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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style