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England's young lions really do have some bite

By Michael Atherton

Sunday 1 June 1997

BEFORE the Texaco Trophy tournament against the Australians, I was at pains to suggest that it would not have much bearing on the Test series. Now, after such a positive and encouraging response to our 3-0 triumph in the one-day games, I believe I could well have been wrong.

Of course, we have not proved anything except that the Australians are not invincible. But I really do feel that what we achieved in the Texaco series has significance as we approach the Tests.

Previously, I got the feeling nobody gave us much of a hope against the Australians in anything. In fact, one ill-mannered dimwit felt it necessary to tell me and other members of the England team in our hotel in Leeds prior to the first Texaco game that we were no-hopers.

Since we gave such a good account of ourselves, however, the feedback has been completely different. It seems that we really did succeed in engaging the confidence and goodwill of everybody - even the crustiest cynics of the media - and it is a rare pleasure to have this feeling of support as you confront a team ranked as the world champions of Test cricket. People seem genuinely excited and uplifted - including everyone in the England camp - and that is a far more positive power for good than the great weight of public doubt which has been there at times in the past.

What encouraged me most was the way we functioned so coherently as a competitive unit. One of the fundamental strengths of the Australians is that they normally play more aggressively and outfield their opponents. That did not happen this time and I think we can say that we beat them at their own game.

For that the selectors deserve credit. They went for the bold option with the squad they chose and it paid off handsomely. All the things for which the Australians are rightly admired - their trust in youth, their energy, the sheer vibrancy of their cricket - were there in England's performances and it was a joy for me to watch a youngster like Ben Hollioake having that magical hour at Lord's.

I've always stressed the need for youth and vibrancy and I felt we moved an important step towards that with the squad which toured the Caribbean in 1994. For the next two years this went into abeyance, to some extent because of force of circumstance, but there is no doubt that the nation wants to see England side's full of energy and commitment and that is what I want to see from us again in the Tests.

The omens of success in the one-day tournament are good. We beat the West Indies 3-0 in 1991 and went on to draw the Test series two apiece. We beat them 2-1 in 1995 and again it was 2-2 in the Tests. And when we came unstuck and lost 3-0 to the Australians in 1993 we went from there to a walloping in the Tests.

However, if you are interested in English cricket, then the Ashes are the ultimate, and many of my most enduring memories concern great deeds in these matches.

Geoff Boycott driving Greg Chappell through mid-on for four might not seem the stuff of legend - but that is my first memory of Ashes cricket and while I cannot recall the result of the match or of that series, I can well remember the public's fascination with this rather odd Yorkshireman as he registered his 100th first-class century on his home ground.

It may seem a surprising admission, but before I played in my first Test match I had seen only one day of Test cricket. It was during the ``Ian Botham Test'' in 1981 and my memory is of a particularly dull day's cricket in which Australia batted for most of the time and England were left to face 40 minutes in which Boycott tried to repel Dennis Lillee and Terry Alderman.

Lillee was a magnificent sight, running in from the Football Stand End with a yellow headband, which somehow made him look even more menacing, and there was certainly nothing on that day to encourage me to believe that England would win the game. When the news of what later happened filtered through to me, I was playing in an Under-13 game for Lancashire and I was as incredulous as everybody else. Displays of individual brilliance stick in my mind rather than results or team performances.

For instance, I cannot remember the result of the Bob Willis tour in 1982, only the radio commentary on the final hour of the Melbourne Test as Willis's strange tactics against Allan Border and Jeff Thomson inched England closer to an unexpected success and the near-farcical moment of victory when Chris Tavare fluffed a chance and Geoff Miller held on to the rebound.

The 1985 series was, of course, a glorious summer. David Gower gorged himself. Botham delivered two hammer blows at Edgbaston off Craig McDermott, and Richard Ellison appeared from nowhere to keep on swinging the ball back between Border's bat and pad. The nation rejoiced as the famous little urn was held aloft and no England captain could ask for more than the chance to do the same in an Ashes series in his own country.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:28