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Slow charge to safety takes the colour out of lower order

David Gower

22 December 1996

David Gower salutes two superb innings but laments the lack of urgency in batting game-plan

THERE was a time yesterday afternoon, as the England innings sauntered through its final stages, when the suggestions were flying thick and fast across the commentary box as to what might be offered to the viewers to heighten the entertainment being, at times, transmitted by satellite back to the UK.

The satellite transmitter here in Bulawayo ceased working for an hour in the morning, but also of concern was the pace of England's progress in overhauling Zimbabwe's first innings' total. Some of the more off-the-wall ideas came from our producer, John Gayleard: had his notions come to fruition then viewers would have been treated to pictures of a mobile phone battery charging, a bunch of bananas ripening and a red shirt fading in the sun. Sadly, the paint on the sightscreens had dried two days ago.

If such cynicism might seem harsh on a day when England passed 400 and played themselves into a position from which only they could conceivably be the victors, the point is that both the BBC and Sky are contributing much (#15 million per annum) to the promotion of Test cricket and cringe at those periods when little is happening in a hurry.

To give credit where plenty is due, Nasser Hussain and John Crawley had batted superbly in making their hundreds, both apparently relaxed but positive in their approach, despite the threat that below them lurked a tail that would not wag for long. I thought Crawley's innings was marginally better, mainly because he plays the leg-spinner so well.

I cannot recall him misreading too many of Paul Strang's varieties and it makes a huge difference to a batsman's potential to dominate such bowling if he can be confident of predicting the intended turn of each delivery. By contrast, Hussain, who plays orthodox spinners beautifully, found himself in need of a little good fortune to survive his early overs.

When the partnership was eventually broken by an extraordinary one-handed catch a yard in from the long-leg boundary, the England innings went into slow decline. Now one can understand a pragmatic approach at this stage without having to condone it. England still needed that first-innings lead and Crawley was the only man left to get them there - or so orthodox thinking would have you believe.

To control such a situation takes great skill, the trickiest part being to decide when to keep or relinquish the strike. Where I felt tactics went awry was that too often Crawley took his sin- gles in the middle of the over, leaving his partners to block out the remaining balls, when the braver approach would have been to wait until the fielders came in for the last two balls of the over and then look for the boundaries that would have kept the game moving at a better pace.

Ironically, but very happily, the one time he allowed himself the chance he reached his hundred with a sumptuous pull shot off Heath Streak which cleared the fence by yards. Admittedly at the end of the next Streak over the Zimbabwean wasn't going to fall for that one again and the field stayed back, but it would have been that much more gratifying for England's followers had the orders given to Crawley and his partners called for greater ur- gency.

Even with Crawley stymied in his desires to keep things moving, a little adventure from Darren Gough and Alan Mullally could have compensated. The former has always looked a better striker than blocker and, while the field was up for him and the rest of the tail, a more unorthodox approach would have allowed them the leeway to aim for the boundaries that were so comprehensively defended while Crawley was on strike.

With the pace of the game more tortoise than hare the effect was only to delay England their chance to get at the Zimbabwe batsmen, who would have realised that they needed to show much purpose to make the game safe.

A couple of early wickets in a opening salvo from Gough and Mullally better directed than in the first innings served only to emphasise the lack of urgency, but the pressure was on even the likes of Alistair Campbell, Dave Houghton and Andy Flower, who were capable of batting their side out of trouble.

Still, if the result of this match proves to have justified the means, then neither I nor England will have any cause for complaint.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:21