January 29, 2014

England's dirty laundry

And the larger problem of what happens when cricketers open their mouths

"I can't get enough of these Aussie boos" © Getty Images

From an early age we are exposed to proverbs. These are usually imparted by elderly relatives in lieu of them having any original wisdom of their own to pass on; packaged bite-sized pieces of philosophy, dusty cultural heirlooms that are presented to us with great solemnity, whether we want them or not.

"Less haste, more speed" is one I heard a lot when I was young. I was most likely to hear it on a Monday morning, particularly one of those Monday mornings when I was forced to brush my teeth, put on my trousers and wolf down a piece of toast all at the same time, because I was ten minutes late for something or other.

In such circumstances, this hoary piece of folk advice is entirely useless. When you're badly behind schedule, you need to take a few risks and cut a few corners to make up time. Being hasty may leave you with toothpaste up your nose and your trousers on back to front, but it's your only chance of catching that bus.

Very few of these proverbs stand up to close scrutiny. "Too many cooks spoil the broth" promotes dictatorship and undermines parliamentary democracy. "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is a woefully inadequate public health message, and the person who dreamt up "honesty is the best policy" clearly didn't spend much time in the company of human beings.

But, perhaps because I am getting old, I find myself recalling proverbs quite frequently these days, and the one about not washing your dirty laundry in public has been on my mind as a succession of England cricket insiders have exhibited their soiled garments for the edification and titillation of the general public.

It's been going on all winter and there were more examples this week. First Ashley Giles called Kevin Pietersen a "million-pound asset", thus hinting that KP is no more valuable than a semi-detached property in a London suburb. Then Graeme Swann said that England's short-term future should include KP, implying that in the medium term he should definitely be sacked.

Now we have the spectacle of a captain turning on his own players ahead of Wednesday's opening T20 game:

"It's a pretty scary batting line-up," said Stuart Broad, in a sensational attack on the physical appearance of the England team. He may have a point, but England are having enough trouble finding 11 cricketers who are good at cricket. If we insist they have to be pretty as well, they may not be able to put a side out at all.

When not complaining about the ugliness of his team-mates, he was moaning about how noisy and irritating they are ("This is a group of players who are not shy") and about their tendency to withdraw their labour in pursuit of outrageous pay demands ( "We've got some unbelievable strikers in our side").

He did pause, briefly, from criticising his team, to outline his tactical plan for the series ahead:

"If you believe you can hit the ball over the ropes then generally you do."

I'm not so sure. In my experience, if you believe you can hit the ball over the ropes, then generally you get bowled first ball, and sometimes, if you believe really hard, you fall over while doing it.

Besides, this big talk about confidence and belief is all very well, but at the time of writing, England are losing 9-1. As my great-grandmother used to say: "Fine words butter no parsnips." I think you'd do well to remember that advice, young Stuart, the next time you find yourself using words or indeed, buttering parsnips.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here