David Morgan orders an inquiry


DECEMBER 2: David Morgan, the new chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, orders an inquiry into English cricket; and good luck to him. There have been more investigations into the failures of our first-class game than I care to remember. Where have they taken us? Precisely nowhere. Yet, several of the reasons for England being unable to compete with Australia at the moment are too obvious to need any sort of probe. I will repeat two of my own arguments: No single England captain of the last 30 years is now involved in the administration or selection of the England team; and there is an absence from the England team of a great player even though our soccer has men of quality like David Beckham and Michael Owen and Johnny Wilkinson is the greatest goalkicker in either Rugby code. Justin Rose one of the most promising golfers in the world and Tim Henman a high-class competitor in tennis. Why have Mike Denness, Tony Greig, Geoff Boycott, Mike Brearley, Ian Botham, Bob Willis, David Gower, Mike Gatting, Graham Gooch and Michael Atherton not been co-opted on to the selection panel? Where is cricket's equivalent of Owen, Beckham, Wilkinson, Rose and Henman? Perhaps the Morgan inquiry will discover the answer and make suggestions for correcting these two major problems. That would be a greater service to the game that the almost hysterical suggestions which follow the defeats at Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth which, predictably, throw the country into uproar. Botham says Nasser Hussain must go because he grumbles at his bowlers and makes the wrong decision at the toss in Brisbane. Alec Bedser, now 84, says he and his brother Eric did not play cricket at school but made their own arrangements and that therefore the concerns about the amount of cricket played by youngsters are not valid. Hussain makes it clear he wants to continue which is remarkable since he shoulders all the blame so far. But, as I pointed out before in this column, there is a proportion of blame, which must attach to Duncan Fletcher, the coach. Surely his responsibility extends to the care after operations of Darren Gough and Andrew Flintoff. In America, Gough hears his treatment has been wrong; other voices ask if his own determination to carry out remedial work has been sufficient. Flintoff is told that unless he gets fit quick he will go home and will not be going to the World Cup. A doctor with an affiliation to the world of cricket whispers to me that she will never allow Flintoff to restart playing as quickly as he has. It is at times like these that cures are suggested, that all those who previously said nothing tell us how well they will have dealt with each difficulty. What is clear is this: the solutions offered by the England management to the problems of this tour has been right off target.

England captain Nasser Hussain with coach Duncan Fletcher. Though Hussain shoulders all the blame for his team's poor performance Down Under, there is a proportion of blame, which must attach to the coach, Fletcher, says the author.

December 3. Mark Waugh is given the captaincy of the Prime Minister's side to play England at Canberra in a one-day game; a bit of fun unless England lose in which case it is treated as the most serious game in history and fresh demands are made for heads to roll, the guilty men identified and everyone to be sacked. Australia miss Waugh in this series. He will certainly make more runs than Darren Lehmann and he will hold some of the 10 catches that elude the close fielders. His brother Steve is still hoping against hope that he can play in the World Cup and continue as Australian captain for another 18 months. Everyone else in Australia thinks that Waugh's time has ended.

December 4. This trip to Australia is my 10th in the last 20 years and by and large I enjoy every second although long ago I learn that underneath many bluff, hail-mate-well-met Australians there is a shy and diffident, curiously worried guy with an inferiority complex. In addition the whole country has a severe shock — and no one will be surprised at this development — since so many young Aussies die in the bomb attack on a nightclub in Bali. But is there any need for the high level of security, which invades the WACA. I think it is a massive over-reaction. The gentleman who guards the Press Box is zealous to the extent that he has to be given an alternative duty and several of the security men clearly get the wrong idea when they try to search spectators as they leave the ground. Strong Barmy Army minds combine to inform these guardians of the WACA that this idea is unnecessary. When the game ends on the first day dozens of these private protectors of law and order ring the boundary rope and turn to stare at the — mainly local — watchers. The Perth paper protests. "Don't the WACA authorities trust the people of Western Australia?" it asks.

December 5. Perth is the home of the Hollioake family and the city where, sadly, Ben Hollioake dies in a car crash soon after playing for England in India, last winter. Happily, the family is in recovery mode as a charity in his name is launched, his father says in a television interview that he can now watch cricket once again and Adam, the elder brother who was so upset by the young brother's death that he returns late to county cricket — and still leads Surrey to the championship, plans a new venture. The scheme — described by Adam as "mad" — involves walking from London to Dover, sailing across the Channel, walking through France and then rowing to North Africa. Let's wish him well as, naturally, he is intent on raising money for the good causes now associated with Ben's name.

December 6. Miss Joanne King and I head for a week's holiday down among the tall trees in southern Western Australia where we relax on the beaches, go walking in the bush amid clouds of flies, explore the river ways and try to shrug off the effects of watching a team mauled much as lions tore apart Christians in Rome during Nero's time. Meanwhile the England team are offered advice from all sides. Adam Parore, once New Zealand's finest wicket-keeper, gives an insight into their success against Australia which seems to consist of bowling short and wide of off-stump to every batsman who comes to the crease. I have just one question for Mr. Parore: Why does he wait until the Ashes are lost before delivering his strategic notes?

December 7. As England head for a 5-0 Ashes defeat I study the last such whitewash in 1920-21 to see if there are any lessons to learn. All I discover is that an England team containing some of the greatest batsmen in their history — Jack Hobbs, Wilfred Rhodes, Frank Woolley and Patsy Hendren — lose by huge margins in very short order and that when they repeat the series in England it is just as easy for Australia. At one stage in the Trent Bridge Test the huge Australian captain Warwick Armstrong — 20 st and known as The Big Ship — picks up a newspaper and pretends to read it while fielding on the boundary. "I want to know who we are playing," he says.

December 8. A curious auction takes place of 51 of Don Bradman's letters from the 1940s and 1950s. The correspondence is between him and E. A. "Chippie" Dwyer, chairman of the selection panel for 22 years, and goes to the State Library of New South Wales for 96,000 Australian dollars without, under an arrangement designed to keep the price down, the Library's representative making a bid. The price is described as a bargain. The letters — Bradman replied promptly to everyone who wrote to him — appear to contain juicy remarks about players. Only a year or so after his death a new picture of Bradman is emerging. Ian Chappell, who knew him well as South Australian and then Australian captain, has described discussion with Bradman for a television programme in which Bradman's meanness towards players in his time as an administrator is clearly displayed. I am also the owner of a Bradman letter in which he is unkind about a man with whom he worked closely for a number of years. It is time for a serious re-appraisal of this man.