England January 16, 2010

Englishmen behaving badly

Stroppy reactions to allegations, tantrums on the balcony – welcome to the toy-tossing session

'This isn't what we ordered. Prior-y let's make an official complaint' © Getty Images
It is hard to like the England cricket team, and not a man given to hard work, I have decided to take the easier alternative. I do have something of a headstart. Towards Swanny, Belly, Trotty, Cooky and the rest of them, their Twittering, their self-congratulation, their screaming like excited chimpanzees when one of their number catches a ball or ties his shoelace, I was already entirely indifferent. And recent events have provided plenty of fertiliser for the healthy antipathy I am cultivating towards the gentlemen who wear embroidered lions over their left nipple.

Take the upcoming tour of Bangladesh. A good opportunity to get some experience of Asian conditions? A chance to support the newest Test nation and give their supporters something to cheer about? Nope. It wasn’t so long ago, Mr Strauss that you were out in the wilderness of the shires, contemplating the futility of existence as you toiled away in front of two men and a dog. A handful of Test wins later and you’re suddenly too showbiz to go to Bangladesh. You need a rest. From what, exactly?

And there was something else I was going to talk about. Now what was it? It’s on the tip of my tongue ... Ah yes, I remember. Ball-tampering! I’m sorry, was that me? I don’t know what came over me. I sometimes have these explosive outbursts, usually involving highly inappropriate and profane language. Most unfortunate, particularly when it relates to something so seedy, so disreputable and so utterly un-British as the aforementioned interference with spherical objects. Ball- tampering! There I go again. Excuse me.

Still, I’m not the only one who’s said it. Some people were saying it on the television. Some ex-players, who really should know better, wrote it in newspapers. What was Michael Vaughan thinking? Children might have been reading! AB de Villiers said it at a press conference, but then he is South African and can be relied upon to completely misjudge the public mood. In fact, he used the phrase, “a little bit naughty”, which sounds delightfully camp when uttered in an Afrikaans accent (go on, try it).

Thank goodness then, for Wing Commander Strauss and the long hours he has put in with the Indignity Coach and the Chutzpah Co-ordinator. Just hours after his chaps had been caught live on television variously tenderising the ball with a boot or picking at it with a specially attached graphite fingernail, he managed not just to refute or deny it, he gave a sound tongue-lashing to those reprobates who had dared to offer the merest hint of a suggestion that an Englishman might have even contemplated contravening Law 42.3 or any of its sacred sub-paragraphs.

And backing him up in one of the tabloids was David Lloyd, employing a clever analogy to explain to us non-cricket folk why we hadn’t seen what we thought we’d seen. It went something like this:

Imagine Jimmy Anderson is a driver. Stay with it, it’s worth it, I promise. Now, imagine that Law 42.3 is a 30mph zone. Jimmy, in tearing at the ball with his fingernail, was merely doing the equivalent of 35mph in that zone. See what he’s saying? Jimmy was breaking the law, but only a little bit. Conclusive, I think you’ll agree. Although it does beg the question as to what 90mph might represent in this analogy? Presumably, destroying the ball with an acetylene torch and sprinkling the ashes onto Daryl Harper’s shoes?

You might think, then, that having scraped through that little difficulty, the England chaps might be keeping a lower profile. But not a bit of it. On Thursday they threw a team tantrum on the dressing-room balcony when Alastair Cook was dismissed. Then on Friday, another decision went against them and all of the England toys (officially merchandised rattles and dummies are currently available from all good retailers) flew out of the England pram. They made an official complaint. Against whom, for what reason and with what aim, it is not clear. But be in no doubt that it was a complaint and that it was good and official too, no doubt written in his bestest handwriting by the England coach. As you read this, Andy Flower is still sitting outside the match referee’s office, holding his breath in protest.

Fortunately, there are some former cricketers upholding the dignity of old Blighty. On Thursday afternoon, the day’s play had drawn to a soggy halt. In the Sky studio, David Gower, attempting to spark a little time-filling conversation, revealed that at dinner the previous evening he had been discussing with friends the prospects of any of the English players getting into a combined team. With undue optimism, he threw the subject open to his compadre from Lancashire.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” replied Athers, “It’s not the kind of thing I talk about at dinner.”

Ouch! This was the precisely the kind of deadpan comeback with which Atherton made such a fool of Allan Donald at Trent Bridge back in 1998. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Donald sweated and swore and ranted, but he just made himself look silly. I remember thinking at the time: get on with it, Mr Donald, show a stiff upper lip man. Don’t make such a scene. Yes, the ball bounced off the batsman’s glove and was caught. What do you want to do? Make an official complaint?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England