Tourists running out of time

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The Independent Online
The hectic nature of modern tours, with their preponderance of international cricket, means players sometimes never have the chance to find elusive form. Robin Smith might discover this to his cost in the coming weeks, but at least he has had his chances. England's bowlers, though, are desperately short of practice with the First Test just six cricketing days away.

No play was possible on the second day of the match against Border yesterday and now England have managed just two sessions out of the last nine. The players needed a breather following the end of the domestic season, but this is getting ridiculous. Darren Gough and Dominic Cork have yet to bowl a single delivery in first-class cricket, while Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser have no wickets in a combined total of 32 overs.

Those four could comprise England's attack at Centurion Park and Malcolm, of course, has plenty of other problems. If the inclement weather continues, the situation could become extremely serious because practice in the nets is no substitute for the real thing.

The wash-out gave John Crawley time to reflect on his form, which has brought him scores of 85 and 87 not out and applied pressure to Smith's position in the Test team. Crawley's physical state is transformed since last winter's tour to Australia, his batting is more disciplined and his new look is even topped off by a crew cut. Raymond Illingworth told Crawley he must become fitter and more mobile to make a career in Test cricket. Crawley took heed.

His weight has dropped a stone to 13st 2oz, nearly all lost from his thighs and bottom, and his legs have changed from flabby to firm after hundreds of hours in the gym. Crawley's fielding and running between the wickets are noticeably improved. He has also brought a more professional approach to his batting. "I'm trying to remove mistakes and bat for as long as possible. Batsmen shouldn't get out in the 50s or 60s, they should really capitalise when established. John Edrich, the England batting coach, tells all the batsmen to aim for a century every time and there's no doubt big scores attract selectors' attention. John is encouraging me to use softer hands and play a little straighter through mid-on."

TOUR MATCH (East London, second day of four): No play (rain). England 218 for 4 (J P Crawley 87 no, M R Ramprakash 70) v Border.