April 2, 2014

Were England complacent?

Giles and Broad used the word to describe the team's performance in the World T20, but what it really describes is the attitude of their bosses

The ECB has stretched Stuart Broad to his limit with England's relentless schedule © Getty Images

Interviewed on television the other night, the novelist Julian Barnes discussed his self-confessed pedantry with regard to the use of language. He chose an interesting example of the kind of thing that riled him - the word "decimate". It has become an alternative to "massacre" when its original meaning refers to the Roman punishment of putting to death one in every ten soldiers in a captured army, something quite different.

Either definition applies quite well to England's cricketers after their defeat by Netherlands. (Which one shall we decimate, or at least drop, or no longer employ? Broad? Giles? Or perhaps just do away with the lot?) Yet no retired writer shoves a microphone under the nose of Barnes as he misses out the Booker - "And how do you feel now, Barnesy? Gutted? Was the book you entered this year really acceptable?" - a fate endured by Ashley Giles and Stuart Broad in Chittagong.

The word that they fell upon to describe England's loss was "complacent". Both seemed to feel it offered suitable amounts of contrition, that it went a little further than the usual robo-pronouncements required by the ECB media training manual, and it yet is an odd choice. For a start, it implies that England, thrashed 5-0 in the Ashes and now eliminated from a world tournament with a record reading W1 L3, actually had something to be complacent about. Is it really possible to be complacent after spending six months being beaten by almost everyone you play against?

It also contains within it a supposition that England were appearing in the famous "dead rubber" against Netherlands, a game for which no one can "get up", an exercise in futility that can only finish one way. And yet so were their opponents, who had been out of the competition for longer than England. Surely the root causes of complacency should be universal.

It's completely understandable that England's representatives want to utter a few stock phrases out of the side of their mouths and get the hell out. In the case of Broad, who is the only player to have clung on since the debacle began back in November and who was clearly being asked to play injured, he can be offered some latitude. He is a wholehearted and spirited cricketer, who, at 27, is showing dangerous signs of being asked to do too much. Tiredness could perhaps explain his other lapse, which was to mention Kevin Pietersen's absence as mitigation - an acknowledgement that is certainly not on the ECB list of official excuses.

Giles' predicament was different. He and we have been encouraged to think of the white-ball section of the winter as an extended job interview. Faced with a result that posed unanswerable questions about his candidacy, it was impossible not to feel a jot of sympathy as he apologised to all the "stakeholders" for the defeat. He is a man who is rapidly being swallowed by the machine he desires to run.

Complacency does not describe the England team's state and yet it is symptomatic of the organisation above it. The players have been flogged into the ground by an endless schedule and the cracks have appeared with alarming speed, but no one within the machine can express this in plain English, because it carries an implied criticism of their bosses. Instead they must reach for words that appear to hold the correct weight but don't actually mean anything, or at least don't contain the honesty that all reasonable fans would accept and welcome. Ultimately they are human beings, and describing their plight on a human level would only help. Sporting cliché pleases no one but the PR droids who have trained the cricketers to utter it.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on April 3, 2014, 15:11 GMT

    Whatever comes out about KP, it is things like the detail in this article that have sent so many of us siding with him! Broad obviously not allowed to say 'insane, greedy overworking of us, combined with rubbish menus, meant that having already been knocked out, we just couldn't raise a gallop today. Maybe we will be allowed to prepare properly for a one day world cup one day'. Instead, the one man who has performed throughout the whole tour, through injuries and all the disappointment, is compelled to blame the players for this embarrassing end to an embarrassing winter.

  • d on April 2, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    & might I add that this England set up has ruined its fastest bowler (Finn) to the point he may never play an international again

  • Clifford on April 2, 2014, 12:34 GMT

    Jon, when one is frustrated with their bosses and has no avenues to express it, resentment follows. This mind set leads to altered perception, which leads to inevitable decline, mentally and therefore physically. We Brits, don't really like change. I still need my beans and Sunday roasts and 80's telly. Our villages rarely change and we are satisfied. However we need to change our managers at the ECB and the FA. Our bulldoggish way of management and insistence on old ways, aren't cutting it anymore. Guardiola, Mourinho, Wenger do things differently and they inspire loyalty. We have got to stop being insecure and go for the managers, who have an idea and are capable of having ideas. I'm sure people like Kirsten have been scared of because of the shenanigans at the ECB, who wouldn't. They were deceitful and underhanded. No one trusts them now, especially players. This isn't Dad's Army, mate. This happens too often and it has to stop! The paying punters need to stand up and say enough!

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2014, 12:12 GMT

    So, Giles' white ball efforts this winter are an "extended job interview"? ODi's P5: W1; L4. T20: P7, W1, L6 (excluding warm up games). That's in total:

    P12, W2; L10.


  • David on April 2, 2014, 12:11 GMT

    We need to stop ex-county players, who weren't quite good enough at test level, and who are now not quite good enough to be in coaching or in the media, from being the ones who step in and run English cricket.

  • suresh on April 2, 2014, 11:08 GMT

    no, english cricket team was not complacent but full of mediocre players from top to bottom.

  • xxxxx on April 2, 2014, 10:41 GMT

    When cricketers of any nationality use words such as "stakeholder" I feel nauseous. It means that the current fad of superficiality, keeping up appearances and the virus of marketing men is destroying the soul of something I love.

    I understand the demands of a voracious media but cricket without heart, spirit and a will to win becomes merely a boring and time consuming ritual. A body without life. Dead. I like to think that the inspring Dutch win was the soul of cricket biting back at complacency, excuses of tiredness, thoughts of "banana skin", corporate-speak and anything or anyone else that will try to kill the essence of our beautiful game.

  • Neo on April 2, 2014, 10:26 GMT

    Simple solution to England's problems: Realise that there is a world outside the Ashes.

  • Dummy4 on April 2, 2014, 10:12 GMT

    It's pretty obvious that the machine is in control..

    As with all bureaucratic systems, uncritical loyalty to the system itself is taken as the most important attribute for anyone wanting advancement. If a loyal person fails on the field.. well, there's always a perfectly good excuse, they'll be given every chance. Whereas if a (perceived) disloyal person succeeds it becomes a headache.

    That's bad enough, but of course if players cease to believe that their performance is the thing that matters then motivation and performance will fall. They can see a player like Nick Compton go off and score exactly the runs asked for.. but still get ignored. Or a Dernbach get smacked around the park time and time again with no apparent issues. Never mind the KP affair, there is a lot of dubious behavior going on in the England setup.

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