Protecting the family silver

TED CORBETT

England's physio Kirk Russell attends to an injured Michael Vaughan before the second Test.-AP

AUGUST 1. Reaction to the unchanged England Test team is generally favourable even though there has been a surge of opinion in favour of Paul Collingwood getting a place in the squad if not the team. This pleasant young man who learns his trade batting and bowling for Durham scores three centuries in four innings in the championship and adds accurate quick bowling and magnificent fielding to his repertoire so in other days he will always be in the national side. But this is the age of consistent selection and now that the team is stronger there is no place for him. Twenty four hours after the announcement of an unchanged team, when Duncan Fletcher, the coach and Michael Vaughan, the captain, inspect the pitch and find it damp, there comes an announcement in my favourite radio station. "We'll tell you something about a surprise change in the England side for the second Test involving Paul Collingwood in the sports news." Yes! At last David Graveney and his men have come round to my way of thinking so that one of the bowlers may be left out, leaving four and Collingwood to operate in what the weather forecasters say will be a rain-affected game. Just between you and me, I put another few pence on England regaining the Ashes this week and I am very pleased when I think that the whole-hearted Collingwood will be batting, bowling and especially fielding to protect my family silver this week.

August 2. When Michael Vaughan, the England captain, is hit on the elbow by the new, 6ft 7in fast bowler Chris Tremlett, all the sympathy is with Vaughan. But what about the talent of Tremlett? Vaughan is one of the finest batsmen in the world, well able to look after himself, an expert at the pull shot he is attempting when he is hit. So are we missing the point here? Is it the pace of Tremlett we ought to be considering? In 1954 the England captain Len Hutton sees Frank Tyson hit Neil Harvey, at that time the finest batsman around, on the pad and cause him agony. "Hello," says Hutton, "that must have been quick." So it proves even though in those days no one can ask the question of a speed gun. Tyson goes on to destroy the Australian batting in the last four Tests and play a large part in England keeping the Ashes and Hutton never losing a series. So what price Tremlett joining Steve Harmison as the tallest pair of opening bowlers in world cricket and perhaps the most painful.

August 3. As we drive into Edgbaston for practice day we hear that Paul Collingwood is on his way to rejoin Durham. England decide they don't want him. Now where is the sense in that? I will have to see how the match pans out before I pass a final judgement but why dampen the lad's enthusiasm by bringing him 150 miles from his home to Birmingham, allowing him 48 hours with the team and then sending him another 150 miles off to play for Durham against Essex at Southend. Still, he does earn 1500 pounds sterling for two days' work which is a consolation. There is a theory that is a massive double bluff by the astute Fletcher but as he never acknowledges his own clever ideas we will just have to guess.

Bob Woolmer's wisdom has to be appreciated.-P. V. SIVAKUMAR

August 4. As the day's play comes to an end Tony Greig and Geoff Boycott are waiting for their taxi when a flashy sports car draws up alongside. "Can I interest you two gentlemen in a lift?" says a voice from the dark interior. Our two heroes leap aboard — even though it is a squash for the 6ft 7in Greig — and find that their kind driver is none other than Kevin Pietersen, England's new hero who just makes 71 off Australia, minus the injured Glenn McGrath. "You throw away a hundred today", he hears as he engages first gear and begins the ten minute trip to their hotel. He has no chance to make any polite small talk when one of the two — and you will have to guess the correct name, using your knowledge of cricket, your instinct and your clever reading of this column down all the last 12 years — gives young Pietersen a lecture on how to ensure you maximise your score whatever the circumstances of the match. Pietersen listens attentively and promises to bear in mind what he hears. So don't fall in a dead faint if sometime soon the new big hitter turns into a dour opening batsman who believes in wearing out the opposition, his own team-mates and the fans before he gives his wicket away.

August 5. We are all publicity aware today, aren't we? Like the kids who fill in for the big lads during the lunch interval. I don't always watch — too much work to do, or perhaps too much lunch to eat — but today I see the winners of one match march to the edge of the field and throw their caps to the crowd. Like the rest of the classroom nation they watch television and ape the way their heroes from Andrew Flintoff to David Beckham to Tiger Woods behave. Even more impressive, this team consists entirely of girls.

August 6. Whenever I see a story about one of the old-timers I wonder: How good was he? Today there is a tale about Kumar Sri Ranjitsinhji Vibhaji — Ranji to 21st century guys like us — whose 1.6 million pounds emerald necklace is for sale. It is one of the most important pieces of Indian jewellery and Ranji, the Maharaja of Nawanagar, thinks it is lovely. As well he might. His pal Jacques Cartier, possibly the best known of all jewellers, adds to its value when he restrings it but when the maharajahs become redundant the necklace disappears. So two questions: how much will it fetch; and how good is Ranji? Pretty good I reckon. He makes 72 first class centuries — remember the players say that a batsman with 20 centuries turns his life in cricket into a career — scores 24,692 runs at 56.37 in 27 years with Sussex and although he makes only 989 runs in 15 Tests he averages 44.95. So, yes, he is not just a prince with good taste in exotic neckware but his figures stand up to scrutiny 100 years down the track. Quite different from Gilbert Jessop, a contemporary of Ranji's. His hitting receives a lot of nostalgic appreciation recently since his crouching style reminds some of Kevin Pietersen, now blasting the ball to all parts of any ground he plays on. True, Jessop puts together one or two magnificent innings but more for Gloucestershire than England with whom he scores a miserable 569 runs in 18 Tests and averages a paltry 21.88.

August 7. As England win I remember the wisdom of Bob Woolmer, coach of South Africa before he joins Pakistan and, appropriately as the second Test takes place at Edgbaston, twice coach of Warwickshire. He e-mails me ahead of this series suggesting that England will only beat Australia if they can curb Adam Gilchrist, the Australian wicket-keeper and brilliant stroke-maker at No.7. How successful are England in keeping this batsman under control? His scores so far in this series are 26 off 29 balls, 10 from 14, 49 not out from 61, and 1 from four. It looks as if someone does their homework and with considerable success. So three cheers for Bob Woolmer and four cheers for Duncan Fletcher. Now that the Test comes to a satisfactory conclusion — see my first paragraph if you wonder why I am so keenly aware of the result — we can head off for Manchester for the next Test. Not enough space for me to turn round, never mind the cricketers. While we are in Rainy City we will take the opportunity to look at the Old Trafford practice pitches which are part of the experiment with glue in the recipe. The local groundsman Peter Marron goes to the do-it-yourself store, buys a commonly available glue and sprays it on top of the pitch. "Great," says Stuart Law, Lancashire's batting hero. "It's just like batting at Perth." So in a couple of years Tests may be played on this new surface and, judging from Law's judgement, there will be plenty of runs and lots of bounce.