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Home > Cricket > Columns > The Wisden Verdict on England
December 14, 2001
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The declaration that wasn't

Tim de Lisle

This afternoon, Ashley Giles was spotted on the England balcony apparently reading out something amusing from his current reading - Facing Up by Bear Grylls, the Englishman who conquered serious injury to climb Everest at the age of 23. The relevance to Giles was obvious. But the story may also have had some resonance for Nasser Hussain, who was chortling next to him. Hussain hasnít been fully fit all year. If itís not his brittle fingers, itís his groin or a bad back which needs constant attention and threatens to assume Athertonian proportions. And at the start of this match, he definitely had a mountain to climb.

He also has less support than he has ever had in two and a half years as England captain. Now that Graham Thorpe is back in Surrey, Hussain has only one player who is both senior and fully established in the side: himself. Trescothick is established, but in his 18th Test, hardly senior. Ramprakash is senior, after 48 Tests in 10 years, but still not established, even though he is playing more freely than at any time in his international career. Of the 11 England players in this match, only Hussain and Trescothick can be sure of being selected for the first Test against Sri Lanka next May.

Nasser Hussain For a moment before lunch, despite all this, Nasser was on top of the world. A lead of 116 was heading inexorably towards 200, and he and Mark Butcher had ridden their luck to establish some dominance. Tinu Yohannan gave him a dose of his own medicine, landing the ball well outside off. Nasser saw it coming, took a stride towards extra-cover, and drove the ball at right angles to the midwicket boundary. For the first and probably last time in his career, he resembled Viv Richards.

Hussain and Butcher both looked set for the sort of breezy second-innings century that Michael Slater makes when he can get in the Australian team, followed by a suitably confident declaration. But it all went a bit awry. Hussain lost his timing, and eventually his patience. Butcher, feeling groggy, played the spinners better than he ever has, sweeping all behind him, but fell tamely, eight short of the hundred he deserved. Ramprakash made yet another of his high-class low scores: rarely can a man have played with such assurance for 37 and 19. And Nasser never did get round to declaring.

You can understand his caution. His attitude all tour has been to hang in there and hope to steal a victory. But as well as he has played his limited cards in the field, this was disappointing. What would he have done if the tail hadnít conveniently collapsed? Batted on to the close? Nobody has ever made 300 to win in the fourth innings in India, and if a captain can keep the runs down anywhere, he can do it here. The pitch holds none of the expected demons, and England surely needed 100 overs, maybe 120, to bowl India out, rather than the 97 they were left with.

Hussainís inventiveness returned when they got out there as he threw the new ball to Giles. He will need it tomorrow if England are to come out of this Test with more than mere respectability.

Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden.com.

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