11 FEBRUARY 1995, Page 55


A false dawn

Frank Keating

IN THE END, the occasional glimmers of brighter possibilities were themselves utter- ly infuriating and in a way even accentuated English cricket's generally abject perfor- mance through its tour of Australia. The far better team took a stranglehold in the first two matches and then, with a carefree skittishness, lost concentration till they realised they should rouse themselves at the last.

In mitigation, we are being told that Eng- land's injury list was without parallel on a tour. Oh really? Well, when McCague and White flew home early, the captain, Ather- ton, was able to call on two he'd have pre- ferred in the first place — Fraser and Lewis, who just happened to be playing club in Australia anyway.

The West Indians will be waiting when the English summer starts. England have not brought home much to confront them with. Certainly the stoic burning-deck defi- ance of the captain represents something positive from the winter's wreckage, although many would wish to see him put a less permanently grim and wearisome face on things; understandable I suppose, but standing next to Mike at slip would make even Ken Dodd turn morbidly defeatist. The only two who seemed not to find the hangdog body-language contagious were the Surrey leftie Thorpe and the Yorkshire- man Gough, who both displayed a bright counter-attacking fizz, and it was rotten luck when the latter was crocked in the New Year.

Gough flew home just as his compatriot and chairman of selectors, Illingworth, beat his own retreat back to his Sky TV at his holiday flat in Spain. The chairman has had a pretty dire first year. He sailed in serene and cocksure last spring, promising the world, No problem. Just give me a fortnight or, okay, three weeks. Now he's talking horrors — of five-year plans. Gough alone has saved Illingworth's bacon. The other `dead cert' hunches he has insisted on lum- bering the captain with — McCague, tat- ting, Udal, White, Rhodes, for instance will have to play mighty well in May, that's for sure.

Illingworth's two fellow-codger selectors,

Titmus and Bolus, must unquestionably be replaced by younger men, more on the ball and, surely, simpatico to the captain. Why not Gooch, newly retired but still on circuit for Essex? Or Mark Nicholas of Hampshire? If one English cricketer has returned from his Australian winter garlanded with deserved acclaim it is Nicholas, the splendid cove the circuit knows as 'Douglas', as in Jar- dine. But only as a journalist. His regular reports in the Daily Telegraph have been both a lesson and a delight throughout.

Heaven knows, it has been a difficult deadline tour for the press. What with Sky and BBC radio through the night, one has kept one's pre-dawn vigil to the close, sat down to breakfast with the morning papers to find everything not only over the top but doubly cockeyed with the one day's differ- ence. Monday morning was a case in point. Thorpe's dismal duck, live, was followed by reading eulogies of his new saviour's role for English cricket. Likewise, after popping a Buck's fizz to celebrate the glorious win at Adelaide, I opened the Independent: . the engine is spluttering to a halt as England continue to clunk and rattle down cricket's crawler lane, apparently running on a mixture of paraffin and lighter fuel'.

But within the week Martin Johnson had probably got it just about right after all.