Method to cure run drought


Glenn McGrath celebrates the wicket of Ashley Giles. Having got rid of four English batsmen for no score in the Lord's Test, he is set to create a record of sorts.-AP

JULY 25. There is a touching moment at the end of the first Test as Glenn McGrath runs across the Lord's ground to meet his family and lead his two children by the hand across to his mates celebrating in the grandest refurbished pavilion in the world. Something to tell their grandchildren in years to come no doubt. But hang on a minute, this is the 21st century; so no touching moment goes unrecorded and daddy McGrath is trailed everywhere he goes by several camera crews and many photographers. He does not object in the team's moment of triumph and if his kids want to tell the tale to their offspring 50 years from now at least they will have the photographs and a video to make the story come to life. By the way, here is a stat you did not think of: four more batsmen gone for nought and McGrath will have created 100 ducks in his Test career. No wonder it's so wet this summer.

July 26. The inquest on England's defeat begins; but first, the Barry Dudleston story. Before he becomes one of the country's shrewdest umpires Dudleston is a leading batsman for Leicestershire and close to an England call-up. Just like the rest of us, he has his off days and in the middle of a month in which, as the players like to say he cannot buy a run, he is accosted by Ray Illingworth, then his captain, and many years later chairman of the selectors. "You're not making too many runs," says Illingworth. "Tell you what. We have no match on Saturday. Find a village team who will play you for just one match, bat all the way through their innings and tell me how you get on." After a lot of searching around Dudleston finds a team who will let him play and duly makes a century. "Get on all right?" asks the wisest man in cricket. "I hit a century," says Dudleston and goes on to score heavily for the rest of the summer. Now why can't Michael Vaughan, the England captain, Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick follow that pattern. They hardly make a run in the first Test yet Duncan Fletcher the coach will not let them play in their county championship games this week although they have permission to take part in one-day matches.

Vaughan will have one-to-one coaching with Fletcher, a method which cures a run drought last summer. Let's hope it works again but surely even a couple of two-day matches in the Minor Counties will restore confidence to any of those players who, like Andrew Flintoff, do not play a first class innings between May 23 and the first Test against Australia. As for the inquest it goes along familiar lines. One of the newspapers calls England "Natural Vaughan Losers", the England brain washing expert Steve Bull gives it "what crisis" and Jonty Rhodes, the South African batsman and amazing fielder, says "they must use tennis balls for catching practice". No doubt someone will come up with a witch doctor and a way of boosting confidence by dancing naked round an old oak tree or training with the Navy before the week-end.

July 27. Andrew Flintoff escapes the inquests by taking his wife Rachael and baby daughter Holly on a holiday in the West Country for a couple of days. Of course if you are 6ft 4in, 16st, with a mop of blond hair that is seen on the television many days a year there is little chance of avoiding the fans, the autograph hunters and those who want to have their pictures taken with you — even if your latest match is a rotten defeat. The drubbing does not worry Freddie. "No panic in the dressing room," he explains. "We have the team spirit to turn the series around." Freddie evolves from his days as a party animal into a sober family man who never leaves wife and daughter for longer than four days. When baby comes along he swaps his high powered motor car for a more sedate model so that he can fit in the pram, the cot and all the other bits and bobs that go to make a child's life comfortable. By the way, this new custom of dragging the family along to every Test, is a far cry from the days — not too long ago — when wives and children are never welcome. I once meet Mrs. Phil Edmonds in a hotel lobby during a West Indies tour. "Frances," I say sternly, "you should not be here. The Board forbid it." She laughs. "I know. I tell them to get lost." Oh, the good old days. Incidentally, you may imagine that the exceptional eye, hand co-ordination of an athlete, the thinking power of a proficient chess player and the way Flintoff handles pressure will ensure he passes his driving test first time. Not at all. "I'm rubbish," says Freddie. "I need three attempts to pass my test. I'm so nervous." Not that I can mock. All those years ago it takes me five attempts to pass my test.

Paul Collingwood had made a proper case for himself and duly got a late call up for the second Test.-AP

July 28. Durham's Paul Collingwood is the next cab off the rank according to the rumours and he makes out a proper case for himself by scoring 181, his fourth hundred of the summer batting at No. 3, against Somerset, just a few days after hitting 190 off Derbyshire. So far Collingwood, 29, plays only two Tests, both on the last tour of Sri Lanka but there is no better fielder in the country and he produces a few powerful innings during the one-day matches. In the past England have trouble finding a place for him in the batting line-up but now he has settled in at No. 3 for his county perhaps he can make a telling contribution in the Ashes series. "A place in the Test team has always been my ambition since I start playing," he says in that soft Geordie accent. "I get a taste in Sri Lanka and I want more. I'm sure I can make a difference."

July 29. Don't imagine for an over that it is only Shane Warne who can find willing ladies and then wake up on a Sunday morning to discover that his new friend runs indignantly to a tabloid. Simon Jones — who already has a girl friend — falls into the same trap which may explain his dismissal as the last of four noughts in the second innings at Lord's. I leave the coaching to Duncan Fletcher but I can give his team some advice on romance. If a girl says she is interested in getting to know you better, offer your phone number. If she says `no thanks — but if you have the number of a tabloid, I'll take that?' be very, very frightened. Jones already feels the pain. "It's been a bad couple of days," he says. "We lose the Test and my girl friend leaves."

July 30. I spend the week re-reading One-Man Committee, the thoughts of Ray Illingworth on his time as chairman of selectors 10 years ago. He is wise in the ways of cricket; he even tells me how to cure disease in my lawn! In the book Illy says: "All I ever try to do with selection is made sure the reasoning is right at the time. You can be proved wrong by form and fitness, or even bad luck with a brilliant catch or a poor decision, but it is what the reasoning is at the time that is important." I wonder if David Graveney, Duncan Fletcher and Geoff Miller will feel they have the reasoning right when they review this summer's selections in September. My suspicion is that the (missing) names of Graham Thorpe, Chris Read and Paul Collingwood will return to haunt them.

July 31. The crowd at the Oval appear to enjoy the 20-20 finals with one exception. They boo the group Girls Aloud who wriggle about to their records and who, to be frank about it, deserve a boo or two. It also seems unfortunate that both Andrew Flintoff and Marcus Trescothick get a place in the final when a few lesser players help Lancashire and Somerset win their place. Somerset are the winners, on the back of powerful batting by Graeme Smith, the South African captain, recalling the days when Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner bring joy to that neglected corner of sporting Britain. What a shame none of these three great men are there to see their revival.