A retreat from the past


AUGUST 22. If you want your children to have job security, a practice net in the garden is probably a necessity. England are unchanged for four Tests and make no apology for their retreat from the days when up to 29 players take part in a single series. Around 25 years ago England field the same team four Tests in a row under Mike Brearley and win the 1977-78 series against Australia 5-1 but that unchanged line-up gets boring and some newspaper scribe with too much time on his hands invents the phrase The England Club, indicating it is more difficult to escape from the Test team than win a place. The present bunch seem happy in one another's company and ready to forgive those who, like the wicket-keeper Geraint Jones, make the occasional mistake. All part of the strategy worked out by David Graveney, the chairman of selectors and the coach Duncan Fletcher. Apparently it's a winner but we will know more about that when the fourth Test ends.

August 23. Dougie Fletcher, no relation to the England coach — "in fact I never play cricket after I leave school" — goes back to Edinburgh where he is born as one of the important backroom boys for Sunset & Vine as they cover the tour match between Australia and Scotland for the BBC. (It rains which means that the BBC's first game for seven years never goes to air). Dougie takes advantage of the rain break to visit his grandmother, now 95, who is in a nursing home after living in the same house for 75 years. "Do you know where I'm working just now?" he asks. "I'm at the Grange ground where you take me boating when I am just a little boy, near your old house and opposite the public house where I meet my wife." Grandma is not impressed. "And where you were always such a naughty wee boy," she reminds Dougie.

August 24. One of the major superstores claims that replica cricket shirts are outselling football shirts three to one, in survey conducted for the sponsors npower more people say they are interested in the fourth Test than in this week-end's Premiership matches and television companies admit their cricket broadcasts are more popular than the football. The whole country seems to be caught up in the game; a relative sends me a cutting from a financial newspaper which claims that the money men are moving into the game in a big way even though one of them admits "The peculiar thing about county cricket is that you cannot make money from it." The future seems to hinge on the attraction of the 20/20 games. But you will remember what David Collier, the new chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board says.

"We have no plans to extend 20-20 cricket." Oh dear! Cricket does not change although I trust some of those guys from the City will prevail on the ECB to see sense. As one of the brighter people puts it: "opportunity in cricket is immense . . . it is so untapped. All the relatively basic actions that could have been taken have not been done. It is critical that we build on the momentum generated by the success of the national side and 20/20. We have to push forward." One of the target groups in this initiative is the Indian population who have such a great enthusiasm for cricket. Ms Sophie Walker, the general manager of Leicestershire, hopes to use Grace Road — "a fabulous ground although it is empty most of the time," she says — for conferences, Indian weddings and pop concerts. As Leicester and its surrounding towns are home to a great many Indian, Sri Lankan and East African Asians she may have a better chance of pulling in those people than other counties. I believe there will be a positive response if the Asians feel they are wanted, if cricketers like Usman Afzaal, Ravinda Bopara and Kabir Ali are used as recruitment agents and role models. This summer is a great time for cricket but it requires money, fresh thinking and someone with initiative to seize the opportunity. Have the administrators grasped that fact? I wonder.

August 25. Shane Warne stands outside the team hotel, a cigarette in one hand, his mobile phone in the other, oblivious of the giggling crowd of girls watching him, intent on his own life, no doubt deeply concerned about his plans for bowling England out in the second innings.

August 26. Immediately Ricky Ponting is given out lbw a voice in the earpiece of Simon `Stormin' Normington asks "Did he get an edge on that?" At first sight `Stormin' — the expert who helps to develop Hawkeye and who is in charge of replays and other special TV insights at the fourth Test thinks the answer is no. But Hawkeye, the device that controls several cameras, too many computers to count and enough cables to span the earth will not be defeated. The noise of bat on ball is so faint, the time difference so small and the subject so important that `Stormin' works for 15 minutes before he finds the answer. Another five minutes and he has put together the tiny clip you see on screen and the world knows Ponting is not out although it is difficult to see how the umpire Steve Bucknor can know. Is it not time cricket uses technology whenever it will help the umpire? I am told it has been possible to judge lbws accurately for five years and that in another five it will be commonplace for the umpire to ask for help. Just a reminder to ICC, the law makers at MCC and all the other governing bodies: this is century 21, the age of new tech and it is time to take advantage. Bucknor and his team-mate Aleem Dar, who is gaining new respect every day, have another problem. When does play end tonight? Does the night watchman Brett Lee step on the field before the bails are removed? In the end they decide to allow Adam Gilchrist to take his place at No. 7. A moot point but important.

August 27. Do Duncan Fletcher and the England and Wales Cricket Board public relations team really think they can keep the seriousness of the injury to Simon Jones a secret? There are more than 100 journalists in the ground as well as a handful of photographers. One of them spots Jones as he returns from hospital after hurting his ankle and asks coach Fletcher about his injury. Fletcher pretends he is not back from hospital yet, then that he must have returned while they have been away from the dressing room, then that he is elsewhere in the ground. These are what Members of Parliament — who cannot define one another liars — call "terminological inexactitudes." Obviously England do not wish the Australians to know how badly Jones is hurt or guess that he may not play at the Oval. But really! Telling fibs to the Press is always the wrong way to go.

August 28. What do you do when the end of the career looms? Graham Thorpe obviously uses the friendships he has built up round the world to find the right job in Australia only a few days after his career with Surrey and England comes to an end, John Wright steps down from the coaching post with India and straight into a management post for the Super Series and another Test star heads for a broadcasting future.

Mike Atherton is leaving Channel 4 and heading for Sky TV. So what lies ahead of Craig White, a regular, essential member of the England side for several years, now captain of Yorkshire but 36 and anticipating the note through the door, the kindly tap on the shoulder or the signal that his time is up. What does he do? "I don't know. I hope I get a contract for the coming year and I anticipate it will all be over for me by the end of next summer." At least one young person knows where her future lies. Sarah Botham is leaving Sky TV where she works alongside her father for the past six years and intends to open a Spanish restaurant near the family home. And of course the whole of the Sunset & Vine — producers of the Channel 4 broadcasts — will be looking for work as the contract also goes to Sky next summer.