It was, I think, Roger Miller who sang in the late sixties "England swings like a pendulum do"; was he, I wonder, thinking about the cricket team? For many years now we have listened and read of false dawn after false dawn. White hope after white hope has come and gone, in some cases after the briefest of chances, others with opportunities without limit. I picked up a cricket magazine from last August which heralded the successes of 2 new players ... "Alex Tudor and Chris Read give England a new edge" under the banner headline of Young Guns ran the cover story of Wisden Cricket Monthly for August 1999!! Admittedly Tudor has suffered from a series of injuries - why is it that English fast bowlers seem especially afflicted in this way ?- and why does one see so many young fast bowlers wearing back supports from early in their careers? Too many indoor nets on rock hard floors cannot help in this respect, though a lack of manual work to build up basic physical strength most also have an effect. So far I know of no computer game which enables anyone to become physically (or for that matter mentally) stronger!
Back to the cricket; England swung the Lord's pendulum right at the start of this season. For decades now it seems that visiting sides have been inspired by playing at "Headquarters" and England have struggled. New Zealand obtained their first ever win there just a year back, and that following their humbling at Edgbaston thanks to the night-watchman efforts of Alex Tudor. However there was to be no fairytale for Zimbabwe for they were heavily beaten. Then when the sky was lightening, or so it seemed, back came the Zimbabweans at Trent Bridge, and their efforts in the first of the Triangular One-day trophy matches at Bristol would suggest that they have learnt in great measure from the Lord's debacle.
Then the West Indies arrive; they began the Test series with the unenviable record of having lost their last 2 away series without even recording a single drawn test! They proceed to destroy England at Birmingham. the match not lasting a full 3 days playing time! Where now for the Poms? Further beset by injuries, notably in the loss of skipper Hussain, they have to return to the triple-whammy Stewart (keeper, batsman, and captain) and, it appears reluctantly they restore Michael Vaughan who had seemed to many to be one of the main successes of the trip to South Africa. They pick a team of endless seamers, and recall Dominic Cork who has been around a few corners in terms of the comings and goings at Derby over the last couple of years.
What came to pass is now history. The West Indies lunched on day one, having been put in, at 80 for no wicket only to achieve a turn around almost as spectacular as their effort in New Zealand last 'summer'. There they turned 280 for 1 at the end of day one into a 9 wicket defeat! Day 2 at Lord's enters the Test Match record books as being the first instance of all 4 innings in a match being in progress on the same day! England's great victory has done much to rouse the nation in the wake of Euro 2000, Henmania, and the 2006 World Cup rebuff, but what does it say about the state of the cricket team?
It is hard to believe that Ramprakash, Hick (yet again), Knight, and White can remain, Hoggard ought to get another chance, but does he deserve it in front of Giddings and (the now abandoned?) Silverwood? Atherton, Vaughan, Cork, Gough, and Caddick were excellent, but the demands placed on Stewart, no matter what he seems to think himself, must be more realistic. Surely there is a better wicket-keeper in England who is not a negligible bat?, for Stewart is still one of the top bats himself It may not be sensible to turn to too many adhesive bats for the medium or long term, but the evidence from Atherton and Vaughan suggests that patience is the most likely way to expose the current shortcomings of the West Indians. Once the best efforts of Ambrose and Walsh have been blunted (though never totally so) the 'back up' bowlers (and it must be pointed out that they would put all of us on our backs!) do struggle and a hammering round Bristol by the Zimbabweans wont have done much to restore their confidence.
It will be interesting to see how the Day-Night Triangular experiment unfolds. There must be hope that some other England candidates emerge, and it is great to think that there will still be 3 Tests left to play once it is over. A final thought on watching Neil Johnson's innings at Bristol as he dominated the West Indian attack - had anyone told them that he used to be the professional at Sion Mills? A good reason to recall 1969 and all that!