fraser - and the captain has made no serious attempt to point to anyone other than Illingworth on this particular subject.

However, it will take a more powerful voice than Atherton's to convince his chairman that he might have got something wrong. If his predecessor, Lord Ted, was "not aware of any errors" he might have made during the course of one summer, Illy could cast his mind back to the cradle and arrive confidently at the same opinion.

Darren Gough got an inkling of this when he asked Illy what he thought of his left-handed shots in the World Series game against Australia, doubtless thinking, foolish boy, that he was in for a word of two of admiration." Eh, lad," Illy said, "you'd never have got away with that if I'd been bowling."

Illingworth, however, was astute enough to be among the first to spot Gough's massive potential, and Gough's premature departure makes it difficult to see how England can realise their one remaining objective on this tour, and win one or both of the final two Test matches. Still, thanks to Thursday's result, they will have plenty of spare time in which to plan their strategy.

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