Required: youngsters and bowlers

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The Independent Online
Now that the dust has settled on 24 hours of almost hysterical condemnation of England's latest failure on a foreign cricket field, Mike Atherton's dispirited troops might draw some consolation as they pause for breath between Test matches from th e knowledge that not everyone at home regards them as a bunch of useless wasters who have let down Queen and country.

Indeed, there are voices of wisdom and sanity who feel there has been a considerable over-reaction.

Chris Cowdrey, once an England captain himself, albeit briefly, believes that talk of sweeping changes in the structure of the game here ignores the one fundamental difference between our team and those it is supposed are so much better - namely bowlers.

"We actually have a top-six batting line-up on a par with any in the world, but whereas the West Indies last winter had Curtly Ambrose and the current Australians have Shane Warne, we do not possess a single world-class bowler.

"We have not really had one since Bob Willis and if people thought we were going to roll teams over on this tour they were deluding themselves."

Cowdrey, the former Kent captain, now retired from first-class cricket, does, however, endorse the view that young English players are held back longer than they ought to be, an opinion shared by Kim Barnett, the Derbyshire skipper.

Barnett, in fact, feels that the new-broom atmosphere in which Mike Atherton and Ray Illingworth were installed did not go far enough.

"I think there would be more sympathy in situations like this if it really did look as though we were rebuilding," Barnett said. "All the talk was of building for the future when Mike Atherton was appointed but it does not seem to be happening.

"I'm in favour of pitching in the youngsters. We have to back players like Thorpe and Crawley if we think they are good enough. Likewise Ramprakash and our own Dominic Cork, who have gone on the A tour instead. Maybe you could put in Patel, too. If they are good enough, give them the opportunity."

Brian Statham, the great Lancashire and England fast bowler who helped to retain the Ashes in 1955, reckons little more is required other than some solid application. "It is time for people to get their heads down and get on with it," he said. "We have players of ability but it is a matter of them having confidence in what they can do.

"It is no good grumbling about the media. You have to be confident in yourself whatever anyone is saying in the newspapers."

Derek Underwood, one who would fit Cowdrey's definition of a world-class England bowler, feels that short memories breed reactions that are not always kept in perspective.

"People forget that the Australians have always been difficult opponents," he said. "I was on a tour under Mike Brearley where we lost 3-0 so it is not as if it has not happened before. It does concern me though that we seem to be beaten without putting up much of a fight.

"Morale and confidence must be very low. If anything needs to be changed, maybe we could do with getting back to playing county cricket in an atmosphere where players are under less pressure, can enjoy the game more and develop the confidence to play well."

That note was echoed by Cowdrey, who said: "County cricket is played to survive, to earn another contract, another £12,500 plus car. You don't think of playing for England, just to do well enough to go on making a living.

"In Australia there is no money to be made until you get right to the top, so there is a different attitude."

Cowdrey, however, cautions against simply trying to mimmick the Australian approach. "I don't think the Australian coaches that have come here have brought much benefit. I'm not sure Australian thinking necessarily works here.

"I hate the idea of just copying the Aussies but if there were to be an academy for young cricketers, an academy for bowlers might not be a bad idea. If we had world-class bowlers again, we would not be talking as we are now."