Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Sajid Mahmood, England

There's plenty on the BBC and in various newspapers today about the barracking Sajid Mahmood received from a section of the Headingly crowd yesterday. Chants of "traitor" were shouted at him during his excellent couple of spells that helped win the Test for England. He was a bit annoyed but responded in the two best possible ways: 1) taking wickets and 2) attributing the chants to his dad, a Pakistan fan, and thereby showing he is a really mature head on young shoulders who should be pencilled in for Australia now. Yes he needs a lot of work and practice but he has the pace and the suggestion of reverse swing that says he could replace Simon Jones, if he is allowed to prosper. It has been a tough 18 months for England and they have come out of it well, and deserve to be rated No2 in the world. Wins v Australia, Pakistan, draw v India in India and a win in South Africa are excellent performances, even if the loss in Pakistan was rubbish and the draw v Sri Lanka appalling. It is even better when you consider that England just does not have the raw talent these other countries have - there are no great players in the England side, no Inzy, Yousof, Murali, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, McGrath, Warne and so on - and that playing at home is possibly less of an advantage for England than any other nation, given the number of foreign players who play (or have played) county cricket.

I do not think that we will retain the Ashes -home advantage and Warne might prove too much for us, but we are developing a good squad of players, and the days of Hick or Crawley being called up for a couple of tests are well and truly over (Jon Lewis notwithstanding). It is sobering to think that had Ramprakash been born in, say, 1979, rather than 1968, he would be enjoying a magnificent test career right now and England might have had a great player in the side. We have had good, very good, players, betrayed by short sighted management; we have, hopefully, seen the last of that. We have not seen the last of injury though, and if they are not careful the management can still repeat the disasters of 2002/3 by sending an unfit Jones, Flintoff, Vaughan and Giles to Australia. We can only hope that Mahmood, Panesar, Read and Cook have done enough to persuade them to take only fit and strong players.

A word on the umpiring. It cannot have escaped anyone's notice that over the last 12 months, England have received the rub of tosses, decisions, (often) injuries, and even weather. CMJ remarked, rightly, on TMS this weekend that during the long long spell that England were being thrashed by Australia, not winning any 5 test series, and not winning abroad, everything seemed to go against them. I still remember a run out so blatant at Sydney in 1999 (I was there), when the batsman (Slater, who then made a hundred in an innings when only one other batsman reached double figures) was already walking and England celebrating before the the 3rd umpire called him back; and Adelaide that same winter when the big screen showed so clearly that Atherton had taken a catch that we were all celebrating, only for us to be utterly dumbstruck when the verdict came back: not out.

I could list all the cliches, but I really can't be bothered.

A word on language: I am taken by the Australian and perhaps US convention of referring to teams as singular nouns rather than the UK convention of assuming they are plural entities ("United were rubbish" rather than "United was rubbish"). It makes logical sense to me, and I think it is rather cool.

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