Dictators have the right idea

INSIDE CRICKET
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The Independent Online
Ray Illingworth has always been a bit of a dictator. Ever since I have known him he has wanted everything in his own half, and preferably his own quarter. The good thing about this approach in a hands-on chairman is that it can breed similarly tough cricketers, which is exactly what is needed today to win Test matches.

The Lord's game was a prime example. Five consecutive days of intense cricket like that leaves players exhausted. Illingworth seems to be having a positive effect on the players, and the team was up to the challenge of a draining match.

Credit for the improvements that appear to have been made is also due to the batting and bowling coaches, John Edrich and Peter Lever. They are a pair of determined former professionals, whose mental durability as players will have been what appealed most to Illingworth when he appointed them.

I thought that their role would be as much to develop the side's mental approach as to iron out flaws in technique. It is a bit late for the latter, but on the evidence of Lord's they have made progress on the former.

These three wise heads also seem to be making progress in developing a strong sense of team spirit. Although seven of the Lord's side played a part on the tour to Australia, they would not have become a close unit during their time away. There are so many off-field distractions in Australia that players tend to go their own way.

In contrast, the Test teams I toured with to India and Pakistan became pretty close-knit for the following summer's home series. On the subcontinent players tend to make solid bonds. The signs are that the core of the Australian tour is belatedly coming together in the same way.

The personal challenge as professionals for the players after the high of Lord's will have been to motivate themselves for the NatWest Trophy games involving minor counties.

Dominic Cork managed it for Derbyshire against Cambridgeshire, but decided to sit out the County Championship game against Hampshire, another sign of how tough the last Test was. Cork's A-team tour experience served him well, though, when it mattered on the fifth day, which would have been uncharted territory for him had he not gone to India.

Playing the minor counties is one of the beauties of the NatWest Trophy, but the full-timers are on to a hiding to nothing. Although the first- class counties are overwhelming favourites, upsets can and do happen.

The minor counties are more than competent. They can muster a select Under-25 team for the Second XI limited-over competition, the Bain Hogg Trophy, and Northants were beaten by them on Friday. Cumberland's Marcus Sharp bowled well against us and Mark Fell was the top scorer with 78.

Sharp had produced a good spell against Worcestershire in the NatWest Trophy and Fell had scored 140 in the last round of Bain Hogg games, so both players were brimming with confidence against us.

Confidence is the other great thing about the forthcoming Test. After winning at Lord's, the England players will be full of self-belief. Add that to the benefits from the psychological input from Illingworth and his assistants and it is a strong combination for the players to have in their heads at Edgbaston.

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