England should give youth a go

Published : Sep 22, 2001 00:00 IST

WHAT now England? This must surely be the burning question for English cricket. Prior to the recent series against Australia, English cricket was full of hope, after good showings against some of the lesser lights in world cricket.

Against Australia, they looked second class and didn't appear to have improved a great deal since they were comfortably beaten two years ago. While injuries didn't help the English cause, I still felt that Australia would win easily.

It is time the English selectors stopped using a bandage approach to team selection and came up with a concerted, organised plan for the future.

To do this they must be prepared to lose, as youngsters become accustomed to the tough level of Test cricket and above all select a group of 16 players only, who they believe are the future of English cricket.

This is exactly what Australia did when we were in the doldrums and more particularly after the crushing home defeat by Mike Gatting's 1986 team. We were thrashed and this had been the case for some years. We had too many quite talented, but not dedicated players, flitting in and out of the side with a good performance in the Sheffield Shield. It wasn't good enough and too many of these players were not tough enough to succeed in Test cricket.

Sounds familiar doesn't it? In selecting 16 players we knew we only had five players who we felt had the toughness, tenacity and desire to play at the highest level. They were Allan Border, David Boon, Craig McDermott, Geoff Marsh and Steve Waugh.

They were all players who we knew had the steel to be able to play through niggling injuries and broken fingers and who would work their butt off to get back on the field as quickly as possible, if genuinely injured.

I must admit I was very disappointed with many of the English players who took time to get over their injuries. Even a broken little finger caused one of the players to miss a Test.

This is normally a bread and butter injury which most players just carry on with them. I just cannot imagine any of the five Australians mentioned (with reference to 1986) not wanting to get back on the field as quickly as possible, letting minor breaks and injuries keeping them sidelined. Nor can I imagine any of this tough five refusing to tour when their country's cricket was in such a parlous state.

Their pride wouldn't allow them and neither would their survival instinct to consider for even a minute giving someone else a shot at their position in the team.

England now, I believe, are in the ideal position to look to the future, though I am concerned that they have selected almost entirely different squads for the Indian Test series and the Zimbabwe one-dayers. In all, they have selected 26 different players which is far too many.

Australia, the best Test and ODI team in the World, certainly do not have 26 players good enough to represent their country and after watching county cricket for two years I am positive England do not have this number of quality players.

Right now England need every assistance they can get and that means total commitment to the cause from everyone, including the much-travelled and well-rewarded senior players and selectors.

To me the only certain way to improve your cricket is to practice hard and play a lot. England cricketers at present seem to be more concerned with playing less cricket to avoid injury or they haven't enough passion for the game.

If I am asked what is the best tour to rebuild a side, I will suggest a tour of India. It is not the uncomfortable risky tour, that was 30 years ago, but still provides enough challenges on and off the field to make you mentally strong.

Accommodation is very good and the food at the mostly four and five star hotels does not challenge your digestive system. There is enough variety to please even the most nervous and timid eater and most hotels have three or four restaurants featuring food from all over the world.

Above all though it is a country where you must stick together, upcountry doesn't provide the off-field western style entertainment of England, Australia or South Africa and this forces the tourists to entertain themselves and this will bring them closer together. Tours are not as long or tough as they once were. England, for instance, will have a 10-week break before they leave for India, play for about 6 or 7 weeks then come home for Christmas and return for another 5 or 6 weeks in the New Year.

Sounds a pretty sweet cop to me and a lot different to Australia in 1964 when we completed the old full tour of England and on the way back played four Tests in four weeks in India and Pakistan. In all we were away 7 1/2 months and played a lot of cricket.

Right now England need to play a lot of cricket if they hope to improve. With central contracts and players being rested at the discretion of the coach, I believe they were underdone. By my rough calculation most of the Test players would have battled to play 50 days of cricket this season. This is just not good enough, particularly if you are being soundly beaten.

The English selectors have a grave responsibility. England have been down for far too long. There is talent in England. It can be brought to the fore by as much cricket as possible outside of England as the quality of county cricket is very poor. Forget tradition, forget old fashioned ideas of sticking to experienced players. If they give youth a go they will be surprised by what can be achieved.

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