England June 23, 2012

The England cricket mafia

Wednesday, June 20th Once upon a time there was a boy with beautiful hair who was very popular in his village

Wednesday, June 20th Once upon a time there was a boy with beautiful hair who was very popular in his village. Despite his somewhat disappointing career batting average, everybody loved him. But the boy had a troublesome habit: he liked to play practical jokes.

His favourite joke was to call all of the villagers to the square and announce that he would no longer be watching the sheep because he just wasn’t enjoying it any more, he wasn’t getting enough support from the other shepherds or he wanted to try his hand at being a cattle herder instead.

The villagers would shrug and say how much they would miss his exuberant sheep-watching style and the way that he would sometimes entertain the flocks by clapping loudly or pretending to eat a cricket ball. But just as they were starting to talk about his replacement, the boy with the lovely hair would call them back to the square and announce that he wasn’t retiring after all and that it had all been a joke.

Yes, if ever there’s a slow news day, you can always count on an Afridi retirement to fill the pages. By my reckoning, this would be Shahid’s fourth retirement, although it isn’t yet official, it is merely under consideration, and there are certain caveats.

“I must first check if anybody is ready to take my place in the team, so that my retirement won’t be unfair to the team.”

So even on the brink of leaving, he’s helping out the selectors. Still, three-and-a-half retirements is pretty good for a 32-year-old. There’s no way he could have notched up such an impressive score had he been English. If an English player so much as hints at wanting to spend more time with his Playstation/family/azaleas, he finds himself hauled before the Godfather to have part of his livelihood removed.

Last year, Paul Collingwood suggested that he wanted to ditch the five-day stuff. Twenty-four hours later his career was swimming with the fishes. Earlier this summer, KP asked to be excused from 50-over cricket and bada bing, he’s unceremoniously dumped out of the Twenty20 team too. When you’re part of the England family, you’re part of the family. You don’t decide when its time to leave.

But even though they do things differently in Pakistan, Shahid should be careful. Next time he announces his unretirement, they might just decide they’ve had enough of the boy with the twinkle in his eye, the flowing locks and the overactive jaw.

Friday, June 22nd Sir Freddie of Lager has had some unparliamentary things to say about Michael Atherton. We need not linger on the detail of the unpleasantries but suffice it to say that Freddie’s career as a cricket wit peaked with the Tino Best windows thing and most of his verbal output since then has been something of a disappointment.

This latest tirade of ripe Anglo-Saxon was prompted by Atherton’s criticism last year of Alastair Cook’s one-day performances. Freddie didn’t suggest that Athers had got it wrong; what was beyond the pale, in Freddie’s bleary eyes, was that a former batsman had criticised someone with a higher batting average.

But this is rather silly. Follow the logic to its conclusion and Sunil Gavaskar (average 51.12) would not be qualified to discuss the technique of Jonathan Trott (average 51.22) whilst Dennis Lillee ought not even consider criticising Stuart Clark, Ryan Harris or Andrew Hall. Atherton is entitled to his opinion and unlike some, has the good grace to admit when he gets it wrong, as he did with Cook.

And for what it’s worth, I reckon 37.69 in old money, earned against McGrath, Donald, Pollock, Ambrose, Walsh, Waqar and Wasim, stands up rather well against 48.54 plundered from Messrs Johnson, Siddle, Watson and Sreesanth.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England