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Monday, August 23, 1999 Published at 03:45 GMT 04:45 UK


Fleet Street laments cricket's nadir

After England's ejection from this summer's World Cup at an early stage, cricket writers seemed to imagine things were at rock bottom. They were mistaken.

Now, the Test team of which Nasser Hussain said he was "very proud" has slumped to a series defeat against New Zealand.

And, according to unofficial rankings drawn up by Wisden magazine, the country that gave cricket to the world is now the weakest of all Test-playing nations.

Michael Henderson of The Daily Telegraph writes, only half-sarcastically, that England may "beat the Faroe Islands and give the Costa Ricans a run for their dollars, though there are worrying reports of strapping all-rounders emerging from Patagonia, and Greenland on their ice pitches, would represent a mighty challenge".

He adds that "for sheer gumption, England had nobody within a country mile of Chris Cairns, who was named man of the match and also New Zealand's man of the series".

"There is no longer anywhere for England to fall. They may not be the worst players in the world but they are now perceived to be the worst side."

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Under a headline, "At least the only way is up", Peter Johnson, in the Daily Mail, tries to be positive, believing that the defeat may help England to turn the corner.

"The English game is stuck in the mud of the past. Its Little Englander insularity, the refusal to accept that we have been left behind , has bred a generation of players who, with a few rare exceptions, have neither the technique nor the mental toughness to compete with even the weakest of the other eight Test-playing nations.

"After New Zealand's sweeping 83-run victory at The Oval, giving them only their second series win here, the barrel of excuses is empty. Unless England are ready to admit the need for immediate and massive reform, starting, hopefully, with today's meeting of the grandly named First-class Forum - the cricketing public will simply turn its back."

He goes on to state: "The dilemma is stark - they can choose players whose experience is ingrained with failure or younger men whose ability they have been so reluctant to trust. How many of yesterday's broken, mentally weary side can be salvaged?"

The Mail and several other papers report how on Saturday night several England players were seen drinking until closing time in a west London pub.

"Among them was bowler Andy Caddick, who confidently told his companions: 'They won't need me in the morning'," the paper reports. But, hours later, he was called upon to bat, and scored just three runs.

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The Sun devotes its whole front page to a mock memoriam to English cricket.

In a parody of the famous 1882 "obituary" that spawned the Ashes trophy against Australia, the paper says: "In affectionate remembrance of English cricket which died at The Oval, 22nd August, 1999. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances, RIP. NB. The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to New Zealand."

Its leader column, The Sun Says, concludes: "Before the body is laid to rest there will be plenty of autopsies. What's the betting they fail to find the backbone."

'It's pathetic'

Former all-rounder Ian Botham tells The Mirror he is ashamed to be English. "Never has the England team been so humiliated as to rank bottom in the world. I won't forget this day for a long, long time."

The England legend added: "I felt for Nasser, seeing him barracked, booed and ridiculed on the pavilion balcony.

"When English cricket lovers react like that you know how it must be hurting."

Simon Gibbons, a cricket fan who watched the game at the Oval, will have spoken for many as he echoed Botham's words.

"It's pathetic," he told The Mirror. "It's hard to keep up the pretence of supporting England. It's hard to keep on going back to watch them lose."

'Flawed temperament'

The Times congratulates New Zealand on getting what they deserved. Its cricket correspondent, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, says he believes better pitches would help improve England's batting.

Batting techniques, and the approach to batting, depend on the quality of the pitches.

"If a batsman reasons that, however hard he concentrates, he is going to get an unplayable ball sooner or later, he can be forgiven for playing like a gambler rather than building an innings in time-honoured manner."

Derek Pringle, in The Independent, notes Nasser Hussain's comments after the match, that "they have done everything I asked of them here, regarding fight and body language. If they play like in the future, they won't go far wrong".

But the former England bowler writes that "apart from looking ill-equipped to cope with Test cricket, his team appear to have a flawed temperament as well".

"He may not have said so publicly, but the selection meeting for the winter tour cannot be concluded before a long, hard look into English cricket's soul."

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