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Selection, planning and execution

Nobody should be carping at the manner of the England team victory in Chittagong. The batsmen averaged 70 per wicket as against 30 for Bangladesh. The bowlers took 20 wickets as against only 10 by the opposition. Game, set and match. Congratulations to Mr Cook in his first Test as Captain. And plaudits galore for Graham Swann for his 10 wicket haul.

If there is improvement to be made it is in the fast bowling department. Given that the absence of Anderson and Onions meant that we had our second division attack, with Finn making his debut, there was a palpable lack of confidence with long periods when they were just plugging away with no obvious plan – and, worse, no variation.

All quicker bowlers have been forced to develop variety in their bowling in limited over matches. The well disguised slower ball is a must and the ability to bowl Yorkers is both desirable and often enough well executed. How come then, that the moment they bowl in a Test match, these same bowlers seem to forget everything they have learned.

Another variation which gets scant attention these days is to cut down the speed, possibly off a shorter run and mix in some cutters. Making the ball revolve on bone dry pitches can make the odd one grip or deviate which is better than nothing. Fred Trueman and Alan Davidson were good examples and there was a remarkable performance by Tony Greig with a hatful of wickets against the West Indians. There may be a reluctance to do anything that might interfere with the process of “developing” the condition of the ball with a view to achieving reverse swing – but a willingness to try something different is important.

Fred was in search of his 300th Test wicket on a hot afternoon at the Oval against the Australians and was struggling. The newly introduced front foot rule had disturbed his rhythm and balance and his days of late outswing seemed to have passed. “ Gimme ‘t ball and I’ll bowl a few cutters” he said. Off a shortened approach and fingers rotating clockwise, he immediately rediscovered his powers of swing and was quickly celebrating the great milestone of his career. All because he was brave enough to experiment.

The other variation I have in mind is more the province of captaincy. Cook maintained a couple of slips and a gully despite all the evidence suggesting that the old ball off a dead pitch was never going to carry. Surely there was a case for switching to a middle stump line with close catchers on the leg side by way of a change. At least it would make the batsmen think. Then the occasional low bounce gives a better chance of lbw as well.

All this was within the confines of a four bowler selection policy which brought a deal of criticism. Now they have included a second spinner, Treadwell for the Dacca match at the expense of a batsman. For my money they have got it wrong again. I would have kept the batting and dropped Finn.

I remember various occasions in India when the mighty Kapil Dev was the only regular seam bowler selected alongside three spinners with a batsman part-time seamer sharing the new ball to keep the shine a little longer for Kapil.

I also remember Graham Gooch rejecting a five bowler policy on the grounds that four could bowl at least 80 overs in the day with occasional bowlers (like him!) to make up the other half-dozen. I note that Finn only bowled seven overs on the first day at Dacca – hardly worth sacrificing a batsman for that. Broad and Bresnan only bowled 13 and 14 respectively and they could have easily shared the extra overs between them.

I detect a slight lack of proper planning and strategy within the current dressing room team though nothing, of course, to compare to with the two horrific Strauss blunders: at Headingley and Johannesburg when first Australia, then South Africa gambled on four quick bowlers, lost the toss only to be handed back the initiative each time by the England Captain.

Thank the Lord anyway for the mighty Swann who seems to take most of his own decisions and delivers the goods.


Sorry for the extended drinks break. I popped down to Spanish golfing climes for a fortnight. The idea was to play a round or two at La Reserva Golf Club ( round the corner from Valderrama) and then watch Walker Cup players compete in the Spanish Amateur on the same course. Sadly the course was waterlogged after unprecedented rainfall so it was a question of play where you can in between the downpours. Even Sottogrande had to close a few holes. The highlight was an invitation to Valderrama on my last day when the sun shone and the Ryder Cup course played at its brilliant and infuriating best.

I have never for a moment understood the "slope" variation to one's normal handicap but an extra six strokes on top of my current 10 would have seemed generous anywhere else. But since my "Valderrama" objective is always six pars, six bogies and six doubles, it was not far off. I actually hit the ball well for 4 pars (including a perfectly played seventeenth) 10 bogies and four doubles i.e.18 over so whoever invented the "slope" evidently knows a thing or two. The "killer" problem is usually the downhill chip from a wiry grass lie. But there are equally subtle traps for the unwary. Like the Par 5 fourth hole. A sweet drive into the wind drifted to the right edge of the fairway. An attempt to move the lay-up from left to right did not come off, leaving me down the slope and chipping back into play. The approach to a front pin pitched within 12 feet but spun back, then trickled off and finally rolled gently back another 15 metres. A slightly strong chip and two nervy putts down the slope added up to seven - albeit with hardly a poor shot. Without being very long Valderrama is a superb test for the best players but a real graveyard for the rest of us. I love it and hate it at the same time.

They did manage to play the Spanish Amateur at the nearby Ca(g)nada Golf Club with only one day washed out. An all english Final between Tommy Fleetwod and Matt Haine was decided in favour of the latter - deservedly perhaps after leading the qualifying with a superb first round 66. I had a particular interest in Stiggy Hodgson, having played with him at Sunningdale over the years. He might have had a useful course knowledge advantage at La Reserva but it was not to be. He qualified OK but went out in the first round to a very noisy young Spaniard at the 21st hole - shades of John McEnroe by all accounts.

I mentioned some cricketing poetry before I rather rudely went off the air with not so much as a by your leave. It concerns my innings at Lord's against the West Indies in the early sixties - that match which went to the last ball, Colin Cowdrey batting with his broken arm in plaster etc etc. I have managed to download it into my "media library" but it remains to be seen whether a. you can access it, or b. I can bring it to the surface. I will do my computer clumsy best.

The Coliseum comes to Lord's

Watching two great fast bowlers at their work
it's like it must have been
to be there at the Coliseum games
when Nero ruled.
The crowd's on fire
lions paw the grass
the emperor settles in his box
and out they come
two gladiators armed with clubs.

A lion makes to charge.
Some of the crowd are crazed
baying for blood as he approaches.

The speed with which his claws rip air
The gladiator,dicing with death,
contorts to miss that fatal touch.
There's blood on the grass
as down he goes
and then another.

And that was how I saw it, years ago,
When Hall and Griffith ruled
at Lord's and England quaked.
Our openers were savaged in this style
when down the pavilion steps
he came as if he owned the place
Lord Ted,
his head held high,
dark eyes, patrician nose
disdainful of the company he kept.

We held our breath
as haughtily he turned to face
big Charlie, whose malevolent eye
could turn a man to stone.

A sickening ball came down
aimed for his head.
He never flinched.
White willow flashed
and ball was gone
crashing the boundary fence.

There was a pause.
For just a moment disbelief
took charge, then wild applause.

I’ll never know an hour like that again
or see such strokes, such slaughter
feel so proud
to see so many lions dead
on such green grass.