Leading Article: England in stubble

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TED DEXTER showed more diplomatic skill than usual after the Test and County Cricket Board's inquest into England's dismal tour of India. There were many criticisms that could have been levelled at a team which had been so embarrassingly outplayed, even in Sri Lanka. But the chairman of England's Test selectors skilfully deflected them. On top of the defeats, the manner in which the players complained during the tour - about the heat, dust, pollution, food and train travel -left a lamentable impression both in India and here in Britain. What they were so ungraciously objecting to was, in essence, that India was India.

For their moaning they surely deserved a public reprimand. Mr Dexter - himself once the dashing embodiment of the gentleman cricketer - might even have indulged in some self-criticism. After all, the selectors' choice of players to send to India had been proven to be deficient in several key respects. Instead, in a masterly formulation that paid tribute to the Indians without criticising England's performance, he declared that 'the main problem was that India played to a very high standard'.

Shrewdly, he diverted attention to the need to reconsider the players' 'dress code and overall appearance'. In an apparent dig at the England captain, Graham Gooch, he added: 'There is a modern fashion for designer stubble. Some people believe it to be very attractive, but it is aggravating to others, and we will be looking at the whole question of people's facial hair.' Without exonerating England's cricketers for creating such a poor impression in India, the TCCB must shoulder some of the blame for their appearance. Thanks to its contractual arrangements, they were obliged for much of the time to wear tracksuits, hats and T-shirts that would have been revolting even without the logos of their sponsors - a well-known beer and a less well-known firm of financial advisers. The results of such sponsorship deals are rarely aesthetically pleasing.

Next time around, the players' dress code should aim to reflect not the growing commercialisation of cricket and loutishness of this country, but the best standards of the past tempered by today's taste. In a word, they should aspire to the standards set by the Indian team over the past few weeks.

Captain Gooch's stubble is a case apart. It is not simply the result of not shaving but rather a calculated growth, maintained (it seems) with a special trimmer. On its appeal, opinion is doubtless divided. But since this particular form of hirsuteness arouses strong emotions, often hostile, it is an unwise choice for anyone acting as a sporting ambassador.

Ultimately, the quality that most sharply differentiates cricket from other sports is its elegance and capacity to give aesthetic pleasure. Take that away, and the game is greatly diminished. If the England team cannot win, they should at least behave in a way that does not bring them - and this country - into disrepute.