Sunday, 7 January 2007

Ashesto...Oh bloody hell, alright then

Although I've been leaving comments on various blogs, like little thought-turds, I've avoided posting myself about England's meeker than meek surrender of the Ashes.
That's because brighter and more knowledgeable folk than myself have already done it to death. It's also because the reason is simple.

Our players weren't good enough.

Yes - we have good players; yes, sometimes they play well. But in cricket, as in other sports, we Englishers have a remarkable capacity for self-delusion when it comes to the talent of our players compared to other countries'. It is of a piece with football and all the "The Premiership is the best league in the world" crap - something said by people who barely know other leagues exist, I suspect. I've spent part of the afternoon watching another "great" English sportsman - Wayne Rooney. He's a good player, sure - but at the moment he's very, very far from being a world beater. The English cricketers are good players - at the moment, nothing more.

Michael Atherton in his trenchant Sunday Torygraph article today carries extracts from an interview with Steve Harmison which exposes the man's utter lack of desire, commitment or even interest in winning cricket matches for England:

'Andrew Flintoff didn't give you the new ball again in this Test match. Do you feel that you are now at a stage where you can reclaim the new ball again and lead the attack?'

'Don't know. You'll have to ask Andrew Flintoff about that. I don't know. I really don't know. We haven't had a conversation about it. I haven't had it since Brisbane, so I think you'll have to ask him about it. At the end of the day, I've got no queries about it. As long as I'm playing I'm happy to bowl anywhere.'

'Would you like to have the new ball?'

'I'm not particularly bothered, to be honest. At the end of the day I'm trying to get wickets with a ball that's as hard as possible. If that means the new ball so be it.'

'You're off home next week. Sad to be going?'

'No [big smile]. I'm sort of looking forward to getting away from it. At the end of the day it's been seven weeks of hard cricket and I've made my decision, and I'm going home to hopefully recharge the batteries in time for the West Indies in May, if selected.'

'It's a long time before the West Indies get to England. May 17 is the first Test, I think. What are you going to do between now and then to make sure that you are in the best possible mental and physical shape so that you are right for that first Test?'

'I'm not sure, to be honest. I think you'll have to ask Duncan Fletcher what the itinerary and plan is for those players who don't play one-day internationals and just play Tests. I'm sure Fletcher, like he always does, will look after the players in the best way possible and I'm sure he'll do it again. I imagine there will be a lot of county cricket before then. Obviously, we've been going non-stop since India, so a nice little recharge of the batteries to be mentally fresh for coming into the Test series in three, four, five months' time.'

Those of us who've believed for a while that he doesn't really like cricket had these prejudices confirmed by his comments. England players are chock-full of "attitude" of a certain kind: the relentless almost hysterical self-assertion that leads to stupid haircuts, massive tattoos, ghosted columns in newspapers and adverts for this that and the other. But they lack the only "attitude" that matters in sport. The will to win, at all, any cost. Last year, Australia, seeing that they were at the top of world cricket by some margin, announced that henceforth they'd be doing everything in accordance with the utterly mythical "spirit of cricket" and that sledging, intimidatory play, failing to walk and so on were therefore not de rigeur any longer. This year all that has gone: it was just a device for ensuring no-one reached their heights by the same methods they did in the first place. Australian players want to win for Australia. They love the symbols (the baggy green), the history (only Australian cricket would deliberately connect a wartime massacre with a Test series) and the place itself they come from and are part of. Cricket, for Australians, embraces the developing culture of a country moving onwards and building its own cultural heritage. Cricket is not just sport for them: it embraces cultural achievement and a deep history within a context.

All of these are things we deeply worry about: we have no cultural confidence at all. Giving youngsters at the ECB Academy lessons in English Cricket History, quite apart from being hilarious, would be pointless. No one would care. The three lions tattoos that adorn some players' arms (I'm thinking of Flintoff and Pietersen) are symbols, not of love of one's country, but of one's insecure belief in that love. You cannot give English (or English-qualified) players the will to win the Australians have because we don't believe in anything to win for. We can, and will win, games and series. But the sustained excellence of Australia or West Indies is well beyond us in the modern world.


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

tin drummer, you have achieved the impossible! - you have made the topic of cricket interesting to me!

CityUnslicker said...

The last para is very well written and rings true to me.