England August 6, 2011

Premature triumphalism? No chance

England wouldn't dream of doing that

Wednesday, 3rd August Last night I was visited by the Spirit of Cricket. He wasn’t in a very good mood. He complained vigorously that the Ian Bell thing had nothing to do with him, that as far as he was concerned, the fellow was dozier than a sloth on sleeping tablets and that if he’d been Dhoni, he’d have waited till Bell got back to the wicket and then rescinded his rescinded appeal, just to teach the blighter a lesson.

After he had calmed down, I told him I was about to post my 200th Long Handle entry and asked what he thought I should write. He thought for a moment, then he said, “Write what you like, it’s only Page 2. But whatever you do, don’t insult Ganguly.”

Thursday, 4th August A realistic view of our place in the great scheme of things is a hallmark of the English nation from Alfred the Great, a failed baker, to David Cameron, who has spent much of his first year as prime minister apologising and publicly changing his mind. We are a moderately sized, oddly shaped, frequently damp island nation whose primary role these days is to bear the brunt of the Atlantic weather for the sake of mainland Europe. We’ve lost an empire but we can still serve as an umbrella.

So just because we happen to find ourselves beating India 2-0, there is zero danger of any flabby complacency or premature triumphalism creeping in. No one would be foolish enough to start loosening champagne corks just because they were leading a big final at half-time. Isn’t that right, Freddie?

“England are the best team in the world already, not just in ranking.”

Actually, not even in ranking, Freddie. Let’s be clear. The ICC rankings table is not drawn up by tabloid editors. As of tea-time today, I regret to inform you that we are not No. 1. To start calling ourselves No. 1 before we are in fact No. 1 would be the highest-profile English case of premature fowl-tallying since King Harold turned to his men on Senlac Hill and said, “Look, I told you, we’ve got real strength in depth behind this shield wall and the Normans were badly underprepared. I’d be astonished if we didn’t win from this position.”

Friday, 5th August Two-nil down and the Indians are fighting back. Not on the pitch, but where it really matters: in the media. Today it was Paddy Upton’s turn to come to the PR party, spinning far more effectively than anything Harbhajan has managed in 70 overs. He isn’t saying that playing an awful lot of cricket is the reason why India are losing the series, but they are losing the series and they have played an awful lot of cricket.

“By giving the players so much cricket there is a potential of diluting the quality of the product. We are possibly seeing the evidence of it now.”

Possibly. But then cricket to the modern international bat-wielding superstar is a bit like dessert. Just because someone keeps putting it in front of you, doesn’t mean you can’t push it away now and again. For example, any of the World Cup heroes could have chosen seven weeks of comfy chairs and light promotional duties after their triumph, but instead they chose to muck about in the IPL. Jolly entertaining for the rest of us, but not the ideal, burnout wise. No, mental fatigue is not quite going to cut it as an explanation; we’ll need something more convincing. Ganguly thinks its lack of preparation. But then what does he know?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England