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I don’t like the English cricket team. There, I said it. I feel no attachment whatsoever to this particular collection of blue-clad gym-botherers. It may be traitors’ talk, but I am entirely indifferent to the outcome of Friday’s semi-final. The match itself, I am looking forward to. The result is irrelevant.
So why don’t I care?
First of all, I’m not a natural patriot. The merest sight of a St George Cross and I begin to mumble angrily into my cocoa and feel an urge to whistle the “Marseillaise” or set fire to some Morris dancers’ handkerchiefs.
Ah, you might say, once a traitor, always a traitor. You may be right.
But ‘twas not always thus. Even though I grew up watching an inept bunch of no-hopers struggle desperately every summer, I took it for granted that I wanted England to win, and I took these losers to my heart. If I were asked to name my cricket hero, I would first lecture the interrogator on the inanity of the question, and then mutter something about Mike Atherton.
My levels of Englishness peaked in 2005. Watching reruns of that Ashes series, I realise that at the time I must have been blind to the drunken morons on the terraces, oblivious to the mindless, draining partiality of that summer’s prevailing mood and to the manner in which the subtle complexities of the great game were overwhelmed by a torrent of red-and-white jingoism. Australia were the cruel tormentors, the heartless tyrants, and we were finally overthrowing them. It was a victory for justice and freedom. Cry God for Freddie, England and St George!
But something happened during the post-Ashes hangover. You know what it’s like. A big night out, you wake up feeling depressed and you can’t remember where you left your shoes. Well, for me, it was my patriotism. I know I had it at the Oval. I’m sure it was around during the Trafalgar Square parade. But it had gone. And I haven’t found it yet. This summer, as England were being embarrassed by the Netherlands at Lord’s, I joined the worldwide club of neutrals and cheered the men in orange.
How did this happen? To be honest, I don’t know. There has been any number of disillusionments, disenchantments and irritations in recent years. There was Alastair Cook’s biography, Monty Panesar’s biography, the continued selection of Steve Harmison, the Stanford debacle, the canonisation of Andrew Flintoff, the total lack of anything approaching a global perspective on the part of the English press.
Or perhaps I just became bored of looking at the same old surly, unshaven, unsmiling bunch of really quite ordinary sportsmen. I grew tired of hearing how they were all very, very talented – despite all the evidence to the contrary. I began instead to take an interest in other, frankly more exciting teams. I began to enjoy the game for its own sake, without being tensed up in a clench of patriotic desperation.
And that is what I shall be doing on Friday, with a gin and tonic to hand. You are welcome to join me at Hughes Towers, providing you leave your flags in the foyer and don’t spill your lager on the Axminster.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73