A bugbear of English cricket

Paul Collingwood is one of the finest fielders in the world. He wants to do what is best for the team.-AP

The selection committee in England is always full of men who believe in the need to change teams, either to fit circumstances or to replace those out of form, writes Ted Corbett.

January 15: When I hear that pretty Hobart is to be given an Ashes Test I wonder which is the ugliest ground in the world and have to say that among the least attractive are those in industrial Britain: Headingley, Old Trafford and Edgbaston may be filled with the memories of great feats but all three need a sympathetic facelift like the one at Trent Bridge. Every nation has its share of wretched grounds, where the scenery is non-existent, the facilities are poor and the comfort factor is in the minus category. I am going to give my vote to Auckland, a ground designed for Rugby, which means the spectator has a poor view which may, in turn, account for the reputation the crowd has for bad behaviour. Not that it produces bad cricket. I shall always treasure Eden Park for two innings: one by Derek Randall in 1984 and Inzamam-ul-Haq's major contribution to Pakistan's 1992 World Cup success when his astonishing hitting knocked New Zealand out in the semifinal.

January 16: While we are talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, let's look at the magnificent double hundred scored by Paul Collingwood once again. The honest tradesman is the only England batsman since Wally Hammond to score more than 200 in a Test in Australia. Only two other Englishmen achieve that feat. Hammond, clearly a great batsman, makes three double hundreds and Reg Foster, who tops the list with 287. Collingwood is at the head of another queue, as the unluckiest player in this England party. Today in Hobart he mixes a lot of slower balls into his fast medium and brings the Kiwi middle-order batting to a standstill. He is one of the finest fielders in the world and he says all he wants is to do what is best for the team. And what is his reward? He plunges down the order as if all England's batting misery is his fault. What! With an average of 48.11 during the series? Do me a favour! He ought to be in the depths of despair but not this brave soldier. A friend meets him in the hotel lift and tries to commiserate. "Don't worry about me," says Collingwood. "I'm loving it."

January 17: In 1975-76 West Indies tour Australia with a bunch of the most talented, charismatic and hostile players in the game's history and lose, carelessly, by 5-1. When they return home Clive Lloyd calls his senior men together and says: "We must never do that again." Within 10 years they are the greatest side ever to parade their skills around the world. In 2005 Australia go confidently to England, and lose 2-1 after winning the first Test handsomely. The players return to Australia and vow they will do their best to regain the Ashes 5-0. They succeed to such a degree that four of their prominent players feel able to retire, all but Shane Warne sure their places will not be empty long. England just lose 5-0 and now the ECB is to set up a committee, with a non-cricket chairman, and second choice experts. Is the object to produce a whitewash? I hope not. What disappoints me is that the players do not produce a declaration of intent, swear to make their own plans for a revival, or meet to settle their own way forward. There is a reason. Selection is one of the bugbears of English cricket. The committee is always full of men who believe in the need to change teams, either to fit circumstances or to replace those out of form. Australia — and to a lesser extent West Indies — do not face this problem. Their selectors decide years ago to back class rather than form, that a man who can play Test cricket in Antigua can also play one-day games in Melbourne. Sometimes they are so consistent in their wish to produce the same players repeatedly that the team grows old and rebuilding is a problem. That does not happen in England. They have more professional players and use the maximum number — 14 players in the five Tests, 25 in all on the current tour of Australia and another nine in reserve in Perth during the Tests — rather than a small compact group. When there are no injuries and they stick with the same team throughout 2005 they achieved success. But that is a rarity and shows why the England players of the moment are wary of committing themselves to revenge when Australia visit in 2009. There is no guarantee that any of the present team will be playing two years from now even though they are young men with miles of Test cricket in their legs. This essential difference between England and any other Test side explains everything that has gone wrong in the last 10 weeks. I will happily tell the committee this simple fact too. What was good enough for our ancestors is still good enough for the modern cricketer, I hear, and that means that an improvement is unlikely any time soon. If Michael Vaughan is consulted I feel he may get an audience for whatever explanation and plan he has to offer and I wish him luck in trying to make it work.

January 18: We will remember this Australian summer for the farewells to Marcus Trescothick, Damien Martyn, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer. Now Michael Bevan joins the queue in the departures lounge because, aged 36, he is not in the World Cup squad. At one time he is the greatest finisher a team can wish for; now his place is taken by Michael Hussey with an even better average and the added advantage that he can play Test cricket as well. If Bevan has a tiny bit more resolution against the short ball he may be a fine Test No. 5 as well.

January 19: "You're British, I should give you a discount," says our taxi driver and promptly knocks 10 per cent off the bill. So there is still an advantage to being a Pom in the wide, generous brown land.

January 20: Ken Schofield, chairman of the inquiry into What Went Wrong? is asked to finish his report by March. With nine men on his committee and 10 different questions to answer and innumerable witnesses to hear he is facing Mission Impossible just to get the report written.

January 21: When Liam Plunkett returns to England he is due to appear in court on a driving charge. The case is waiting for his return. Imagine this scene. Clerk of the court: "Where are you in the last four months?" Plunkett: "In Australia with England." Clerk of the court: "What is your job out there exactly?" Answer comes "none" from the all-rounder who never makes it to the field in either Test or, to date, a single one-dayer.