James Lawton: England must pass on the jelly beans if they want to recover glories of 2005

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The Independent Online

King Football may be about to return to its vulgar, diamond-encrusted throne and Frank Lampard's big toe join his contract negotiations as a matter of most compelling public interest, but then is it not just possible a few courtiers will defect to The Oval next weekend?

Of far more immediate interest here, certainly, is whether it has dawned on the cricketers of England that they have an overwhelming duty to prove that they recognise finally the need to grow up. On another level, as a finely balanced contest, England v India surely outstrips anything on offer in the first rush of economically unbalanced Premiership fare.

Even with England's juvenile infusion of jelly beans, and India's failure to retain a certain aloof Oriental mysticism and disdain, the second Test at Trent Bridge managed to pile ridicule on the decision to split the summer between the hauntingly diminished and Lara-less West Indians and an Indian team brimming with old quality and new promise.

India's recovery from indifferent form and a fortuitous draw at Lord's was magnificent and if the current series had started earlier, and stretched to five Tests, we have every reason to believe that at least some of the competitive buoyancy that made the 2005 Ashes series one of the nation's greatest sports experiences would have been re-established much earlier in the summer. As it is, England's attempt to square the duel – and avoid their first home defeat since Steve Waugh's Aussies picked them apart limb by limb in 2001 – surely carries some of the promise that came with the showdown against Ricky Ponting's team two years ago.

This is because is it is not just a matter of cricket talent and form. It is also a question of manliness, of an understanding that fame – and its rewards – in sport should carry with it a little extra baggage. Chief among this should be behaviour which doesn't send all those involved, players, coaches, and spectators back to the schoolyard.

It is true there was a certain amount of backlash to the childishness which gripped the Trent Bridge Test and was, let's be perfectly objective about this, initiated mostly by the English team. The small army of former England Test captains and players who inhabit the broadcasting booth were broadly critical, to be fair, but there was also much wishy-washy talk about how lines had not been crossed.

Tossing jelly beans on the wicket may have been more than anything evidence of an adolescent mindset but it did cross a line; the one that separates those who are prepared to compete, as hard and as ruthlessly as you like, and the others who are emotionally and intellectually challenged when ideas of their own superiority are seriously challenged.

Among those splendidly unprepared to pussyfoot were David Lloyd, a TV analyst of increasingly sound and amusing touch, and my colleague Angus Fraser.

Both were helped by the valuable perspective granted to them by Test action in which they were required to perform gallantly against formidable odds and unpromising physical prospects. No doubt it helped them distinguish between resolute competitiveness and infantile posturing. Fraser, whom one recalls bowling brilliantly at Sydney Cricket Ground despite back pain requiring a steady diet of painkillers, was uncompromising in his criticism of the antics at Trent Bridge. They didn't pass his litmus test for proper, mature endeavour.

For a little added perspective on why Lloyd should be so forthright, I'm grateful to another colleague, Brian Viner, who in his excellent, wry book – Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me (now in paperback) – recalls some insights on the competitive side of cricket provided by the Lancastrian on a wet afternoon at Old Trafford.

For obvious reasons, these centred most vividly on the occasion in Perth when the ferocious Jeff Thomson landed a direct hit on Lloyd's private parts, an event which, as Viner noted, the player dined out on from the moment he got his voice back. Lloyd reported, "I was wearing a pink Litesome, one of them flimsy pink cricket boxes that looked a bit like soap holders. They had these holes around the edge and when Tommo hit me the force inverted the damn thing and pushed one of me knackers through the holes. From time to time you hear people asking, 'Is there a doctor in the ground?' That day they had to send for a welder."

Maybe Lloyd's disgust at the boyish gamemanship of Trent Bridge, which he described as "puerile rubbish", had its anguished origins in The WACA.

The facts that Sachin Tendulkar took a hit on his visor only marginally less dislocating, at least for the moment, at Trent Bridge from James Anderson before batting beautifully for a century denied only by umpire error, that Michael Vaughan then reminded us of his outstanding quality with a superb 100, and that the bowling of such as Zaheer Khan and Chris Tremlett bristled with, respectively, cunning and raw menace, made the schoolboy lapses all the more regrettable.

At The Oval demands on individuals are surely cranked up accordingly. Kevin Pietersen earned his share of disdain for his complaint of "tiredness" and if Andrew Strauss produced a reminder of the assurance he was displaying so regularly before the meltdown in Australia last winter, there is new pressure on Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.

The brilliant Indian mid-order axis of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V V S Laxman produced batsmanship of wonderful grace and touch but, in the important cases of Tendulkar and Ganguly, it was confounded by the errant judgement of the normally impressive umpire Simon Taufel. It is another reason to see The Oval as the place where an intriguing but unfortunately brief story can reach out for a little more depth and fulfilment.

No one will wish for this more than the England coach, Peter Moores, who after the relatively formal task of demolishing the ill-formed West Indians is involved in his first serious challenge as the man to rebuild among the ruins of the Ashes triumph of 2005. Ruins? Yes, if there is great promise in Moores' tough style that the self-indulgent idiocies which followed victory over Ponting's team will be rooted out and dismissed, if Vaughan's century has given him back some of his old, desperately needed authority, there is no doubt that at Trent Bridge England were still in some vital respects a parody of the team which regained, so briefly, the Ashes.

That was a team, Vaughan said in the aftermath of the parade in Trafalgar Square and the lurch through Number 10, which had to stay honest. Two years on, there is another, even more pressing requirement. Ludicrously, it is to pass on the jelly beans.

Eriksson's raid on foreign talent reflects either a great knowledge of the English game or a complete lack of it

Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand is the latest to worry about the difficulty of developing home-grown talent when Europe is an open door for TV-rich clubs eager to find instant team-strengthening. But his concerns surely pale beside the results of Sven Goran Eriksson's first weeks in office across town at Manchester City.

You might have thought that Sven's five years in charge of England, his relentless tracking across the country in pursuit of workable talent that might one day nudge aside the "golden generation", would have left him with something of an inside track on the best of our native sons.

It's true his decision to pick Theo Walcott for the World Cup without ever seeing him play was not the best portent for the sure-eyed fostering of English talent, but his signings for City say even less for national resources.

So far Eriksson has signed a Spaniard, an Italian, a Bosnian, a Bulgarian, a naturalised Swiss from Cape Verde, an Italian, and two Brazilians. There are some who say unkindly that if Eriksson (pictured centre with two signings) has an impressive record as a club coach, winning titles in his native Sweden, Portugal and, after even heavier spending at Lazio than in his current splurge with City, Italy, it was more or less impossible to guess what he did for England, apart from placating the warrior spirit of David Beckham and standing, impassively, as Steve McClaren ran the training. It now seems unlikely that he was building a precious dossier of up-and-coming English talent.

To be fair, however, there is one other possibility. It is that, unlike the time City brilliantly won the title with in 1968 with 11 Englishmen (Joe Corrigan, Tony Book, Glyn Pardoe, Mike Doyle, Tommy Booth, Alan Oakes, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Neil Young and Tony Coleman) there just isn't anything out there. Sven should, after all, know – well, at least in theory.

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