Winning omens are there

Published : Oct 14, 2010 00:00 IST

Ryan Sidebottom... goodbye to international cricket.-AP
Ryan Sidebottom... goodbye to international cricket.-AP

Ryan Sidebottom... goodbye to international cricket.-AP

It is time for a change at the top of the international cricket league and why not now, asks Ted Corbett.

At the end of a summer of six series, all won by England, of 10,000 media-inspired storms all a loss to cricket's good name; when the game still could not decide if it wanted hi-tech aid for the umpires or was happy to bumble along in the same old way; and, sadly, to a constant rumbling of discontent on all sides, only one question remains to be settled.

Can Andy and Andrew — Flower the glum coach and Strauss the ever-smiling captain — lead the 16-man squad to a victory Down Under so convincingly that by the time the World Cup begins in India the rest of the world is willing to acknowledge the long Australia reign is at an end?

The winning omens are there, the players claim they are united and they proved in the most acrimonious series that they can ignore all the nastiness flying around them to succeed both by wide margins and in the manner of champions.

That was in the gentle north-west European climate; Australia, the wide baked land, is different.

In the mind of many England cricketers a visit to broiling Australia is akin to a trip to Hades where every man's hand is against you; where the foes are all a foot taller, where the ball screams down the pitch from Aussie hands at the speed of light and rushes off an Australian bat to the boundary as fast as a super car.

Once in Oz, the first “G'day”, the opening wisecrack from a Customs man or taxi driver — “Do you guys reckon you can escape defeat in any of the five Tests?” — and the sight of Merv Hughes among the welcome party has been known to double the apprehension.

I have yet to see a member of the tour party turn round and run back towards the aircraft but I remember one young batsman trembling from head to foot just before his first — brief — innings on Australian soil.

“Take it easy,” I said. “It's only Queensland Country XI.” He was too apprehensive to reply.

Two factors have changed. The old fashioned idea that tourists spread the game by playing in the Outback — on one occasion I had the honour to be violently sick as I left the tiny aircraft in remote South Australia at precisely the same moment as the England captain — is now considered as old-fashioned as batting without pads.

However, the England players seem to be built of steel rather than cardboard. Oh, don't worry, they still bleed if they are struck on the head by a Kookaburra but behind the bruise is a brain trained for battle.

You had to be a toughie to survive this summer, believe me.

What the most jingoistic English cricket writers forgot in their determination to damn Pakistan as double-dyed villains was that they are among the most talented cricketers in the universe.

It took considerable skill to keep them at bay and to do so with Kevin Pietersen out of sorts and finally out of the team, Ryan Sidebottom on the wrong side of a superb career and trouble identifying the right wicket-keeper from Matt Prior, Craig Kieswetter, James Foster and Stephen Davies showed just what a talented bunch represent England now.

There is a fault in the England team — the captain.

I reckon Strauss will receive a medal before he retires for his handling of the troubles that arose when a newspaper produced enough evidence to make the police investigate the bribery and corruption case.

Strauss is not a man who panics easily, he is patently honest and his ability to find the right words at the right time kept the lid on the problem.

His bucket loads of diplomacy cannot disguise the fact that tactically he is not even a lesser Michael Vaughan and when an unusual problem arises he often has to head for the pavilion.

You may have thought he was off to the Gents or to text his wife about his wishes for dinner but it is my guess that each time he walked into the pavilion he had the same question for Flower: “What am I supposed to do next?” He badly needs a living brain like Vaughan, Ashley Giles or Mike Brearley; instead he has to rely on his fellow born-in-South-Africa batsmen or another dash to the pavilion. It is a weakness but Strauss is not a stupid man and he will learn. Let us hope it is soon.

Otherwise England will have to rely on the dynamo that is Stuart Broad on pitches built for his athletic fast bowling, the cussedness that is Jonathon Trott at the crease — or the Lord's nets — and Graeme Swann, who threatens to out-bowl old timers like Jim Laker with nothing more than an off-break and a straight ball. He has no leg-to-off ball, only a few changes of pace and flight and don't even talk about a doosra. The very simplicity of his off-spin may be enough for a weaker Aussie team than we have seen since Mike Gatting's mighty pros won in 1986-87 and reduced Allan Border to full-time grumbling in the process.

Let's hope so anyway. It is time for a change at the top of the international cricket league and why not now?

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