Wasted Gifts

I last saw Chris Lewis on a cricket field about five years ago, in a club game in Derbyshire. If he'd made more of his ability he could still have been playing county cricket at the time; instead, because of his other great talent, that of wasting his gifts, he was scratching a living as a jobbing pro, increasingly intolerant of the failings of others.

In terms of pure talent there's no doubt in my mind that Lewis could have been a really significant force in international cricket, but, given his clear temperamental failings and the fact that he played all his international cricket in a desperately weak England set-up, it's hardly a surprise that he didn't. To succeed as an England player in the nineties, you needed a bit more than just ability.

Lewis always seemed to be talking about himself in the third person and saying what he was going to do, but, when the chips were down, he rarely, if ever, delivered. To me he seemed to be someone who, deep down, lacked confidence as much as he appeared on the surface to have a surfeit of it.

Now he has at least six and a half years at Her Majesty's Pleasure to reflect on his career and the poor decisions which have left him where he is today. One can but hope that he sorts himself out and comes out able to make the type of contribution to the world at large that could once have been his for the taking.


The Art of Swing

In a few months' time, even in a few weeks, the England-West Indies Test series which has just concluded will probably have been forgotten by all but those who saw some of the action live. The weather's been cold, the crowds mediocre, the cricket crushingly one-sided.

But it has had its uses. It's emphasized how, even allowing for the fact that they were playing away, England should never have lost the series in the Caribbean to a side that's far inferior. However, a combination of early complacency and poor decision-making saw to that.

It's also shown how, if their form can be maintained, England have the makings of a bowling attack which will at least cause the odd furrowed brow in Australian ranks. Stuart Broad, all aggression and thoughtfulness, continues to improve and will do so well beyond this summer. Swann offers a decent spin option and plenty more in terms of fielding, batting and spirit. Onions (as a few people have said, just the tiniest bit reminiscent of Glenn McGrath) shows plenty to work with, while Tim Bresnan, who belatedly got into the wickets yesterday, looks likely to stick around the selectors' thoughts, if not in their first choice eleven. With Freddie and Monty also hopefully coming back into contention, form and fitness permitting, things look okay.

I deliberately haven't mentioned Jimmy Anderson, who now shows all the signs of finally growing into the bowler he looked like being when he took those wickets in Cape Town all those years ago. Okay, knocking over the likes of Taylor and Benn in yesterday's conditions was like flattening skittles with a lead weight, but this was a display of artfully controlled swing bowling the like of which we've seldom seen in recent years, other than from Anderson himself. The conditions are unlikely to suit him as much later in the summer but if he can produce similar form when the Australians are here he could do some serious damage.


A Degree in People

I generally like reading Mike Brearley's columns in The Observer. His intellect, experience and knowledge are unquestionable, although he's never particularly impressed me as a prose stylist.

Yesterday's piece, here, was something else.

For a start I liked and agreed with the points he was making about Alastair Cook, a player who's come to be taken for granted remarkably early in his career and who embodies a lot of old-fashioned batting virtues which can be hard to find these days. And then there's the style, which carries echoes of my favourite old-school cricket writer, the late Alan Ross.


Less for More

With a lot of sorting out to do after my holiday, I'm a bit late posting about Chris Gayle's comments about the future of Test cricket.

Despite some of the predictable howls of outrage and the fact that I love Test cricket, I didn't see a great deal to get upset about. He's entitled to his opinions and there are always going to be professional sportsmen who don't share the views of those who watch them (by no means all of whom can disagree or Test grounds all over the world would be full).

To Gayle, it would appear, the fact that you can earn more by doing less is all that matters, and why shouldn't it? Those of us in more mundane jobs wouldn't hesitate if we were given the chance to work less and earn more, so why should a jobbing cricketer be any different?

Of course, if you were the West Indies board you'd have more than the odd doubt about whether Gayle's the right man to captain your Test side, and the team's performances in the last two games won't have done much to dispel those.

As a Test captain Gayle must be living on borrowed time, but I don't think he deserves castigation for holding what is a perfectly defensible view.

There's plenty of evidence that Gayle's in a minority among his fellow internationals, so there isn't too much to lose sleep over.

For the time being.


Selection Issues

The England selectors' decision to recall Ian Bell and Ryan Sidebottom to the squad for the Durham Test seemed a bit odd, and it doesn't seem likely that either will play.

Bell's made one ton in the Championship and one in the Friends Provident, but, as ever, has mixed in a few abortive starts. Sidebottom has bowled a fair number of overs and taken a few wickets.

Both, though, need more than they've produced so far. Bell requires more and more runs, Sidebottom needs to remain fully fit well into July and be taking consistent wickets to come back into consideration, although, with the suspicion being that a little more experience may be wanted against Australia, he may just be back sooner rather than later.

A player who's already been selected in the England squad for the World Twenty20 and who may start to show his hand elsewhere before too long is Middlesex's young Irishman Eoin Morgan. When I got back from Scotland on Monday morning I slumped on my sofa and watched him destroy Kent with a tremendous display of ingenuity and power and it didn't surprise me at all. I first saw him play at Bath in 2006 and he immediately looked like a classy operator.

While another Middlesex Irishman, Ed Joyce, seemed to me to be poorly treated and prematurely discarded by England, one's feeling - and hope - is that Morgan may be around a lot longer.

Fair Bet

I spent most of last week in a wind and rainswept Isle of Skye, returning home via the highlands and Edinburgh, where the weather was slightly better. With all this said, it was still a very enjoyable trip but one which didn't really lend itself to keeping in close touch with what was going on in the cricket world.

While taking refuge from a storm of biblical proportions on Wednesday afternoon I did manage to hear some of the TMS coverage of Ravi Bopara's hundred and catch a few brief highlights on TV. I was pleased; as regular readers will know I've always had a good feeling about Bopara, not just because of his obvious talent but also because he's generally seemed to have the gumption and confidence which Ian Bell (probably his superior in terms of ability and technique) so obviously seems to lack.

Bopara had a very tough baptism in Test cricket in Sri Lanka towards the end of 2007 but, ever since I saw him make a well-judged, patient 85 in an Essex defeat at Worcester last June I thought he had the makings of a good upper-order Test batsman. With Vaughan struggling for form and fitness, Shah discarded (and chronically out of form) and Bell still biding his time, he looks a fair bet to start the Ashes series at number three.

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