Wagging tail reflects Fletcher's work

By Henry Blofeld
Friday 13 December 2013 06:00
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While it may not have been the most exciting of spectacles as England ground their way towards 600 for the first time for 12 years, it said much for the method and spirit of this England side. It is a necessary requirement these days that all the players should have a working knowledge of at least two of the major disciplines of the game.

In recent years, as one horrifying collapse has followed another, this has most emphatically not been so with England's players. The middle and lower order batting has all too often been swept away with a horrifying speed.

But this England side, after nearly three years under the meaningful tutelage of Duncan Fletcher, aided and abetted for the same period by Nasser Hussain, have acquired a much tougher outer shell. This is underlined by a look at the scorecard of their first innings at Trent Bridge. There was only one century, albeit a big one by Michael Vaughan, but everyone except Hussain made a contribution.

Of course, with Craig White coming in at No 8, there is a greater length to the batting than for a long time. With Alec Stewart, Andrew Flintoff and White all genuine all-rounders, it is so much simpler to choose a well-balanced side. For a long time Stewart was the sole all-rounder and in those days it was only possible to pick a side with reasonable length in batting if the fifth bowler was an occasional, like Graeme Hick.

One of the most improved aspects of England's batting was evident at the end. Fletcher has insisted that his bowlers should work at their batting so that they can contribute at the end of innings by making themselves into adequate partners for the last remaining batsman. When Matthew Hoggard first buckled on his pads for England he was a negligible performer with the bat.

Here, he came out to join White when the score was 493 for 8 and, only a couple of years ago, the formalities would have been over within a few minutes. But Hoggard showed how hard he has worked at his batting and put together a highly composed innings helping White add 103 for the ninth wicket.

His defence is now commendably solid and he has an array of strokes which one never used to associate with a tail-ender. When he faced Harbhajan Singh, he produced a high-class paddle sweep which brought him two runs. Sourav Ganguly brought in a short fine leg to block the stroke and almost at once Hoggard played the more orthodox sweep which sent the ball away to square leg for two more. He was keeping his wits about him.

When Ajit Agarkar overpitched, he produced a lovely cover drive for four, there was a drive though extra cover off the back foot and then Agarkar was twice straight driven for threes. It was not long before White was able to give up all thoughts of trying to protect Hoggard from the strike. Then, right at the end, Steve Harmison showed that he was not a complete mug with the bat even though he failed to see White to his hundred. Let us hope they can do it in Australia.

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