Henry Blofeld: English cricket suffering the Final insult at Lord's

Monday 16 September 2013 02:04

Lord's finals are in danger of becoming a joke or a bore depending on one's point of view. The ease with which Gloucestershire disposed of Worcestershire was sad and in a way justified all those empty seats that glared at us from around the ground. It was a day that gave a good illustration, too, of so much that is wrong with English cricket at the present time.

Gloucestershire are a side that have been brilliantly trained in the arts of the one-day game by John Bracewell, who once bowled off-breaks for New Zealand and is shortly to return home to coach their national side. He has turned Gloucestershire into as formidable a one-day unit as any English county has ever become.

Alas, for English cricket, he learned his game overseas, as did his opposite number, Tom Moody, from Western Australia. The overseas influence therefore started at the top and as far as the winners were concerned it continues.

The two principal participants in the Gloucestershire side were Ian Harvey, the Australian all-rounder who has performed so wonderfully for them, especially in the one-day context, over the last few years. He took two important wickets and then made the most exhilarating 61 runs one has seen for many a season and which ensured that Gloucestershire were not going to limp to victory.

His main lieutenant was another overseas player, Jonty Rhodes, from South Africa. What a joy it was to see him ply his trade for perhaps the last time in front a big crowd at Lord's. He was, in spite of an early misfield, as fantastic as ever. It was his mere presence which caused the run-out of Vikram Solanki, the first wicket to fall, and this then precipitated a collapse that would have been the envy even of a card house.

There is a toughness about overseas players that is sadly lacking in their English counterparts. They are hungry for success and do not even consider the likelihood or even the existence of failure. They believe in their own ability and they appear to take risks that their English equivalents would never attempt - at least, they seem to be risks but they do not consider them to be such.

You only have to remember the manner in which Harvey set about the off-spin of Gareth Batty in his first over of the afternoon. He hit him for five fours with all manner of wonderful strokes, and as Ben Smith moved his Worcestershire fielders here, there and everywhere, it seemed that Harvey was actually taking the mickey out of his opponents as he immediately smote the ball to the boundary where a fielder had just been standing.

Rhodes was unbelievable. He moves so fast that it is almost as if he is able to turn his body into thin air and then reassemble the parts a moment later in some other part of the ground. His very presence alone is so off-putting for the batsman. Acceptable singles are constantly refused when the ball is seen to be going in his direction. Seeing Rhodes advance upon the ball, batsmen stutter, hesitate and are done for. Rhodes is one of the greatest entertainers this generation of cricketers has had to offer.

Bracewell has managed to instil the basic disciplines into his side. No fewer than three people backed up a wayward throw by Phil Weston, from third man, and it was the third, Mark Alleyne, who stopped any overthrows. The bowlers know what length and line is. No one illustrated this better than Alex Gidman who, at an important stage, bowled seven overs of seamers and took two for 12. The much-vaunted Zimbabwean who coaches England, Duncan Fletcher, has conspicuously failed to do the same with his charges, vide Headingley. Doubtless he will have his excuses.

Gloucestershire's catching was terrific and no one was better than Martyn Ball, who held two blinders at slip. Why does he catch them and Mark Butcher put them down? Is it a matter of confidence that comes from the way in which the team is driven?

There was the ageless Jack Russell, an inspiration and a magnet to his fielders. It was impossible not to compare him to Alec Stewart who, at the same age, keeps wicket for England and is less of a puppet master.

Then there was that old chestnut, Graeme Hick. There are those who will still swear that he has been harshly treated by the England selectors. After all, he has only played in 65 Tests. The big occasion was repeatedly found to be too big for him and Saturday was no exception when he somewhat lazily drove his fourth ball straight into cover's hands.

In the Test Match Special box we were joined by the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, who admitted that after 11 hours of discussions, they had still not been able to come up with a side for Thursday's Fifth Test at The Oval.

Finally, the empty seats were probably a reflection of the exorbitant charges for tickets on a great occasion that has been somewhat watered down by 13 one-day internationals this summer, to say nothing of seven Test matches. There are an awful lot of priorities that English cricket still urgently needs to sort out.

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