I've had a chance to watch the cricket this week. Despite being without Michael Vaughan and Freddie Flintoff England are doing well. What I particularly noted is how the young cricketers are emerging. Tim Bell and Alec Cook have appeared hard on the heels of Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen. And this is how it should be. I think that international teams rely too much on a settled side.
The England football team continued to pick Michael Owen and Frank Lampard when they had clearly lost form. Form is temporary, they say, class is permanent. Nonsense! These are all well trained, excellent athletes. Especially in cricket, technique is most important and then confidence. Loss of form is usually due to loss of one or the other. Loss of technique is usually best sorted out by a spell in the nets with the coach. It can be as simple as a slight change in grip or a new movement of the head. They can learn from golfers how exercise to strengthen a particular muscle can put it right. Confidence comes from character. Some have it; some haven't.
I have been impressed by Tim Bell. Last year he seemed to have no self-confidence. This year, having regained his place in the team because of Freddie's injury, he was determined to take his opportunity. Yesterday's innings showed he had the class; now he has the confidence.
I was impressed with Alec Cook's century for a different reason. His innings wasn't the most fluent you will ever see, and he should have been out LBW twice had the umpires had the use of the electronic media, but he seems to have taken the advice of Gary Player. I heard him on the radio saying that there is no past and no future on the golf course, only the present. What he meant is that there is no point in brooding over the last mistake or setting your sights on a future good score. You must play every shot for itself. Cook did this in a way that Jones, the wicket keeper, did not. He needs a spell on the bench to find his game. There are others who deserve a chance.
I think in the past players have felt that once they achieved a place in the team they had become a privileged player. They became over cautious, afraid to make a mistake for fear they would lose their place. If there were more fluidity, then fear would be less of a factor. Selectors need to be able to pick a team for particular oppositions, venues and climatic conditions, without being afraid of upsetting an incumbent. The best football teams at the recent World Cup weren't afraid to change their teams. Josee Mourinho has success with Chelsea because players have to fight for their place in the team.
The recent death of Freddie Trueman reminded me of the England team of the 1950s: Richardson, Cowdrey, May, Graveney, Bailey, Evans, Trueman, Lock, Laker, Statham.
Fifty years ago Jim Laker took 19 Australian wickets in the Manchester test. Perhaps England are due for a similar period of cricket supremacy.
I guess for most cricket fans Trueman was best known as a curmudgeonly commentator on the radio, with his Yorkshire vowels and his contempt for the pampered young of today. Those of us who saw him bowl remember a fiery thoroughbred in full flight, eyes flashing, black mane strung out behind him in the wind with a perfect side-on action. They remember an athletic snapper-up of chances in the leg-trap. They remember a no-nonsense hitter with a true eye. Here was the bulldog Englishman, afraid of nothing, blunt and forthright. He was the first to take 300 wickets in Tests. When asked if he thought anyone would beat his record, he replied, "If they do, they'll be bloody tired."
He had a famous Northern wit. "That was a very good ball, Mr Trueman," said the defeated batsman from Cambridge University. "Ay; wasted on the likes of thee, lad," was the reply.
He continued playing until the age of 38. His pace had slowed, but he was able to swing the ball either way and his knowledge of tactics was second to none. He could think you out.
He was appalled by the modern game. He detested limited overs cricket played in colored pyjamas. He was one of the last of the flannelled fools who played the game for love not money. He was also a muddied oaf, but his version of football was soccer not rugby; he played for Lincoln City while he was doing his national Service. A strange coincidence as his great successor, Ian Botham (who certainly did not see eye to eye with Fiery Fred) also played soccer for a Lincolnshire club, Scunthorpe United.
I have on my study wall a signed photograph of the Australian tourists of 1938. the team included Bradman of course, but also Fingleton, Fleetwood-Smith, Barnes, O'Reilly, McCabe and Hassett. The picture was given me by Captain Thorpe who captained the Oriana, the ship that brought them to England. Lindsey Hassett captained the 1953 Australians, Richie Benaud's first tour and a side that included Lindwall and Miller as well as Neil Harvey and Alan Davidson. I had a signed photo of them too at one time but my little brother destroyed it. For a while about this time Freddie Trueman was displaced from the side by Frank Tyson, an even faster bowler, but he didn't have the staying power.