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England's triumph of spirit

Scyld Berry

21 December 1997

GO EAST young man, Adam Hollioake's team were told, and they have done so, and in the process they have launched England's campaign for the 1999 World Cup with panache.

England's unmitigated success in Sharjah has little to do with Test cricket in the short term, though their two one-day victories over West Indies will not harm England's chances in the Test series starting next month. It has everything to do with making the most of the resources which English cricket enjoys, and which have been dissipated for so long.

Firstly, the idea was right from birth, to develop a one-day team - Hollioake's Lions - both as an end in itself and to lighten the load on Mike Atherton's Test players. Then the planning was right, and the selection, and the spirit of the enterprise, and from there the performance flowed. Everything was the complete opposite of the way England played in Zimbabwe this time last year from stuttering start to feeble finish.

Here, freshness of spirit was almost all. For India and Pakistan it was just another one-day tournament. Seldom have you seen batsmen, Brian Lara not least, less disappointed at getting out. Pakistan played their 37th international of this year here, which is lunacy: why, it is slightly more than the amount of one-day cricket which English players have to contend with in a domestic season.

The captain helped in setting the tenor too. When made Surrey's captain, Hollioake decided to stop the whingeing ways that have made the county notorious. He has an unflinching gaze to match what the coach, David Lloyd, calls his ``basic honesty''. How good a cricketer Hollioake is we will find out in the West Indies; beyond dispute he is a competitor and leader of rare quality.

Hollioake is a man of the world who has lived in Melbourne, Ballarat, Perth, Hong Kong, Oslo, London and Weybridge (if Weybridge is the odd one in, it is because he attended boarding school there). His grandfather was in the Indonesian army, and seconded during the Second World War to Australia, where he met an Australian girl and fathered the mother of Adam and Ben, only to return to Indonesia and die in the war of independence. When the whole family went there, they could find out little more about this grandfather. But we can assume he was officer material.

Under Hollioake the spirit of the England party has been a throwback to the pre-Packer era, when going on an England tour was a twice or thrice-in-a-lifetime experience, not routine. It is not only England cricketers who become jaundiced when they play and tour too much. ``You play so much cricket nowadays you have to motivate yourself,'' said Wasim Akram after England's win over Pakistan. ICC should legislate immediately to limit the number of Tests and internationals each country play per year, if a player can walk out in a packed stadium, and in front of several hundred million television viewers.

Surliness, a kraal mentality and an arrogant assumption of superiority over the natives had no part in this enterprise. On Wednesday England had to attend the tournament banquet and sit through two hours of 'entertainment' before the food appeared. This England party joined in: Alec Stewart took a turn on stage with the Egyptian dancer; Graham Thorpe did his Boycott imitation on the microphone and put his arm round Geoffrey afterwards. Hollioake gallantly accompanied the dancer too and balanced on his forehead the walking stick she used as a prop.

Something extra or new, though, was needed to win Friday's final, over and above the spirit and stoic virtues of discipline and commitment which saw England through three tight qualifiers; and for a long time on Friday the missing ingredient was not forthcoming. Bowling through the innings with the same three pairs of bowlers - Dean Headley and Dougie Brown, Robert Croft and Mark Ealham, then Hollioake himself with Matthew Fleming did not quite work.

The West Indies knew exactly what was coming and went off on their flying start, which might not have been the case if, say, the left-armer Ashley Giles had opened the bowling over the wicket. But then who could have made way?

To make 236 on a slow, sandy outfield against West Indies, England had perhaps a 20 per cent chance. Stewart and Thorpe, none the worse for their turns, were equally magnificent in the chase: in England's one-day team there will always be room for a few Test batsmen. But the run-rate rose beyond a run a ball, peanuts in England, not here.

Tales have been told of dodgy happenings in Sharjah - so many that if the lights had gone out, you would have expected some players' pockets to be bulging when they came back on. No rats could be smelt this time, although betting does take place in the stadium. It was an excellent tournament staged in shirt-sleeve temperatures by day and night.

Then came that extra ingredient, Fleming's flair, after Hollioake had agreed to Stewart's suggestion that Kent's all-rounder should be promoted to play big shots. Fleming also had the touch to sweep the leg-spin of Rawl Lewis like nobody else had done. ``It's easy being a member of a good side,'' was a post-match comment that erred on the modest. Having the resilience to withstand pressure, England now imposed it and the West Indians fell apart.

Fleming was one of the many all-rounders a one-day side need so they can bat right down the order, and a Test team do not. He is one of the nine Sharjah players not in the party for the Test tour of the West Indies, all of whom should be flown out for the one-day internationals at the end. Four of them will be on the A tour, leaving some warm-up cricket to be found for the other five.

Of these nine, Mark Ealham - robotic in length, not in change of pace - should have been 'bowler of the tournament' in Sharjah, but then England's receipt of only two of the numerous individual prizes was the best testimony to their teamwork. For Graeme Hick, off to New Zealand, one-day cricket is a way back to the Test side; Dougie Brown will prefer the grassier pitches of a World Cup in England. Fleming, at 33, is not too old.

The three unused players did nothing wrong to disqualify them from going to the West Indies and being part of the nucleus of World Cup players. Ali Brown might not be up to opening in the World Cup, but Nick Knight is kept in the frame by his fielding. It was Knight's continuing inability to sweep which built up the pressure that led to his run-out in the final.

Spin will have a part in the next World Cup, as India and Sri Lanka are in the same Group A as England, along with Zimbabwe, Kenya and the team who should be favourites, South Africa. Dermot Reeve would therefore be worth consulting for his theories. And a gymnast to teach diving - both in the field and, when batting, for the crease - is also required, as so often in one-day cricket inches matter.

By the next World Cup it is conceivable England's Test team will also know how to win, and have a cause to motivate them (being placed on ECB contracts, only the county chairmen would allow, would be the short cut to that). For in the longer term the spirit, and the fine fielding, and the running between wickets, should be cross-fertilised from England's one-day team to the Test side.

For the moment, since the Packer revolution eroded England's age-old advantage by making other countries professional on a level playing field, there have been few happier fortnights in England's experience.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:35