The start of the international season should be a time for optimism and harmony. The optimism is there, but the harmony? No chance

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The start of the international cricket season ought to be a time for optimism and harmony. The optimism is there: England are the bookies' favourites to win the Texaco Trophy, despite having lost 10 of their last 11 serious one-day matches. David Lloyd has already put a smile back on the face of the national squad. But... harmony? No chance.

After a winter like England's, the unmistakable need is to move on. So what does Raymond Illingworth do? He spreads himself all over yesterday's Daily Express, not only looking back at the winter, but raking up one of its worst aspects - his rift with Devon Malcolm. If there is one thing a manager should never do, it is slag off players in public. But if there is one thing Illy can't bear, it's the idea that someone else is going to have the last word. On his return from South Africa, Malcolm gave the Express his version of events. Illy had already given his to all and sundry, but that was not going to stop him having another go now.

To be fair, Illy had a book contract, and he could hardly ignore the Malcolm issue. He also felt let down by the Test and County Cricket Board's decision not to punish Malcolm for his outburst. But these are no reasons for hanging out his dirty washing at this moment. The book could have been held back until Illy retires at the end of the season.

The content of the extract was not very revealing. Only two passages caught the eye. One was where Illy strongly rejected the suggestion that he told Malcolm to "f*** off" at nets before the fourth Test in Port Elizabeth. He actually told him to "p*** off". A concession, no doubt, to the fact that it was Christmas Day.

The other passage is more serious. Illy is convinced that Malcolm's waywardness lost England the fifth Test, and the series. It is one point of view, although the defeat may also have had something to do with the way England won the toss, batted and made only 153 (66 of them from Robin Smith, another of the chairman's scapegoats).

Then he says this: "What more could he [Malcolm] ask for? A new ball against a No 11, Paul Adams, with an open cheque to run in and knock him over." He continues: "I couldn't believe what I saw. Adams got only one proper bouncer from Malcolm, who had been ordered to pepper him."

This would seem to be something far more shameful than man mismanagement. What Malcolm was arguably being asked to do was break the laws of cricket. Law 42 states that bowling bouncers is unfair if it is "intended or likely to inflict physical injury on the striker", whose "relative skill shall be taken into consideration". Adams was believed, at the time, to be a "rabbit". In his only Test, he had made 0 and 0 not out. If these were Malcolm's orders, he was right to disobey them.

What I wonder is who issued them. Normally it would be the captain; but Mike Atherton, although he is a steely competitor, does not believe in roughing up tail-enders.

He too has a book out, the paperback of A Test of Cricket: Know the Game, and on page 179 he discusses the way Courtney Walsh bowled at England's No 11 in Kingston, 1994. "That was blatant intimidation of a batsman who was unable to defend himself," Atherton argues, "yet the umpire did nothing about it." The batsman was Devon Malcolm.

The TCCB received Illingworth's book on Monday, and reportedly deputed Donald Carr, a senior mandarin, to read it. Illy may get a rap on the knuckles for badmouthing players. He is extremely unlikely to get one for the more serious offence of encouraging unfair play.

Not that he is alone in this. This was the second time in two days that the question had arisen of what is and isn't cricket. On Monday afternoon, Dermot Reeve, captain of all-conquering Warwickshire, repeatedly threw away his bat as Hampshire's Raj Maru bowled slow left arm over the wicket into the rough. This sort of bowling is an unattractive ploy, but a legitimate one.

So is the sort of batting it usually provokes - padding the ball away, knowing that you can't be lbw. The danger is that you can be caught off pad and glove, but only if the glove is attached to the bat. Reeve's ploy got round this. It was typically inventive, and totally unsporting.

Warwickshire are admirably open-minded. Yesterday, while other counties enjoyed a day off, a dietitian was at Edgbaston to tell the players' wives and girlfriends what their men should be eating. (The idea that the men might do the cooking is too modern even for Warwickshire.) But batting without a bat is going too far. It is an insult to the spectator and a travesty of sport.

The good news on yesterday's cricket pages lay in the scorecards. Warwickshire lost and Derbyshire won, with Devon Malcolm taking 6 for 52. So there is some justice.

l Tim de Lisle is editor of "Wisden Cricket Monthly"

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