England's winter of cricketing promise

While the Test team have struggled again, there have - believe it or not - been encouraging signs for English cricket in the last few months Alan Wells' irresistible A team have swept all before them in India. Jonathan Marks reports from Indore

Back in November, after the first of England A's gatherings at Lilleshall, Alan Wells was asked his impression of the team he was to lead to India.

"Very young, aren't they?" he said, and you could sense the trepidation in his voice. India, as thousands of British soldiers in the days of the Raj originally discovered, is not the easiest place to tour successfully.

How were this group of boys going to succeed where Graham Gooch's full England side of 1993 had so spectacularly failed? Indian spinners, dust- track pitches and hordes of fielders around the bat were not the only problems. There were also the fears of biased umpiring and the simple difficulty of adjusting to the food.

Yet now, if you ask the 33-year-old Wells about the team who have just beaten India A 3-0 - and who have made the most of the Indian experience - all you are likely to get is a stream of superlatives. His team have given English cricket hope in the aftermath of Australia and the retirements of the last of the old guard who dominated England teams for 20 years.

Wells says: "We were well prepared, we have adjusted quickly to Indian conditions and beaten them at their own game. There are a lot of talented young players here, and we have developed a super team spirit. The players believe in themselves and in each other."

The tour manager, John Barclay, has been analysing the success and seeking answers to the bigger questions facing the immediate future of England cricket. "Spirit, yes, there is a lot of that, and energy, too, which has been created by the captain and Phil Neale [the team manager]," Barclay said.

"But what has been very apparent to me is the vibrancy of young people wanting it to work. They have worked incredibly hard, but they have also enjoyed India.

"They have laughed at it, laughed with it. They've eaten the food - and they have gone out into the streets and haggled in the market places. They're young."

A youthful attitude, allied with an eagerness to learn and a natural lack of cynicism, has been a striking part of the management's approach as well as the players'. Neither Barclay, Neale nor Wells have played Test cricket and Barclay is the only one to have visited India previously - as vice-captain of the 1970 English Schools team.

So is this a tour that has exposed as a myth the overriding need for "experience'' as a prerequisite for international cricket? Has a comparative ignorance of both India and of what has been popularly believed to be the way to approach top-flight cricket actually helped?

The freshness of the leadership should not be underestimated as it has clearly created the atmosphere in which inexperienced but talented players have been encouraged to make their own decisions.

Barclay said: "Phil Neale has impressed me because he is particularly good at what I call the four E's of management: Expertise, Energy, Encouragement and Enthusiasm. He listens to the players, and of course offers advice. But he's good at judging the right time to do it and he is more inclined to say `how do you feel' first. I also believe that, technically, he is a very good coach.

"As a management team we have encouraged the players to do things for themselves - even silly little things like making sure ther own bags are down in the lobby on time - but we have been lucky because this is a very intelligent bunch."

Old Etonian Barclay, at 40 the same age as Neale, has run affairs smoothly and has lost his cool just once in India - this week in Delhi when, after an hour's wait, a longed-for steak and chips still had not arrived and he needed to leave to catch the flight to Indore. But even then it was more amused exasperation than rage, and his quirky, off-the-wall character has gone down well with the players.

Only yesterday, he caused much merriment in the team by sitting calmly on a chair in the middle of a shanty town reading a book - with a small crowd gathered round him just to watch.

Neale's meticulous attention to detail, his analytical and organisational strengths are complemented by Wells' force of character and natural leadership skills.

His ability to get the best out of players has worked particularly well with a transformed Richard Stemp, the Yorkshire left-arm spinner who - until this tour - was regarded as something of a wild child. Mark Ramprakash, the vice-captain, has also made a significant contribution and like Stemp has grown up. They have both been given responsibility and have seized it eagerly.

Barclay adds: "Ultimately, it is the skills and attitude of the players that matters most. They have held their composure, and out here that is so hard to do."

Two more men, however, should take a bow when the end of tour awards are handed out. One of them, the chairman of selectors Ray Illingworth, hardly fits into any celebration of youth except that his mind is still sharp and his eye for a cricketer a timeless virtue. It was he who argued the selection in September of certain youngsters ahead of others of then equal ability. Players like Stemp, the find-of-the-tour fast bowler Glen Chapple, the batsmen Jason Gallian and David Hemp, the seamer Richard Johnson and the all-rounder Paul Weekes owe much to Illingworth for giving them their chance.

The contribution at Lilleshall of John Emburey was also of value. The former England captain then came out to India to watch the opening Bangalore and Calcutta Test victories. Afterwards he admitted that mistakes - of team selection, philosophy and state of mind - had hamstrung Gooch's 1993 side.

He, of course, was a member of that squad, but the lesson of this winter, which Emburey quickly learned, and the one which English cricket needs to grasp, is that new attitudes, new players and a new approach can indeed solve old problems.

n Dominic Cork, the Derbyshire all-rounder, is doubtful for today's one- day international in Indore because of a virus.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy