England's defeatist body talk

THIRD TEST: Why Illingworth and company are on dodgy ground blaming Edgbaston's pitch exclusively for this latest capitulation at Edgbaston
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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

Cricket Correspondent

The ice which was used to pack the champagne buckets at Lord's is now being applied to an assortment of swellings and bruises, and in terms of a multiple fracture, English morale once again finds itself familiarly encased in plaster of Paris.

Less than two weeks after Raymond Illingworth and Michael Atherton were in danger of being backslapped to death by an adoring crowd, Saturday's lynch mob would have gladly forked out the equivalent of the price of a wasted ticket for a basket of rotten fruit.

Had this been Bombay, or Karachi, the amount of lost revenue on the shortest home Test match since the war would have been so much loose change compared to the cost of replacing the windows in the chairman's house at Farsley.

We are back on familiar ground, which is more than can be said for the 22 yards of turf, or to be more accurate, sod, on view for two and a bit days at Edgbaston. The same pitch is apparently being used for today's unscheduled 40-over beer match between Warwickshire and the West Indies, with the club claiming that "this time it will be prepared for a limited- overs game". Just like the Test match, then.

On the evidence of the last two Test matches on this particular ground, England's intelligence network has not so much been based around MI5 guidelines, as a quick return home down the M6.

Against Australia in 1993, they placed an order for a grassy pitch, and turned up to find Shane Warne and Tim May salivating so copiously over a surface resembling the contents of a crushed packet of biscuits that John Emburey (having just concluded a game of rounders with his daughter and popped a roast into the oven) picked up his telephone in south London to hear Keith Fletcher asking him if he fancied a game.

This year, England asked a different groundsman to make them a surface conducive towards a home victory, and ended up with something which appeared to have been based around the premise that the West Indies were planning to open the bowling with Brian Lara and Sherwin Campbell.

Rather unsportingly, however, the opposition decided to operate with blokes of around 6ft 8in rather than 5ft 6in, the net result of which was that England's two innings were concluded in 74.2 overs. Had Curtly Ambrose's groin strain not confined him to bowling only 7.5 of those overs, it would probably have been all over on Friday night.

In fairness to England, their acquiescence to the groundsman leaving his lawnmower in the shed was based around his own prognosis that a layer of grass was the best insurance against uneven bounce, although when they didn't get it, their invertebrate reaction was the hallmark of a team whose fielding practice presumably includes intensive periods of towel- throwing.

There were exceptions, and to describe Robin Smith's performance as heroic might even qualify as an understatement. To top-score in four consecutive Test innings may well be unique, and Smith's upper body this morning would not be too many shades lighter than Courtney Walsh's.

Neither would one or two of England's batsmen have required a spatula to lift their breakfast egg out of the frying pan yesterday morning, having had their fingers flattened into the shape of an LP cover. Jason Gallian's cracked digit will keep him out of Saturday's Benson and Hedges Cup final, Richard Illingworth has a fractured bone in his left hand, and Alec Stewart's inability to bat in the second innings demonstrated the folly of asking him to keep wicket with three good fingers and one frankfurter.

However, where England were hopelessly culpable, for all the unpredictability of the pitch, was the absolute predictability with which they squared up mentally to the job in hand. Right from the first ball on Thursday, their body language was defeatist, and it was significant that Atherton's post-match gripe was directed at the playing surface rather than his players.

The white flag that England hauled up in the Barbados Test of 1986 had more than a little to do with the punctured resolve prompted by Ian Botham flinging his bat across the dressing room in a "how can you play on that?" kind of gesture. Unpleasant though it is to face this type of bowling on a temperamental trampoline, some of England's batting appeared calculated to attract a sponsorship deal from Pampers.

Saturday's play began with the echo of Dominic Cork's "we won't lose" speech the previous evening, although it soon appeared that the full quote should have been "not before midday, at any rate." The over-my-dead-body stuff looked faintly comical when Cork disappeared chasing a wide one in the second over, and the only reason England survived as long as 12.17pm was because of the time it took for the physio to administer various pain- killing sprays. Watching England, however, rarely requires a squirt from an aerosol to numb the senses.

n Saturday spectators, who saw just 77 minutes' play, have been offered a 50 per cent refund.

ENGLAND'S LOWEST

TOTALS v WEST INDIES

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89 Edgbaston, 1995

93 Old Trafford, 1988

103 The Oval, 1950

103 Kingston, 1934-35

SHORTEST TESTS

SINCE 1945

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1080 Pakistan v West Indies (Faisalabad) 1990-91

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