Australia v India 2011-12 January 14, 2012

Decoding playerspeak

What do "we're in transition" and "we weren't really there" mean?

Wednesday, 11th January How best to describe Sri Lanka’s batting today? Mere words can only begin to convey the wretchedness of their willow-wafting. It was more horrifying than Rick Santorum wearing a Newt Gingrich mask; messier than the state of Italy’s finances, and uglier to watch than the unveiling of the new pavilion at Headingley.

But not, I suspect, as ugly as the mood of the ordinary Sri Lankan spectator who has been asked to swallow an awful lot of ineptitude of late and who might be starting to suspect that the phrase “We’re in transition” is in fact top sports administrator code for “Help, we really don’t know what to do without Murali!”

And just what is it with the modern batsman? Accustomed to nice, well-behaved pitches, where the bounce is always ankle height and the runs flow easy, he turns into a dainty, timorous creature when faced with deliveries that deviate a millimetre from a straight line or which threaten to bounce up and tickle his tummy.

Sri Lanka’s ineptitude was summed up by Lasith Malinga. In Twenty20 World, a quick 30 from the Slinger can be the game. But faced with the need to hit a quick 270, his methods proved less effective. Going down on one knee, he swung mightily, as though trying to get them all in one shot. Naturally, he missed.

Thursday, 12th January There is a lot of speculation ahead of India’s defeat in Perth about what kind of team they are going to pick. I have no inside knowledge, but experience leads me to suggest that the kind of team they will pick will be one that looks good on paper, sets off with purpose, gets within sniffing distance of the outskirts of victory, then wanders off to sit in a field making daisy chains before falling asleep under a bush.

You know, the usual.

But MS Dhoni, a man who can rival Chris Gayle in the unflappable/laidback/not-appearing-to-be-all-that-bothered-actually stakes, is in a philosophical mood.

“You lose a few series, you lose a few games. As long as you are competing, it is good.”

It rather depends. If by “competing” he means, “turning up and running about a bit like it says we have to do in our BCCI contracts” then yes, India have been competing. But it’s not the kind of competing that we might expect from a team that was No. 1 not so long ago. But hang on. Is there another reason for their poor efforts?

“In England, we weren’t really there, so we didn’t perform to our potential.”

What do you mean, you weren’t really there? Is this just sportsman’s speak, a derivation of the cliché about parties? You know the one: “We didn’t come to the party, so obviously we didn’t get a go on the karaoke machine or have a chance to sample the buffet or get to show off our dance moves and we don’t know who did what with whom at the party, which is disappointing, but hopefully we will be invited to the party next time.”

Or was Dhoni being literal. What if he has accidentally let the feline out of the holdall? What if they really weren’t there in England and they aren’t there in Australia either? Perhaps, worn out by the excessive demands of their fans/accountants/agents, they’ve taken these series off and sent in their place a plausible cast of doubles, impersonators and, in the case of VVS, a realistically dressed mannequin.

It would explain a lot.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England