Monday, 31 March 2008

England's Victory over New Zealand, by Emmanuel Goldstein

The key thing here is that this victory (note the use of that word again) is designed to make England _appear_ to be a good side. They take an indisputable fact, such as Ryan Sidebottom's 10 wickets in one match, or his hat-trick, and use it to twist people's perceptions of reality such that this equates to England being good. It operates therefore as a synecdoche. Interestingly, _before_ the series, with New Zealand's many injuries and loss of players such as Shane Bond - a geniune paceman, unlike Steve Harmison - the talk was of England winning 3-0. It was only after the disastrous first Test, that the existence of this past was erased and replaced by one in which a determined England team were out to upset the odds. In that sense the ECB have reversed reality in their attempts to make England seem good.

Of course, like all good manipulators of reality, the facts are bare: England _did_ win the series. But if one studies the matches closely, one finds that either or both of the last two tests could easily have been lost at several points. In England cricket, as we know, no-one individual creates the conditions for a Test win, and very few individuals actually play to a high enough standard. Let me elucidate. Andrew Strauss made 177 in the final test. But he was 173* overnight, appearing to be completely uninterested the following morning. His job was done. The same applies to Tim Ambrose in the previous test, and to Ian Bell, whose 110 came when the pressure was off him personally. A quick comparison with the key players in sides such as India or Australia will reveal that they never give up until the match is won. England players are concoting an illusion of effort and of class: we are supposed to be fooled into thinking that this level of play is enough and will do against, say South Africa.

It is plainly the case that it will not.

It is rarely commented on now, for obvious reasons: but in the past (the real one), England players _did_ score over 200 with reasonable regularity. But in the general softening of outlook which set in around 1991 such scores have decreased to a trickle. England _did_ produce successful spin bowlers and they _did_ have consistent pacemen. It is correct that at such times they were also useless, but it is the cynical misrepresentation of how England cricket used to be that enables people to say comfortably in the bars and on the trains: "England are a really good side" when this is not so.

What can be done? Well the leaders of England cricket have no clear ideas beyond the usual setting up of committees and reports. This is designed to foster the illusion of action, and it works, while coincidentally providing worthless jobs. My suggestion is simple: the future lies in the young players. They must be sought, encouraged, retained. A revolution of England cricket will only happen if they can find young players and treat them in the right way, as Australia did in the late 1980s (not that we hear much about this now - the origin of Australia's dominance has been long forgotten,and deliberately so).

This may happen sooner than we expect, if international 20Twenty tournaments explode at the rate they are threatening to. The eternal lure of money will provide more and more spaces for these young players, as their more experienced colleagues decamp to India or South Africa or wherever, until they too succumb, creating the conditions for eternal revolution within England cricket and destroying the power of the management committees and the easily satisfied media for ever.

1 comment:

Colin Campbell said...

England backed into this series win and really won it with bowling rather than batting. I watched part of the first test. Talk about boring. There is the possibility that with the Kiwis coming to play in the England, that England will start to look good. New Zealand are a very average side, with a few players who can shine on any given day. England are probably a better team, but they need to be moving aside some of the dead wood. The other Antipodean team is coming next year and looking at their selections for the West Indies, they are thinking very seriously about the next Ashes series.

Good to see Trescothick has retired and put aside any uncertainty about whether he might fit into their plans.