January 18, 2011

The iconoclastic breakfast of Messrs Clarke and Hughes

Eggs and toast at 7.30

Saturday, 15th January So why didn’t Australia win the Ashes? A batting line-up crumblier than a 500-year-old fruit cake? Bowlers who flung down more pies than a malfunctioning high-velocity pie-making machine? A selection policy based around the roulette wheel? No, the truth is much simpler. On the first morning of the Boxing Day Test, captain Clarke and first mate Hughes attended a breakfast function. Hughes had a croissant, Clarke ordered a low-fat frappaccino with cinnamon sprinkles. The rest is history.

Most of us in the cricket-playing world have come to an understanding with Defeat. We accept him as an old acquaintance, like one of those people you kind of know, whose company you don’t particularly like but who you can never quite seem to get rid of. And he’s not so bad really. When he does pop round he just sits quietly in the corner, looking fed up. Providing he remembers to wipe his feet and doesn’t drop digestive crumbs on the carpet, it isn’t too much of an ordeal to accommodate him.

But Australia and Defeat do not get on well at all. Down under, they see this latest Ashes setback as a sign that the cricket gods are angry. And when gods are angry they must be appeased. So the elders of Australian cricket are casting about for a sacrificial victim to help them relaunch their currently beached national sport. And in the absence of dumb animals it is generally accepted that the youngest and the prettiest members of the crew feel the knife for the greater good.

“They were interviewed at 7.30am,” revealed a shocked Scapegoat Finder General, James Sutherland. “Some of us are still in our Lalit Modi pyjamas at that hour!”

During previous, more successful eras, Clarke and Hughes would be copping it, not because they had breakfast in public on the morning of a Test, but because they were capable of walking in a straight line at that time of day. Ingeniously, Sutherland manages to insinuate this too. See how metrosexual Clarke is? He can’t even be unprofessional in a manly way. Breakfast functions? What would David Boon say?

Sunday, 16th January Andrew Strauss has been explaining why Paul Collingwood is only a little bit dropped. He needs to “clear his mind” apparently. In fact, Strauss repeated this phrase no less than four times, until it became a little unnerving. It makes you wonder what exactly is on Collingwood’s mind. Has he dared to voice dissent about the regime? Has he not been taking his Team England medication? Does he need re-education?

This England team puts me in mind of a self-help group that has been together just a bit too long, or possibly even the early stages of a cult. There are the vulnerable misfits (one-time failures, young fast bowlers with anger-management issues, immigrants confused about their identity). There is the sinister figurehead, with the misleadingly pleasant surname and the grating accent. And there is the scary right-hand man with the terrifying smile and the menacing platitudes.

The smug videos, the funny little ritual dances, the unnaturally cheerful demeanour, the converging hairstyles; these are the tell-tale signs of group mind-control and a dysfunctional family dynamic. We all know where this is going. One minute they’re an impressively well-drilled and close-knit unit of personable sportsmen, the next they’re barricading themselves into the Lord’s Long Room as police marksmen take up position and Henry Blofeld tries to talk them out via a loud hailer. Take your chance, Paul, get out now while you still can!

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England