We never saw the best of Bishop

TED CORBETT

SOMETIMES you know a great player as soon as he takes guard, sets off on his run to the wicket, picks up the ball at cover. Others take a while to impress their names on the consciousness.

Ian Bishop was clearly the next in the line of outstanding West Indies fast bowlers the moment he began his long race to the crease when I first saw him in 1988.

"Who's this!" I thought. That height, that massive frame and beautiful smooth run and that lovely action. If he had steered clear of injury he might have been the greatest of them all, still going with 450 wickets to his credit.

What a line of giants. Hall, Griffith, Sobers, Roberts, Holding, Croft, Marshall, Garner, Bishop, Ambrose and Walsh.

Isn't that a queue where you might want to force yourself to the front? Sadly, for all his 161 Test wickets, his pace, his control and his ability to wrench life out of every pitch - except the one at Derby prepared to try fast bowlers to their limit - Bishop was plagued by back injuries and their consequences.

By the way, his Test bowling average was 24.28, right up there with the best and his strike rate 52.25, drove fear into the heart of any batsman arriving at the wicket soon after Bishop had gathered up yet another wicket.

Will I be next? And how soon?

We never saw the best of him and now he sits in the television commentary box, dispensing wisdom in a gentle voice that belies his huge frame. He is 34, the age at which Courtney Walsh was still in his everlasting prime.

Nathan Astle is 30, yet in the last seven years he has played international cricket to an audience who might as well have been unconscious. Hands up all those who remember him before the recent matches in Australia. Did you not rub your eyes during his undefeated hundred against England to win the fifth match and the series?

How come this guy has 12 one-day centuries and we hardly noticed he was playing.

Go on. Be honest. A few of you must have thought you were watching a dream come to life when he batted all the way through the innings in Dunedin. He began like a tornado, settled down to a whispering breeze and then blew a gale again at the end.

A run-a-ball hundred is good in any circumstances but when you know that you are batting with some players who are more famous for getting out than staying in there is a need to concentrate that makes sure you will have a headache afterwards.

It was his 12th one-day hundred in 150 games and he stands joint-eighth in the list of one-day century-makers. It beat his own top score and brought his 5,000th one-day run. Now we have to regard him seriously and with that assessment begin to look on New Zealand as contenders for the World Cup.

They are not a great side but if they have all their stars fit, and keep their coach - a former teacher, exactly the right background for their learning curve - and captain in place and concentrate hard on that single objective, they could shock the world as Sri Lanka did.

Astonishingly, Viv Richards played 187 games to score 11 one-day centuries. I know it's a while since Viv retired but you might remember that he could bat a bit.

Richards called one-day internationals "junk cricket" which may have affected his attitude towards run-scoring and he often batted at No. 4 and even further down the order.

He needed inspiration or a fury to hit runs as he did at Old Trafford in 1984 when his undefeated 189 came out of 272 for nine in 55 overs. At one stage West Indies were 102 for seven and only Baptiste (26) and Michael Holding (12) made double figures.

Richards had it in his head that he did not receive enough respect from the England bowlers and his strokes were his public vengeance. Neil Foster, who was a young bowler making his way in the international world at that time, spoke to me last summer about that innings. "Frightening," was his best effort.

The top hundreds men in one-day internationals are all openers with the exception of Brian Lara, who is an exception to all the rules. Five are left-handers by the way. Does that tell us something?

The mighty Sachin stands at the top of the list with 31 centuries. I think it is even more remarkable that his 11,069 runs have been scored at a rate of 86.42 which truly makes him the Bradman of the limited overs era.

Two men from the sub-continent - both left-handers - follow. Saeed Anwar has 19 one-day hundreds and Sourav Ganguly 18, like Mark Waugh. I guess that Ganguly may have time to add one or two more and that Waugh may, like his brother Steve, be close to the end of his career; even if he does hold every catch within his orbit. Des Haynes made 17 centuries with Lara 14, and Astle and the left-handed Gary Kirsten on 12 each.

Would you like to predict how Lara will go from here? He averages 42.43 despite all his ups and downs. He has been out of the game for three months with a serious injury and yet there will still be a buzz the next time he steps on to a cricket ground.

His strike rate of 78.47 comes third to Tendulkar and Anwar (81.36); his life has been full of incidents, controversies and, some would say, more than his share of ill luck. Perhaps he should return to opening the innings, as Mark Waugh did late in his career, so that he will have the time to turn fifties into hundreds.

The opening batsmen are the key to the big scores in one-day internationals as England found to their cost in New Zealand. While Astle was making that decisive century - one of the best I have ever seen - Marcus Trescothick was out in single figures. He batted only 12 balls yet it was his second longest innings of the series. Was it because he had switched to keeping wickets?

The inquiry which followed back in England was prolonged and detailed but the findings asked another question. When cricket restarts in April will the elastic in Alec Stewart's body still be at full tension?

He and I have been hibernating this winter but whenever I have seen him - on television chat shows, studio guest to cover the rain breaks, offering his services to England again in interviews - he has been the same slick, bright-eyed, smart Alec of the last dozen years.

How long can he continue? He will be 40 soon after the World Cup ends and that is ancient for a wicket-keeper.

Tresco 6ft 3in, 14st and light on his feet like an overloaded camel was hopelessly inadequate. Catches Stewart would have taken asleep were too quick, or too low, or too far away. He missed run-outs by tenths of a second, he fumbled, he was in the wrong place.

You will say I am being unfair to Trescothick who had not kept wickets since school and that he was only a fill-in and without much practice. Quite right too. But the selectors, essentially Duncan Fletcher, the England coach and Nasser Hussain, the captain, did not have to accept his offer to replace the downhearted James Foster.

There is an old lesson for those selectors. It comes from Angelo Dundee, manager of Mohammad Ali, who never urged Ali to change his boxing habits, his training routine or his conduct. Dundee believed that "if a guy's short, make him shorter. If he's tall, make him taller." Play to your strengths.

England should have encouraged Trescothick to stand tall at the batting crease. Instead they made him crouch so that his keepers' gloves touched the ground. It cost them the series while Astle suddenly leapt out of the undergrowth and seized it for the Kiwis.

Next year Astle may be the biggest star in the World Cup; provided New Zealand don't get carried away with his bowling - he has dismissed Inzamam-ul-Haq six times - and insist he takes the new ball.