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Whichever of their number the cricketing gods deputed to oversee proceedings on England’s tour of West Indies has an evil sense of humour. He saw to it that the average Test side lost the series to the weak one, and then turned round and made the decent ODI side lose the series to the truly awful one. And then he caps it all by making Andrew Strauss the Player of the Series when everybody knows he shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of a one-day side.
Granted, Strauss’s innings to win the fourth ODI was a decent enough effort, but awarding him Player of the Series involves also giving him credit for the century he made in the second game. While he did not quite scale the heights of irrelevance reached by Gavaskar’s famous World Cup 36, giving him an award for it is like giving a safe driving medal to an ambulanceman who observes traffic lights and speed limits without worrying whether the casualty in the back will survive long enough to receive treatment.
But as his other three innings were what one expects from him in short-form cricket – scratch, scratch, miscued big shot, out – there may have been a deeper purpose behind the award, that of ensuring that he will think he is good at one-day cricket and continue to open England’s innings throughout the World Twenty20.
These days, everything eventually tracks back to the IPL, so my guess is that this ludicrous accolade was directed by a dirty tricks department reporting to Lalit Modi.
The first hint of this campaign of misinformation I spotted was a week ago, when a strange Indian gentleman claiming to be a journalist popped up in the Sky TV studio, ostensibly to make sage comments on the Test match going on in Napier. Everything he said on that subject sounded sensible, but he was then invited to talk about the ODI which had just finished in Barbados, and pronounced that the main fault with England’s one-day side was the bowling.
Being English, I can’t really be expected to understand one-day cricket, but that just seems plain wrong. Without wishing to go overboard with praise for the unworthy, surely the bowling is the least of England’s one-day problems. Broad and Anderson are making good progress as new ball bowlers, Flintoff is excellent both in the middle overs and at the death, and the rest of those on show usually manage to border on adequacy.
Modi’s man was clearly trying to divert attention away from England’s horrible batting, which remains as clueless as ever. Tellingly, the only games which England won on the field (as opposed to being handed victory by a West Indian clerical error) were ones in which they did not have to try and bat for 50 overs. Given the full ration, England panic as soon as they lose a couple of wickets and are six down and struggling before they know it.
West Indies perhaps rely a little too much on a Gayle blitz to launch their innings, leaving them slightly doubtful if he goes early, but Sarwan and especially Chanderpaul are adaptable and versatile enough to build good platforms and then accelerate. They are followed by Bravo and Pollard, who possess both the ability and the self-belief to marmalise defensive bowling from the off. England batsmen who try and emulate them unerringly pick the wrong ball to whack straight up in the air, but if that doesn’t work they fall back on their sorry judgement of runs to get themselves out.
The plan must be that the series win sufficiently blinds England to their own uselessness to allow the rest of the world to laugh at them come June. West Indians disappointed with the outcome, particularly those seeking to blame coach Dyson for the Duckworth-Lewis debacle in Guyana, should therefore realise that this wholly ridiculous and anomalous result was part of a much deeper strategic scheme to destabilise England by getting them to pick the wrong team again and again and again.
The wry smile on Chris Gayle’s face at the final presentation suggests to me that he is privy to the conspiracy and was thinking “mission accomplished”. Though the best team lost, it was for the greater good, and the rewards will be reaped when England crash out of the Twenty20 World Cup by losing to the Netherlands.
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