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March 7, 2002
It was disappointing that England made such a poor start to the one-day series in New Zealand. After coming back so well to level the series in India, I thought the boys would be on a bit of a roll and would be unstoppable. As it was, they almost didn't get started at all.
Make no mistake, that effort in India was fantastic and would have taken a lot out of them. Then the travelling and swapping the heat and intensity of India for the tranquil green and pleasant land that is New Zealand might just have meant that they relaxed a little too much and took their foot off the gas.
I am sure the management did all they could to gee the boys up, but there are times when everyone makes all the right noises but, deep down, the necessary oomph is just not there. Even so, when they did eventually get going, they looked good again against a side that is very difficult to beat. So, to take it to the decider and then lose thanks to a great innings from Nathan Astle is not too bad on the general scale of things.
What is worrying is the fact that we're such slow starters. All those things I offered as excuses for the slow start in New Zealand such as travel, tiredness and getting used to new conditions are going to apply when England arrive in South Africa for the World Cup. It is no good starting slowly in that and then coming good. If we start there like we did in India and New Zealand, we'll miss the cut and be on our way home. And we don't want to reach our peak in the arrivals hall back at Heathrow!
What we have got to get sorted out is those collapses. I always get the feeling that if I go out to make a cup of tea when England are, say 150 for 2, by the time I've brewed up I might come back to find them 160 for 8.
We really do have to find a middle order that can gel the start and the end together in a meaningful way. I reckon we've got a pretty good, aggressive opening partnership with Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight, but then what have we got? So often it comes down to Graham Thorpe. That's no disrespect to the other lads, but we do lack someone like Michael Bevan. He's just about the best there is, but I reckon he's the sort of player we're lacking.
We need someone who has a steadying influence - someone who can bat through. There are a few players around the world who can pace the innings or patch it as required. The trouble is, they're not English.
So often we get off to a good start with all guns blazing, but then we fetch up with a collapse and we're all out. Or we start badly and then have to scramble and struggle to get what we can and, as Nasser Hussain is forced to admit so often, we finish 20 or 30 runs short.
Thorpe - should he bat higher ?
Maybe we need to get Thorpey in earlier, no lower than four, to give him time to make use of the overs available rather than trying to lead a break-out from a bogged-down position that inevitably leads to a collapse. He doesn't need to go in too early, because blasting it over the top in the first 15 is not what he's about.
The key to using Thorpey to best advantage, in my humble opinion, is to allow him time to play his own game and get a hundred. If he does that, the rest of the innings can be built around him and we'll get a decent total. We really need a couple of batters in the engine room who can get a hundred because that's what wins matches. A few twenties or thirties are all very well, but they don't win games when they come from the middle order.
It might sound funny, but I'd fancy someone like Graeme Hick for the World Cup, or perhaps Chris Adams. Both would certainly come into my equation. Michael Vaughan has shown that he might be able to do it as well. I like the way he doesn't get phased by the situation. He always looks to me as if he's in charge and is doing the maths in his head so he knows what's wanted. He looks like an intelligent lad.
But now it all changes and we're turning our attention to the Tests. They are not going to be easy. Stephen Fleming, the Kiwi captain, played with us at Middlesex last year and impressed us all as a very shrewd guy. He does his homework on the opposition and has good ideas about getting them out. He studies field placing in depth and has brought the New Zealand team to a point where they are a very useful unit.
In fact, if they were all fit, especially someone like Shane Bond, I would fancy them as being a bit stronger than us in some respects. England have got to have confidence in their own ability, but the Kiwis have three or four big players that need to be kept under wraps if we are going to win the series. Blokes like Cairns, McMillan, Astle and Fleming himself are what we call real "go to" guys. Get them early and you can work through the others, but let them get set and they're trouble.
Talking of field placings and general strategy, I was interested to read what Ted Dexter had to say about the tactics in India used by Nasser to try to keep Sachin Tendulkar quiet. Remember, Nass got Ashley Giles to bowl left-arm over the wicket outside the leg stump to frustrate him and get him to throw his wicket away. Ted, along with plenty of others, didn't like the idea. It does not conform to a Corinthian spirit of the game.
Tufnell - the slow left-armer
But I think this is entirely justified. If Tendulkar is twatting you all over the place and you find a way of keeping him quiet, I say "well done." As a left-arm spinner, if I go over the wicket and he stops twatting me around, I reckon that's fair game and I've got a bit of control back.
The laws permit bowlers to go round or over the wicket, and as member of the SLA Club - and a long-serving member at that - I do not see why we should not be allowed to do like everyone else. You have to adapt to the opposition and stay flexible. The game has always favoured batsmen, and what do they want to happen now?
I can just imagine it. Tendulkar is going like a train, so I start bowling over the sticks to him outside leg stump. What does he say? "Look Tuffers, old mate, this is not very entertaining for the crowd. I know it means you might go for a few, but be a good chap and go back round the wicket. And do keep it pitched up - I've got this quite delicious cover drive that I want to show off."
They'll be asking us not to spin the thing next, because it makes it a bit harder for the batsman! No, if you can't get one of the best batsmen in the world out early doors, as you have to try to, then you say to yourself "hold on a minute, I've got to rein this cock in a bit here and try to create pressure with new angles." I think that is a valid tactic.
But I don't think we'll see that sort of thing happening in New Zealand. Greener, more seamer-friendly pitches and two sides that play in a positive way. It should be a cracking series and I'm only too sorry that we are now back in training at Middlesex so I will be having some early nights and so won't be able to sit up watching it all. That's just one of the sacrifices we dedicated athletes have to make.
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