29 AUGUST 1992, Page 47


Merrie Englanders

Frank Keating

MRS THATCHER may be no more, but her 'moaning Minnies' continue to multi- ply. We really are a nation of bad losers. With so much practice at it, we really should have worked out a chivalrous formu- la. We do not even let things drop after a good whinge — we call in the constabulary and round up the usual suspects. Or change the rules. Like limiting bouncers to douse the fires of West Indian fast bowlers (we had not given it a thought when we were opening up with Statham, Tyson, Trueman and Loader).

Now Pakistan's stupendous side beat us fair and square. Can England summon up even a muttered 'well played, sirs'? No hope. We accuse the foreign rascals of `Witch-doctoring' the ball, for as Shaw noted in St Joan, 'We were not fairly beat- en, my Lord, for no Englishman is ever fair- ly beaten.'

Yet how come the voluptuous skills of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis also manage sackfuls of cheap wickets in other summers for, respectively, Lancashire and Surrey? Do they condone ball doctoring at Old Trafford and the Oval? Good heavens, of course not. There's only something smelly when they wear the green caps of Pakistan. The resplendence with which Wasim and Waquar skittled England at

Lord's on Sunday after the umpires had changed the ball was defence enough. Come to think of it, if the various Test umpires in this summer's series were going to change anything at lunchtime it should have been their own spectacles. Some of the decisions have been appalling. If Mike Gatting (the frenzied one of Faisalabad) had just happened to be the captain of Pak- istan, then the series would have been fin- ished.

As it is, Gatting's Test-match career with England is poised to be revived this winter after the premature cancellation of his ban for 'playing with apartheid' — a fact that has riled many members of the Cricketers' Association but, being decent bods, they do not intend to kick up a stink.

On purely cricketing terms, it will be good to see Gatting belligerently biffing the ball all over the Test-match arenas once again, but his presumed selection for Eng- land's tour to India — plus, on merit, that of Lancashire's Fairbrother — will make it far more difficult for Allan Lamb or David Gower to squeeze into the middle order.

With Botham, the panto prince, already ruling himself out (though he says he is determined to fight his way back for one last tilt against the Australians next year), I fancy all too sadly that this month has seen the final curtain call in England colours for the grand triumvirate, each of whom played with a zest and a smile, and with, as Cardus said of Grace, 'the whole man of him in full action, body, soul, heart and wits'.

Botham, Gower, and Lamb. Peas from very different pods who became close fra- ternal buddies. For, a decade and a half (Botham began for England in 1977, Gower a year later), the three of them left vivid summers singed with their honour. In the end it is not even their wickets or catches or runs that we tot up to remember them by, just the utter hooraymanship of their pres- ence. There was a gallant, carefree mediae- valism about their dragon-slaying — by day and, it must be said, by night. They were Merrie Englanders and will be much missed. Nor did they ever not honour the foe.