Illingworth flies in and starts talking turkey

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Appropriately enough for the time of year, England's Messiah has now been borne (via British Airways, executive class) to Australia, and yesterday he delivered a message that will surely send a cold shiver down Australia's spine. "If you ask me,"

Raymond Illingworth said, "the players don't talk to each other enough."

Trust the England chairman of selectors to spot from his satellite TV set something that has eluded the various commentators out here, who had hitherto been labouring under the misapprehension that England were not playing too well.

"I talked to myself when I was playing," Illingworth said, "and found it a very good form of motivation."

If this sort of thing had come from his predecessor, Ted Dexter, it would immediately have been consigned to the Venus/smog file of batty comments, but when Illy speaks, journalists scribble it down as if Solomon had delivered one of his smarter judgements.

Illingworth had barely made it to the luggage reclaim carousel at Melbourne airport when, at half past midnight local time yesterday morning, he found himself surrounded by microphones and notebooks. Not even Illy finds the sound of his voice irresistible under those circumstances, and those who had formed the view that his most forthright comments would be reserved for the cost of hiring a luggage trolley, were by and large proved correct.

After a decent night's sleep he was more his loquacious self, even though no one really expected him to identify the lost art of conversation as the crux of England's problems. However, he was not known for nothing as the wily, old fox, and who knows howunnerved the Australian batsmen might become by the sound of 11 Englishmen babbling to themselves?

One thing Illy is pretty good at is dead-batting smart arse deliveries, and when an Australian radio commentator asked him: "Does it make you despair that a whole generation of schoolchildren are being brought up to believe that England Test collapse is all one word?" the chairman ploughed on with barely a hint he had heard him.

"Last summer's final Test victory against South Africa was one of the best I have seen in 20 years," he said. "We were full of confidence then, and there is no reason we should not be now."

Illingworth did voice an opinion even held by many Australians that if the opposition did not have Shane Warne they would be "as hard up for bowlers as we are".

England's one big chance in this series is if Warne breaks down and the Australians are worried that his workload might bring on a recurrence of shoulder tendinitis.

As for England, it looks likely that Craig White will play no further part in this tour. His rib muscle injury has been given as a "six-week" recovery period, although with a cortisone injection the specialist examining the all-rounder gives him a "20 per cent chance of reducing that to three weeks".

Temple of the MCG, page 21