ICC World Twenty20 May 8, 2010

Could this be England?

There were slogs that connected, sixes that flew and dives that actually saved runs

Shahid Afridi feels cheated after he finds the England team is not as pathetic as he was promised by the ICC © Getty Images
Can I be frank with you? I feel we’re all friends here and that I what I say to you will go no further. The thing is, I have a confession to make. For some time now, I have not derived any particular pleasure from watching the England cricket team. This will, I know, come as a shock to some of you, who were under the impression that the chaps in darkish blue were a throwback to the Golden Age of cricket.

But those of you not residing in long-term institutions for the mentally bewildered will understand. When England play cricket, they provoke many feelings. Boredom. Ennui. Fatigue. Apathy. Sporadic bouts of blind rage. Factory operatives are strongly advised not to watch England play cricket whilst operating heavy machinery. I can well recall one July morning when I fell asleep whilst Alastair Cook was taking guard and was only roused in the middle of the evening session by the squeals of my pet gerbil who could stand it no longer.

However, news reached me earlier this week of extraordinary developments taking place in the Caribbean and so on Thursday morning I taped my eyelids in the open position and tuned in. Immediately, I was drawn into a strange and unfamiliar land, an alternative dimension in which two aliens who looked a lot like Michael Atherton and Nick Knight blithely assured us that England would comfortably beat Pakistan. This was exciting, dangerous talk that told of a changed cricket landscape, of a new era in English cricket and possibly of a bottle of whisky behind Charles Colville’s cushion.

These two were, let us remember, prominent performers in England’s Cricket Circus of Calamity that toured the world in the 1990s, bringing hilarity, high jinks, pratfalls and exhibitions of staggering ineptitude to the comedy starved masses of the ICC member states. Now, here they were, large as life in their slacks and open-neck shirts, reclining in a television studio, adopting the blasé attitude of men who had placed a hefty wager on an event that had already happened. It was all most unsettling.

Of course, to an extent, any television appearance by Nick Knight is unsettling. I am no longer of the belief that he is running a mind controlling cult. You don’t have to worry, he isn’t dangerous. He is, however, starting to cause the indicator on my Irritation Gauge to fidget. Every question elicits from the former opener a pained frown, of the kind only usually seen on the faces of patients experiencing what might politely be described as lower intestinal difficulties.

Yet as the game unfolded, it appeared that, a mere seven years after the first ever Twenty20 game, the England players had actually been practising the art of despatching the ball to the boundary without it touching the ground. Previously the English method was to leave it to random instinct. If a chap was possessed of a certain robustness of limb, if the wind was in the right direction, if the moment was right, if the moon was in the right aspect of Mars and if he’d got his dander up, he might have been prevailed upon to assay an occasional lofted shot. Usually he didn’t.

But now the English are in possession of a Kieswetter, a Lumb and a Morgan and since they already had a Pietersen, their slogging goblet runneth over. Throw in Luke Wright’s one big shot and they have a team capable of going all the way, providing Australia withdraw from the competition in the next two weeks, Sri Lanka, South Africa and India continue to play below themselves and the twin evils of rain and mathematics do not ever again dare to conspire against Queen and country.

They are still English of course. Amid all the high-fiving, leaping and diving, there was the occasional scruffy overthrow, lack of communication and hands on hips indignation that tells of a nation for whom fielding is not something a chap does without being asked. And there was a touch of good old-fashioned Yorkshire surliness from Tim Bresnan and Ryan Sidebottom who both complained bitterly about being called for bowling bouncers over the batsman’s head shortly after bowling bouncers over the batsman’s head.

And yet, win they did. I am reminded of that old country proverb, often uttered by Warwickshire farmers on eerie mid summer nights,

“When the Knight be right, good folk take fright.”

I think we should all ponder that for a while.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England