Fletcher's boys tormented by a demon


ENGLAND'S Duncan Fletcher is said to earn the highest salary among all the coaches around the world. Now he has to earn his money. After defeat by 239 runs by Australia at Lord's, Fletcher, a man who keeps his plans to himself, has a number of alternatives.

He can go to the selectors — he is one of them by the way — and ask for a whole raft of changes. Unlikely. He can stick to the same team but raise the temperature on the practice pitch, order extra nets and shout like a tyrannical football manager. Impossible. He can offer his resignation. Not after one defeat.

He can request one or two changes and stick to the same routine as before, thus inspiring confidence among his players. Soon after the game he issued a list of county games in which his players could take part. The fact that he had told them they could play only in a few one-day games is the clue to the degree of panic which has occurred since the debacle.

In other words nothing will change. Rest is deemed to be more important than match play; the Fletcher dictum that gave England victory in 13 successive Tests, four series and the important triumph in South Africa last winter. He will not be persuaded that there is a better method and he will stand or fall by his way.

If England get back into the series — even win it 2-1 as suggested by David Graveney, the chairman of selectors — Fletcher's stature and his wage packet will be all the greater.

If he fails then England may be looking for a new coach sometime soon and I guess he will head back to South Africa to wait for another post. There is always a board somewhere thinking they could use a new coach.

In the meantime Fletcher has to guard against any form of excessive reaction to the fury of a disappointed press, the annoyance of spectators who felt they were cheated when England put up such a poor fight and those who have staked small wagers on the return of the Ashes. But he — and the captain Michael Vaughan — had better look for answers to a whole raft of questions.

Ricky Ponting won the toss, decided to bat and had the whole of Britain in ecstasy when his team were bowled out by Steve Harmison and Co for 190 in 40 overs. A combination of straight fast bowling from Harmison, taking his sixth five-wicket haul including four for seven in 14 balls at the end, and a series of billionaire shots, made some think the Ashes were as good as won.

Then came Glenn McGrath, striding in from the pavilion end like a great white hunter who has been told there is a man-eating tiger round the corner. In no time England were five for 21, all out for 155 and only Kevin Pietersen, top scorer in his first Test and ninth out for 57, with even a defiant look.

That tiny difference of 35 on first innings — Australia were batting a second time an hour before lunch on the second day — would have been acceptable if England had not dropped seven catches in the match, the biggest single factor in their downfall.

Particularly Pietersen, oddly enough, since he is a fine fielder, an intelligent cricketer and a safe pair of hands. And worst of all he dropped Michael Clarke on 21 and the youngest Australian batsman went on to make another 70.

You could almost hear, never mind see, the sound of heads dropping and for the next couple of hours the England attack fell apart.

So Australia had a lead of 419, leaving England two and a half days to sort out their future. Of course they never looked like saving the match, Shane Warne bowled out three batsmen at the end of the third day when England finished on 155 for five.

It rained until almost tea time on the fourth day but Australia needed just 61 balls to finish off the innings. Thereby hangs a curious tale. Pietersen made top score, was not out at the end for his second fifty of his debut match and never made an important mistake while he was at the crease. With careful defence and some high powered shots he came out of the game as well as anyone who played.

So why did he repeatedly take singles early in the over — off the first ball in one instance — when he was batting with the tail in the second innings.

Under pressure from Warne and McGrath the last four batsmen all made nought thus prompting the thought that the three lions on their sweater might be replaced by four little ducks.

Pietersen should have protected Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Harmison and Simon Jones instead of leaving them to face the wrath of two of the greatest bowlers the world has ever known with an aggregate of 1,098 wickets.

So Pietersen made two fifties but dropped three catches and let his tail-end mates to the mercy of bowlers desperate for more victims.

That is another problem for Fletcher; finding the cure for Pietersen's faults.

As for the Australians, it has all been said before. They are world champions in both forms of the game. Ponting reached 7,000 runs in this Test, Matthew Hayden has held the world record with 380, Clarke is promising with an average of 42 and Adam Gilchrist, is a one-man demolition squad with 15 Test centuries batting at No.7.

So England can only compete if Fletcher does his work properly. I cannot claim to have a clue about the inner workings of his mind; he is too secretive for that.

So here is my solution to the lack of solid batting and reliable catching that lies at the heart of the England hangover from this first Test.

He should forget all the nonsense about bringing back Graham Thorpe who will pay more attention to getting publicity for his forthcoming book than the England cause now that he has announced his retirement and fallen out with David Graveney.

Thorpe has never expected to play in this series since Pietersen made runs in South Africa and then in the one-day games and he cannot expect to be considered again after saying he received "vibes" from Graveney that he was fourth in the queue for the No.5 spot.

Nor should they return to the immobile Rob Key. They cannot afford more bad fielding. Ian Bell looks timid and Ed Joyce is untried.

I have a name of a stout-hearted cricketer, a great fielder and a man for a crisis. Paul Collingwood is the batsman who can save England.

This son of Durham has nothing else in his life save his cricket. He desperately wants to make the Test team, he is the best fielder in the country and he can bowl better medium pace back-up than Bell or Marcus Trescothick.

I am told that he is not a Test batsman, that he would be shown up if he had to play a long innings, that Warne and McGrath would see him off without trouble. Perhaps not. He has had just four Test innings, all in Sri Lanka and he made 1, 36, 28 not out and 24; average 33. Is that not better than the scores put together by the top five in the first innings at Lord's and better than all the batsmen except Trescothick, Andrew Strauss and Pietersen in the second.

You may have forgotten David Steele of Northamptonshire but I run into him so often and he never fails to remind me how ordinary a batsman he was. Yet, at the behest of the captain Tony Greig, Steele was brought into the side and defied Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson for a whole series, aged 33.

He did not last long after that series but he had done what Greig wanted: put up a barrier, showed the great fast bowlers that there was a heart in the England side and stopped them in their menacing stride.

That is what England need now. Not a greyhound but a mongrel; a snarling, biting, clawing dog who has to wear a spike collar round its neck for its own protection.

Collingwood might turn out to be just such a dog and enable England to turn the corner. If someone of that sort does not emerge I am afraid the Ashes are lost again. And Duncan Fletcher will fly home with nothing to show for six years' hard work except the scars of battle.

The scores

First Test, Lord's, July 21 to 24, Australia won by 239 runs.

Australia — 1st innings: J. L. Langer c Harmison b Flintoff 40; M. L. Hayden b Hoggard 12; R. T. Ponting c Strauss b Harmison 9; D. R. Martyn c Geraint Jones b S. P. Jones 2; M. J. Clarke lbw S. P. Jones 11; S. M. Katich c Geraint Jones b Harmison 27; A. C. Gilchrist c Geraint Jones b Flintoff 26; S. K. Warne b Harmison 28; B. Lee c Geraint Jones b Harmison 3; J. N. Gillespie lbw Harmison 1; G. D. McGrath (not out) 10; Extras (b 5, lb 4, w 1, nb 11) 21; Total 190.

Fall of wickets: 1-35, 2-55, 3-66, 4-66, 5-87, 6-126, 7-175, 8-178, 9-178.

England bowling: Harmison 11.2-0-43-5, Hoggard 8-0-40-1, Flintoff 11-2-50-2, S. P. Jones 10-0-48-2.

England — 1st innings: M. E. Trescothick c Langer b McGrath 4; A. J. Strauss c Warne b McGrath 2; M. P. Vaughan b McGrath 3; I. R. Bell b McGrath 6; K. P. Pietersen c Martyn b Warne 57; A. Flintoff b McGrath 0; G. O. Jones c Gilchrist b Lee 30; A. F. Giles c Gilchrist b Lee 11; M. J. Hoggard c Hayden b Warne 0; S. J. Harmison c Martyn b Lee 11; S. P. Jones (not out) 20; Extras (b 1, lb 5, nb 5) 11; Total 155.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-11, 3-18, 4-19, 5-21, 6-79, 7-92, 8-101, 9-122.

Australia bowling: McGrath 18-5-53-5, Lee 15.1-5-47-3, Gillespie 8-1-30-0, Warne 7-2-19-2.

Australia — 2nd innings: J. L. Langer (run out) 6; M. L. Hayden b Flintoff 34; R. T. Ponting c sub b Hoggard 42; D. R. Martyn lbw Harmison 65; M. J. Clarke b Hoggard 91; S. M. Katich c S. P. Jones b Harmison 67; A. C. Gilchrist b Flintoff 10; S. K. Warne c Giles b Harmison 2; B. Lee (run out) 8; J. N. Gillespie b S. P. Jones 13; G. D. McGrath (not out) 20; Extras (b 10, lb 8, nb 8) 26; Total 384.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-54, 3-100, 4-255, 5-255, 6-274, 7-279, 8-289, 9-341.

England bowling: Harmison 27.4-6-54-3, Hoggard 16-1-56-2,Flintoff 27-4-123-2, S. P. Jones 18-1-69-1, Giles 11-1-56-0, Bell 1-0-8-0.

England — 2nd innings: M. E. Trescothick c Hayden b Warne 44; A. J. Strauss c & b Lee 37; M. P. Vaughan b Lee 4; I. R. Bell lbw Warne 8; K. P. Pietersen (not out) 64; A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Warne 3; G. O. Jones c Gillespie b McGrath 6; A. F. Giles c Hayden b McGrath 0; M. J. Hoggard lbw McGrath 0; S. J. Harmison lbw Warne 0; S. P. Jones c Warne b McGrath 0; Extras (b 6, lb 5, nb 3) 14; Total 180.

Fall of wickets: 1-80, 2-96, 3-104, 4-112, 5-119, 6-158, 7-158, 8-164, 9-167.

Australia bowling: McGrath 17.1-2-29-4, Lee 15-3-58-2, Gillespie 6-0-18-0, Warne 20-2-64-4.