What just happened in England?
West Indian cricketers are not supposed to fear anyone – except their mothers. So what must have happened is that when Chris Gayle got home with the Wisden Trophy, his mother took one look at it and told him that it wasn’t his and he was to give it back to the people it really belonged to as soon as possible or there would be trouble. And if the other boys’ mothers said similar things, then we can understand why their performances at Lord’s and the Riverside were so abject, and perhaps even forgive them.
All right, so it was pretty chilly out there in the middle and the ball moved in the air and off the seam at times, but international-level cricketers ought to be able to make a better fist than that of conditions other than idyllic. Fidel Edwards managed to make some good use of the moving ball but his colleagues did not even get the ball to whisper, let alone talk. The batsmen decided to play as if the ball was not moving at all and trust to luck for survival, a policy with predictably grim results.
It gives me no pleasure at all to have to write that whatever credit they justifiably accumulated with their gritty determination to win in the Caribbean, they squandered in seven days of rolling over and dying in an English spring. Unless they really were doing what their mamas told them to.
There is a feeling, then, that England were merely beating the air, but even that has its benefits. It does the heart and confidence a lot of good to record thumping victories if you haven’t had one for a year.
The bowlers especially will feel a lot better for knowing that they can bowl very well indeed if there is a little help from the pitch and weather: even Tim Bresnan looked a handy back-up bowler once he could get some movement while James Anderson bowled as well as any England swing bowler has these last twenty years. Stuart Broad bounced Ramnaresh Sarwan out and Graeme Swann gave left-handers a lot of trouble. Assuming Fred Flintoff comes back to replace Bresnan, that leaves Graham Onions fighting it out with Ryan Sidebottom and Monty Panesar for the fifth bowler’s spot, the question being which of them best complements the other four in the conditions anticipated.
But what encouraged me most about their performance was that they enjoyed being at work. The mid-week crowds may have stayed away (for all the concerned comment about small gates, the one Saturday of actual play was almost a sell-out) and the media may have spent large parts of every press conference wheedling about the Ashes, but the captain and team director had clearly managed to get them to concentrate on doing the job in hand as well as they could and worry about what comes next when it arrives. There was an enthusiasm and brio about their play which belied the lack of attention being paid by anyone else.
For a team which was in turmoil five months ago, this is an impressive tribute to the management skills of Strauss and Flower, hereafter to be known as the Andrews Brothers.
Their task, which they have no choice but to accept, is to reassemble the group after the interlude of the ODIs against West Indies and the ballyhoo and disappointment as teams more skilled at Twenty20 leave England standing at the World Cup and get them to carry on from where they left off. Since this is Mission Impossible, this post will self-destruct five seconds after you read it.