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England have just had the first hour from hell.
First they dropped the man who was their best bowler over the summer. The man Duncan Fletcher recently called “the best finger-spinner in the world” was no longer, apparently, the best finger spinner in this squad. It was the most depressing selection since England went to India 14 years ago without David Gower.
Then they lost the toss. Actually that may have been a good thing.
Then their national anthem was mauled by a nice-looking young woman.
Then Steve Harmison bowled the first ball: a wide. And not just an ordinary wide. There's a moment in the film The English Patient when Ralph Fiennes chews on a piece of fruit and pronounces it “a very plum plum”. Well, this was a very wide wide. And the English didn't feel very patient.
Then Andrew Flintoff made his first mistake: not having a third man. Justin Langer, living dangerously, helped himself to four fours there. The old pros who bang on about having a third man are not always wrong. If a batsman plays square of the wicket, you need a third man.
James Anderson replaced Harmison after two overs, but the method remained the same: all over the shop. Only Matthew Hoggard was himself. It was Test cricket at one end, and Twenty20 at the other.
There was a sniff of a run-out chance, but Anderson’s throw was just awful. Flintoff brought himself on to restore order. He bowled two no-balls. England had put their trust in rust, and they were paying the price.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. He fell in love with newspapers at the age of seven and with cricket at the age of 10. He started in journalism at 16, reviewing records for the London Australian Magazine, before reading classics at Oxford and writing for Smash Hits, Harpers & Queen and the Observer. He has been a feature writer on the Daily Telegraph, arts editor of the Times and the Independent on Sunday, and editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, where he won an Editor of the Year award. Since 1999, Tim has been the rock critic of the Mail on Sunday. He is deputy editor of Intelligent Life, the new general-interest magazine from the Economist. He writes for the Guardian and makes frequent appearances as a cricket pundit on the BBC and Sky News.