England earn honours in defeat
By Michael Henderson
AS England were drawing the third Test, denied by rain of a chance to
level a series in which they hit back so hard that they rattled a team
so formidable on their own pitches, an Englishman (of sorts) was
disgracing himself in Australia. According to Peter Roebuck, the
former Somerset captain, who lives in Sydney and writes occasionally
elegant and frequently misguided articles for Australian newspapers,
England are taking cricket back to the dark ages.
Perhaps it is unwise to read too much into Roebuck's comments. After
all, he could see everything that happened in Bangalore clearly from
Bondi, couldn't he? He cuts an unhappy figure these days, away from
the cut and thrust of a newspaper, but he can always get a cheap laugh
in his adopted home town by pasting the English, or "the Poms", as he
has the brass neck to call his countrymen.
From an Aussie, yes, we can all buy that. "Poms": ho ho, what a jest.
But Roebuck must be put in his place, which is further down the table
than he imagines.
This is what he wrote. "England seem to be hell-bent on destroying
cricket. Over the years the Poms have had a fair crack at it, with
Bodyline, the leg-before rule, declaration bowling, no-balls, arranged
matches and Geoff Boycott. Now they have gone a step further by
playing the most miserable cricket anyone has seen since the Sixties."
He went on: "England pretend to be the guardian of the game, yet they
do more harm than all the rest put together . . . put the lot of them
on a Pacific island, and let the refugees loose. At least the
Englishmen will be able to sun themselves." Woo, woo! Doesn't 'Rupert'
Leaving aside the point that Boycott was 8,114 times more accomplished
an opening batsman, to go by the runs they respectively made - or did
not - in Test cricket, and that the lbw law (not rule) is a perfectly
good one, Roebuck's dart at Nasser Hussain for England's defensive
bowling against Sachin Tendulkar in Bangalore is so far-fetched as to
It did not look good, and some of us wrote as much last week. But "the
most miserable cricket anyone has seen since the Sixties"? He must
have a brain full of rocks. England's performance in India has been
outstanding. After losing the first Test heavily inside four days a
group of young players, led with spirit and flair by Hussain and
Duncan Fletcher, have regrouped so admirably that they had much the
better of the last two matches.
Had it not rained on Saturday and yesterday, when no play was
possible, they might have won the match, and drawn the series. "If we
had had five full days I think we would have won," Hussain said. "The
pitch was getting uneven, and Hoggard and Flintoff would have fancied
bowling on it."
Even though they lost this series, they are making progress. In the
last two winters England have become the first team to win a Test
match in Karachi, the first team to come from behind in Sri Lanka to
win a series there, and acquitted themselves properly in India after
being overwhelmed in Mohali, where Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh
garnered 15 wickets. In nine Tests in the sub-continent in 13 months
they have won three, lost two and shared four draws.
Furthermore, they came to India without two players, Alec Stewart and
Darren Gough, who withdrew their labour for different reasons; another
pair, Andrew Caddick and Robert Croft, who pulled out after the events
of September 11; one man, Michael Atherton, who retired at the end of
the last summer, and yet another batsman, Graham Thorpe, who flew home
on the first morning of the second Test.
Australia, by contrast, sent their best side to India this year, won
the first Test by a country mile, and ended up losing the series. How
would they have got on if they had been without, say, Shane Warne,
Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh and Matthew
Hussain picked up on that point. "We have bowled out India for 290 and
230 in successive Tests. An Australian side who came here last winter,
playing against the same batting line-up, conceded 580 for seven and
Laxman made 280."
The captain was not bragging, or fibbing. The bowling in this series
has been done by Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff, Craig White, Ashley
Giles and Richard Dawson, the wicketkeeping by James Foster. Dawson
and Foster were making their Test debuts with less than a season of
first-class cricket behind them, Giles had not bowled a ball in
competitive cricket since August, and Flintoff was flown over from
Adelaide early in the tour to provide cover for White, who was not
considered fit enough to bowl first change.
Despite his batting failures, Flintoff was a revelation. He bowled
fast and well at Mohali, where he went wicketless, and maintained his
pace and control in the subsequent Tests. He was named man of the
match in the third Test for his four wickets, and it is fair to say
that he has turned a corner in his career. So, a straight 'A' for
Foster and Dawson have not quite done that, but they acquitted
themselves with immense credit. After his horrible first appearance
behind the stumps in Mohali, where he missed two straightforward
chances, Foster made valuable runs at No 8, missing his maiden
half-century in Bangalore by two runs. He gets B-plus'.
Dawson, though Hussain did not trust him to bowl at Tendulkar in the
final Test, bowled with maturity in Mohali, and can expect to retain
his place for the tour of New Zealand, which begins in February.
Hussain and Fletcher must be commended for giving these young men
their opportunity, for they appear to be Test cricketers in the mind.
A 'B' for Dawson.
There were other good performances. All the batsmen made scores of
more than 50, Marcus Trescothick missed a hundred by one run, and
White finally established himself as a Test centurion by making 121 in
Ahmedabad. Hoggard bowled with heart and skill, dismissing Tendulkar
twice, and Giles took five for 67 on his return to the side, as well
as having Tendulkar stumped for the first time in his Test career.
"I am very pleased with my side, and the way they responded to that
defeat in the first Test," said Hussain. "The biggest gain on this
tour has been team morale, the spirit we have built up here." They can
build on that spirit in New Zealand, where Caddick is likely to return
in place of Richard Johnson, his Somerset team-mate.
As long as Thorpe has resolved the marital problems that necessitated
his early return to England, the other men to stand down will probably
be Usman Afzaal, who did not get a game here, and Martyn Ball. Warren
Hegg, the reserve wicketkeeper, did not play in India either, but he
will go to New Zealand in a 15-man party.
Compact as the series was, and despite the fact that England lost it,
there was plenty to enjoy. Kumble took his 300th Test wicket, Michael
Vaughan was given out 'handled ball', and White made that maiden
century. Hussain's leadership was outstanding, and was made to look
more impressive by the antics of Sourav Ganguly, who clings to his job
by his fingertips.
The highlights of the series, though, were supplied by an Indian.
Tendulkar batted magnificently for scores of 88, 103 and 90, and
confirmed his reputation as the finest batsman of the day, and a
highly watchable one to boot, as he caned the bowlers across the
Miserable cricket? Miseryguts Roebuck, more like. England have
surpassed expectations in the last six weeks, and those players who
opted not to tour will have to reclaim their places on merit. Well
done, one and all.
India have bowed to the demands of senior players and retained New
Zealander John Wright as national coach until the 2003 World Cup.
Jagmohan Dalmiya, president of the Indian board, confirmed the
appointment after the Bangalore Test.
The South African-based physiotherapist, Andrew Leipus, was also asked
to continue until the World Cup, to be held in South Africa in
February and March 2003.
Dalmiya was ending speculation that the pair would be sacked due to
India's continued poor record outside the sub-continent, where they
have not won a Test series since 1986.
Wright, who made his mark as coach of Kent, became India's first
foreign coach last November.