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Illingworth - County Game To Blame

By Peter Deeley

3 January 1996

RAY Illingworth believes that ``too much soft cricket'' is one of the root problems of England's woeful performances in Zimbabwe.

It is a message he tried to convey during his three years as chairman of selectors and England manager, both in public comments and in his reports to Lord's.

``Nothing has changed in the interim,'' Illingworth said yesterday. ``Until we have a much more competitive county cricket system we shall continue to struggle.

``I'm not saying anything new. I've always said that particularly at the back end of an English summer, when so many counties have nothing to play for, the cricket isn't of the quality to carry us to the top as a Test nation.''

England selector David Graveney felt some of the media criticism had become a bit personal. ``But that's the name of the game,'' he continued. ``Players know that if they aren't playing well they must expect criticism.

``Everyone involved with the administration here must feel for the players. It's very sad for the individuals concerned, but English cricket has just got to keep pressing on. Maybe they should remember advice I was given - never read the papers, good or bad.

``The only way out is to start by winning tomorrow but from this distance is seems the problem is that we just aren't getting enough runs on the board.''

Graveney was the tour manager on England A's successful preChristmas Australian trip. ``The side have got to stick together in the face of adversity,'' was his advice.

``Once you start winning it binds everyone closer together. We found this. If the early game in Adelaide against South Australia had gone the other way it might have been an entirely different tour. As it was, we won by 12 runs and that started a run of six successive victories.''

Former England captain Tony Lewis said that he was perplexed because people were surprised at England's poor showing. He said: ``England were dreadful in the World Cup this time last year. There were a lot of bad options taken then and many poor performances. Michael Atherton hasn't really come good since that huge innings in South Africa.''

Lewis said Atherton was not the first England captain to find his own form suffering under the strain of leading a losing side. He said: ``It was a problem for Mike Brearley and the late Len Hutton in their day.''

He said of coach David Lloyd: ``He's a friend of mine and I'd never have appointed him.''

Bob Willis, another former England captain, said from Harare: ``We were an embarrassment in the World Cup and we've been an embarrassment here. If England don't get their act together in the first week in New Zealand [they arrive at the weekend] the critics will rip them to shreds and The Management will be sacked again.''

Willis said that it had been wrong for Atherton to drop down the order in the second one-day international. ``Either he opens or he should have been left out of the side,'' he commented.

But England tour manager John Barclay said on BBC radio that no thought had ever been given to Atherton standing down. ``He's the captain and that's how it stays,'' he said.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:06