Graveney’s problem

After the debacle last winter in Australia a report into the way the England team is run is provided by the Schofield Committee who suggest a change in the structure. So now Graveney, chairman of the selectors, has to re-apply for the job he has been doing successfully since 1997. No wonder he looks worried, writes Ted Corbett.

November 29: We always take a little exercise to combat the effects of jet lag but walking down the street in Negombo we hear a shout of “Come here, sir and see the TV news” from a local shopkeeper who shows us the first evi dence of the bomb that kills 17 people — the wrong people as so often happens — and demands to know if England will go home. To their credit England decide, from the safety of Kandy four hours away, that they are in no immediate danger and that they will play on. I believe that terrorists will baulk at the idea of killing famous sportsmen; even their most ardent supporters will feel such an act is unnecessary. Still it is clear that another such blast can easily spook England’s young players, leaving the team management with no alternative but to retreat home long before Christmas.

November 30: Geoff Boycott rings to question my logic. He says it may be time to bring in a rule forcing players to wait two years before telling the secrets of the dressing room. I write that his theory may infringe modern thinking on the rights of players to earn money. He points out — rightly — that if a player signs a contract agreeing to a two-year delay that can be enforced and I am pleased to agree with him on that point.

December 1: There is a tale that has been kicking around the county circuit for some time now but I cannot resist repeating it since it gives us a clue about the character of the missing Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff who, as the second half of the tour of Sri Lanka begins, is doing what he does best off the field — getting fit after an ankle operation. It seems that he and his wife Rachael are doing a little window shopping — under the gaze of the paparazzi if the story of their life is accurate — when Rachael expresses her admiration for a certain, very expensive, handbag. In white. Cash-happy Freddie — £1m or some say £2m keep the bailiffs from his door I hear — secretly buys one in cream, not knowing that Rachael already has one in black. When he hears that she really prefers the white version, along comes a third. On Mother’s Day. All together now — ahhhhhhh! It is good to know that Rachael, as clever as she is tall and beautiful, has enough brain power for two, runs her own company at 19 and once has 2,000 staff on her books. She encourages Freddie — he is always Andrew to her, by the way — to be himself while I have seen with my own eyes his dedication to the two children. Nice to find one happy family in sport.

December 2: David Graveney finds himself in limbo as he wanders round the Kandy ground. He is chairman of the selectors for the past 10 years — his promotion comes only a year after he joins the panel and admits he never sees a Test live before — and most people I speak to think he does a fine job, often in difficult circumstances. First he has to deal with a dearth of star players; then, as the team improves he has to deal with a contrary coach. Duncan Fletcher likes his own way and does not always consult his bosses about the way forward, particularly when he is far from headquarters. To Graveney’s credit, when England lose the first Test of the 2005 series against Australia he refuses to panic, chooses the same side and sees it regain the Ashes. Some people think that decision alone is qualification enough for the biggest selection job of all but sadly Graveney then picks Andrew Flintoff as the captain for the return leg and sets in motion a series of events which results in a whitewash for the first time since the 1920s. After the debacle last winter in Australia a report into the way the team is run is provided by the Schofield Committee who suggest a change in the structure. So now Graveney has to re-apply for the job he has been doing successfully since 1997. No wonder he looks worried.

December 3: Ms. Joanne King and I retire to a fashionable if eccentric Kandy eaterie by the name of Helga’s Folly to celebrate 21 years of happy touring together and find a unique angle to their service. The serving staff all wear plastic gloves when bringing food to the table. What on earth are they trying to tell us?

December 4: No country on earth has ever produced more fast medium bowlers than England where the softer pitches, the regular doses of rain and the tendency to play every day of the short summer make them ideal new ball bowlers in county cricket. In the 19th century Alfred Shaw bowls his four-ball overs so economically that the laws are changed, S. F. Barnes sprints in off a short run to send down a variety of deliveries from a fast yorker to a leg break and Fred Tate, father of the better-known Maurice, is one of the old-fashioned masters of inswing. Maurice Tate finds a permanent place in the England side at the opposite end to Harold Larwood but decides that the new boy Don Bradman has the wrong technique and tells the kid who turns out to be the greatest batsmen of them all about his defects in no uncertain terms. Bradman is unimpressed and takes revenge on Tate to such an extent that his Test career comes to an end. In the late 1940s Alec Bedser finds a way to get rid of the pesky Bradman — caught at leg slip — and in the 1990s Gus Fraser discovers a way to conquer the pain of bowling day-in, day-out and actually wins praise from Bedser who is still telling anyone that the modern bowler lacks accuracy, pace, thinking powers and the ability to bowl the unplayable ball. Perhaps he will mellow when he reaches 90 or when he gets a new look at Matthew Hoggard as he approaches 250 Test wickets. I believe I may be present at the turning point in Hoggard’s career when he has a long chat with Fred Trueman in South Africa. It is not that Trueman suggests a change in the Hoggard method but that he takes the trouble to offer encouragement which seems to turn Hoggard from a bowler of monotonous outswing to a craftsman who alters speed, line and length and sometimes moves the ball the other way. Welcome to the fast medium club, Matthew and don’t forget that you can overhaul the Trueman Test tally of 307 wickets long before you retire. He still wants to be a vet, an ambition that pre-dates his entry into professional cricket. He still lists his hobbies as “dog walking”, a keep fit exercise he has in common with the Tates and one that may enable him to stay fit and combative when the believers in the stationary bike and the running machine hobble into retirement.