If a column is published and nobody reads it, does that mean it was never written? The correct answer is probably: so what if it does

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They say if a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it, it hasn't really made a sound. I know how that tree feels. Last Wednesday, this column was surrounded by reports of the England football team's best performance at Wembley for 30 years. Today it's surrounded by previews of the England football team's biggest game at Wembley for 30 years. If a column is published and nobody reads it, does that mean it was never really written?

The correct answer is probably: so what if it does? But it's not just cricket writers who are being swallowed up by the roar of football. It's cricket itself. On Saturday at Lord's - the Saturday of the Lord's Test - the five biggest cheers were all for penalty kicks. One of them was big enough to provoke Dickie Bird into sticking his left arm out and holding up play (a prerogative long thought to belong to small dark clouds). Not that I was there to see it, of course. I was at home, watching the football.

When England played Germany in 1990, I was at Wembley. Unfortunately, England and Germany were in Turin. For some reason - a shrewd assessment of England's chances of beating Belgium, no doubt - I had agreed to review the Rolling Stones that night, live at Wembley Stadium. Just as at Lord's, the biggest reception was football-related. Mick Jagger looked first bemused, then disgruntled. The show was stolen. It was no coincidence that the Rolling Stones' next tour was in 1995, leaving him free as a bird for the big summer of sport. Sure enough, he was spotted at Lord's on Thursday and at Wembley on Saturday.

Even for a mere spectator, to be at an overshadowed event is the worst of both worlds. You miss out on the big event, without having the slightest hope of preserving a news blackout and enjoying the video in full innocence. And you also miss out on the one you're at, because it's impossible to get the most out of any spectacle, sporting or artistic, if your mind is elsewhere.

This Test match, as it turned out, was a good one not to be concentrating on. It was dour and largely drab; except for two sessions (Thursday evening, when Jack Russell managed to combine defiance with strokeplay, and Monday morning, when England thought about collapsing) it was a better advertisement for football than anything paid for by Nike. The match will be remembered only by fans of Dickie Bird and close friends and relatives of Russell and Sourav Ganguly.

The atmosphere was unreal from the moment the players formed a guard of honour for Dickie. Apparently that was Mike Atherton's idea, so it was a neat joke on the game's part that he should be given out by Dickie, a noted not-outer, three minutes later. Atherton walked off with a broad smile on his face, further evidence that the Captain Grumpy image didn't fit.

There was plenty of hard cricket played after that. The pitch had a touch of the Edgbastons and all the quicker bowlers tended to bowl short, looking for the gloves. England's two best batsmen, Russell and Graham Thorpe, both took painful blows in the part of the body that has the commentators reaching for euphemisms.

"We're nobody's soft touch," David Lloyd had said, more than once, at Edgbaston. The best example of this is Chris Lewis, who has been portrayed in the past as everybody's soft touch. Lewis's batting, usually stylish but brittle, was unrecognisable on Friday, grinding out 31 from 118 balls: hard to watch, but hard to fault. When Venkat Prasad came in at No 11, Lewis greeted him with a nasty lifter, which rapped him on the bowling hand. While the physio did his stuff, Lewis, who always seems a gentle character, didn't bother to go up and express his concern. The next ball was another lifter.

The Indians played hard too, peppering Atherton with bouncers on Sunday afternoon. But the air of unreality persisted. The fifth-day crowd was only a crowd by county standards. India's over-rate was poor, England's was worse.

England's performance was summed up by Lloyd as "absolutely brilliant". Lloyd's enthusiasm is a great thing, but if allowing a demoralised and inexperienced touring team to score 429 constitutes absolute brilliance, then beating them by eight wickets in the first Test was the greatest result in England's history. The press must have misheard him. What he actually said is that England were resolutely resilient. Which they were.

This was the sort of match from which few conclusions should be drawn. One of the few is that the Indians have to be taken seriously. England's next selection meeting will not be just another mobile-phone call. Well as the 12 used so far have gelled, the selectors need to ask questions.

What is the point of playing five seam and swing bowlers? Is Ronnie Irani one of the 11 best players in the country, or is he another example of Ray Illingworth's doomed search for the new Basil D'Oliveira? And whom would the Indian batsmen rather face - the admirable Peter Martin, or a revitalised Darren Gough, armed with the variety, aggression and reverse swing that will be needed on a flat pitch like Trent Bridge?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for the football.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly

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