England's arithmetic all wrong

TEXACO TROPHY: Lara leads the way as West Indies batsmen toy with mediocre bowling to win first one-day international
Click to follow
The Independent Online
England 199-9

West Indies 201-5

West Indies win by five wickets

So much for the prophets of doom. There is nothing wrong with English cricket that a spot of tuition in the basics would not put right, and Raymond Illingworth yesterday launched his 1995 coaching clinic with one of his wilier observations. "We have got to remind our bowlers," he said "that there are six balls in an over."

If only Micky Stewart and Keith Fletcher had not mysteriously failed to alert their troops to this piercing tactical insight, English cricket today would be one long round of champagne parties and ticker-tape receptions. And now for the chairman/manager's next lesson: "We have got to remind our batsmen that propelling the ball across the perimeter rope would, as far as is possible to glean from the regulations, count as four."

So it is, after all, a problem that goes right back to the schools. Not so much that they now play more rounders and netball than cricket, but that the state curriculum no longer appears to include lessons in mathematics. This is why the Texaco Trophy arithmetic before today's second contest at The Oval stands at 0-1 rather than 1-0.

Illingworth was, of course, referring to his bowlers' inability not to serve up one loose ball in every over. This is particularly important against a side like the West Indies, whose most obvious weakness is their impatience. The dripping tap is the key to getting them out - not, as Illingworth has correctly latched on to, the garden hose.

Yesterday, with the West Indies requiring a modest 124 from their remaining 35.1 overs, this principle was never more badly required, and yet had it not ultimately been for the fact that the opposition became bored with such a routine pea-shelling operation, England would not so much have been beaten as annihilated.

With the second-wicket pair of Sherwin Campbell and Brian Lara still at the crease, the tourists were only 20 runs short of victory with 10 overs remaining when Lara decided to amuse himself with a tail-enders' slog, and Michael Atherton took a brilliant running catch. There then followed three more cases of suicide from batsmen who had mentally already showered and changed, and the final margin of five wickets with 14 balls to spare was hopelessly flattering to England.

On the subject of arithmetic, England's claim to the dunce's cap is under serious threat from the Test and County Cricket Board itself, who decided not to admit any new customers for the rained-over denouement until it was established that Wednesday's 13,000 were not all going to be pouring through the turnstiles. Any fool could have told them that Notts County reserves would have attracted a bigger crowd, and those who were unable to return ought to be congratulating themselves on their good fortune.

There are times when one-day cricket is, not to put too fine a point on it, an inducement to apply a 12-bore to the temple and pull both barrels. Yesterday was one of them, not least when Campbell and Lara were facing Shaun Udal and Graeme Hick.

One of the things attributed to a good batsman is the ability to "know where his off stump is." However, the perception of what makes a decent slow bowler in this type of cricket is the ability to know where the batsman's leg stump is, and it is hard to think of anything more depressing than watching bowlers make no attempt to get anyone out.

Yesterday, Udal and Hick came to the traditional arrangement of offering free singles in return for the batsman promising not to hit them for four or six, and it was only when it occurred to England - several light years too late - that taking wickets had become an irritating necessity, that the final stages roused what few spectators there were from a collective coma.

Once Udal began aiming at Lara's stumps, the spectators were able to amuse themselves by retrieving the ball from the other side of the boundary, but at least it had the effect of rousing the opposition into carelessness. Richie Richardson and Jimmy Adams both tossed it away, and Sherwin Campbell, having batted with studious application for his 80 in 52 overs, ran himself out by taking a ludicrous second run.

Campbell was overlooked for the man of the match gong by the adjudicator, Derek Pringle, reaffirming his membership of the bowlers' union by giving it to Courtney Walsh, while Illingworth was left with another uncomplicated mathematical equation. Over the two days, England did not amount to very much.