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Friday, 27th July As the entire population of Britain apart from everyone who doesn’t live in the bottom right hand corner of it goes Bronze-Age-pagan-sports-festival-with-sinister-corporate-overtones crazy, spare a thought for a group of 12 tracksuit wearers and their 74 support staff who have spent the last four days sipping disconsolately from their mulberry and valium flavoured energy drinks in the ECB’s saloon bar, whilst listening to the wistful melancholy stylings of in-house blues duo “Long” Bob Willis (monotone) and “Grumbling Geoff” Boycott (bass growl).
It hasn’t helped that this month’s latest video game release, “Hashim Amla’s Not Out (Ever) Cricket” has received glowing reviews and is steadily outselling the James Anderson-endorsed “Effective In Favourable Conditions Cricket 2011” which used to be No. 1 in the charts, but probably won’t be for much longer.
We shouldn’t be unsympathetic. Coping with unexpected defeat* is never easy and this is the fifth unexpected defeat England have had to cope with this year. At some point, the status of these defeats is going to have be downgraded from “unexpected” to “not that much of a surprise, to be honest” and, with another tour of the subcontinent to come, possibly even as far as “yep, we saw that one coming”.
Still, for the time being, we are calling these defeats unexpected and in England’s case, an unexpected defeat is in the most literal sense bad news. For several months, cricket hacks have been dining on champagne and fairy cakes aboard the Flower Bandwagon and their despatches from the front line of the England dressing room, including such headlines as “Super Strauss Saves Mankind” and “Is This The Greatest Team Ever?” and “Why Do The Nobel Committee Continue To Overlook Graeme Swann?” have tended towards the positive.
But if the wheels begin to wobble and the bandwagon veers from the motorway of success, across the roadside verge of unexpected setback, through the wooden fence of disappointment and headlong down the slope of declining Test rankings, then readers might start laughing at the hapless hacks when they bump into them in the greengrocers, or even worse, leave sarcastic comments underneath their online columns. Hell hath no fury like a sports journalist made to look foolish and the England players will need no reminding of our tabloids’ penchant for comparing professional sportsmen to root vegetables.
So the emergency defeat box has been opened and appropriately contrite clichés issued to all hands. James Anderson has promised blood, toil, sweat and tears or something very similar; Andrew Strauss has said he wants the players to take a look at themselves (although I’m not sure that KP needs more mirror time); and Ian Bell has claimed that Andy Flower wants them all to “scratch their minds”, which could be a fiendishly clever Zen riddle or just another reminder that not every cricketer can be safely entrusted with the task of talking in public.
But as the cliché says, England haven’t become a bad team overnight. This is perfectly true. It takes a lot of hard work over many months to become a bad team. At the moment, they’re just a good team who’ve come up against a better team. But who knows. A few more innings defeats and anything is possible.
* Coincidentally, Coping With Unexpected Defeat was the title of the second edition of a self-help pamphlet hastily produced by Cricket Australia in the autumn of 2005, to replace the slightly outdated 1975 original, entitled So You’re A Loser Then? Well Don’t Come Crying To Me About It. Loser.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73