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Ashes to Ashes by Keith Fletcher

Release date: 06th June, 2005
Publisher: Headline Publishing

List Price: £19.99
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Ashes to Ashes
By Keith Fletcher
Headline Publishing

4Sportsbooks.co.uk price: £13.29 (saving £6.70 on published price)

Since the last Test match ended well ahead of time, there has been much debate about which side will benefit least from the England - Bangladesh mini-series, the second game of which got under way on Friday. One suspects that Keith Fletcher, the only man to have captained and subsequently coached the national cricket team, would not approve, although he is undoubtedly looking forward to the 'real thing', the Ashes series, which starts next month.

As Mike Atherton says in his foreword to this thought-provoking book, the Ashes have been a thread running through Keith Fletcher's cricket career, although as the author makes clear in Ashes to Ashes, he probably never played in as many international games as he should have done. It's a fair point, coming from a man who, having left school at 16 with an overwhelming desire to play cricket, remained in the game for the whole of his working life, scoring 37,665 first class runs to boot.

Yet this is not a book about the Ashes per se. In fact, one could argue that neither is it a book about Keith Fletcher, concerning itself more about the state of the country's cricket.

Fletcher believes the root cause of cricket's decline became painfully evident in the 1980s when a production line of world class players such as Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting and John Embury came to a sudden halt. He identifies this trio as they were each the product of state schools where cricket was the summer game.

Unfortunately, as Fletcher reflects, when cricket was unceremoniously dropped from the national curriculum, clubs were given little or no encouragement to attract youngsters; the Government, meanwhile, continued to sanction the sale of school playing fields. In many cases, even had cricket made a comeback, there was nowhere left to play.

Moreover, he acknowledges that football's resurgence coincided with a decline in cricketing standards and it has proven difficult to bring spectators back to all but the biggest matches.

By contrast, Fletcher cites conditions in Australia where highly competitive matches between schools are the norm: "I don't imagine," he adds, "they bother about laying on any tea." The former England coach regularly highlights how different things are Down Under: "Only success is rewarded in Australia. That is their culture whereas ours is a culture of expectation." Again, it is difficult to argue with such a succinct summary.

As may be expected of a man who has been involved with the game since the 1960s, he bemoans the gradual disappearance of characters such as Keith Pont, who once borrowed a spectator's bicycle to travel around the boundary to field at third man. Nor is he a great lover of the post-match 'warm-down', a period he believes should instead be spent talking with people whose vast experience of the game is worth tapping into.

Fletcher ends by looking to the future and appreciates that radical action is required if England are to challenge Australia's hegemony. He advocates a return to three day county games and a limit of two overseas players per club. He suggests that if a Test match ends inside three days, a one-day international should be arranged to follow as a matter of course. Sadly, this might be the only way Bangladesh will remain on the field for four days at the Riverside; on the fifth, the ECB may wish to reflect on some of Keith Fletcher's ideas before the Ashes series starts on 21 July.


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