Action November 23, 2006

The first hour from hell

England have just had the first hour from hell

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.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden