England needs the variety just as it needs an in-form Prior, writes Ted Corbett
I have been retired from full-time, non-stop, get-packed-we’re-off-down-under for five years and frankly I have hardly missed the old life, 30 years in the making and the best career any man could have.
Not until now, that is, when I can read the reports from Perth where England is getting ready for the Ashes tour.
I keep thinking that if only I could have half a dozen words with one player, or meet up with one of the Aussie journalists, or that groundsman I had a drink with — was it Greg or Gregg? — I’d had have a much better idea of how this trip will pan out.
It is at this time that all the plans are finalised, all the preparations put in place and the last-minute touches applied. Who will bat No. 3, who will field in that awkward spot at fine leg and who will finish the tour deeply out of sort?
I remember in India in 1984-5 when David Gower was captain and showed remarkably shrewd judgement in picking the right men I left a press conference when nothing had been announced and little seemed to be going right and found Mike Gatting with a grin spread right across his face.
I said: “I know, Gatt, they have asked you to bat No. 3 — is that right?” His grin grew even broader. “That seems to be the plan, TC,” he said. Scoop, I thought and Gatt and I remain pals to this day.
There’s no-one like Gatting to advise me now, 9,000 miles and eight time zones from the action. All I can do is think of the questions that must be bugging Alastair Cook and Andy Flower as they wait for the three-day match at the WACA to end.
Are we right to continue with Joe Root as Cook’s opening partner? Who will bat No. 6? What sort of form will Matt Prior find behind the stumps? Will Tim Bresnan get fit in time for, say, the fourth Test? Or will we have four huge fast bowlers pounding in all day waiting for the ball to deviate from the straight on pitches hard and unyielding? That six-week journey by boat when the days passed slowly and decisions could be made and changed and considered again was ideal for settling those questions.
Those cricket tours happened 50 years ago, deep in cricket’s history. A captain — coaches were not even a concept and the England players were ordered to pack evening dress — needed to be a thinker. He might be a lonely dictator like Douglas Jardine, or a gregarious, talkative character like Ted Dexter, but both had time to make their decisions.
Not Cook and not Flower. In fact this tour starts slowly, with another three weeks before the first Test in Brisbane on the far side of Australia although so far the empty days have been spent accumulating injuries. Cook and Stuart Broad are both rested for the first tour match.
More time for Cook to make his mind up. I reckon he will stick with Root, begin the series with Jonny Bairstow, another Yorkshire lad, at No. 6, and offer a prayer or two that Bresnan, also from Yorkshire, heals after his shoulder operation. England needs the variety just as it needs an in-form Prior.
If only I could shed 20 years, find a pocketful of silver and go out to dinner — there’s a lovely Indian restaurant not far from the WACA — next to an old pal I would be as sure of the England plans as I am that it will win this series: perhaps by a whitewash.