April 2, 2014

England's bubble-bursting excellence

After a four-month odyssey of defeat, the players aren't the only ones in need of self-analysis

"Isn't this a double-wicket tournament?" © Getty Images

After the Calamity in Chittagong, it is clear that Team England need to make some significant changes to their strategy. For one thing, the long faces and abject apology shtick isn't sustainable. There's only so many "reallys" you can add to the word "sorry" before you begin to look a tad insincere. In fact there are few things more irritating in life than a person who is continually apologising. So knock it off, Ashley.

Secondly, the long faces are a bit of a problem. It looks like England are in for a reasonably prolonged spell of defeat and disaster, so the onus is on the players to give their supporters something more interesting to look at than sulks, scowls and pouts. Stuart and chums should not forget they are primarily entertainers and their responsibility to put on a show does not end merely because they are being spanked by Nepal.

I suggest they look back to the 1980s and 1990s for inspiration. How about practising a few wry grins or having a chuckle with the umpire about the general absurdity of the human condition? If you're 3-0 down with one to play, Stuart, why not give us your impersonation of Tim Bresnan trotting in to bowl whilst munching on a pork pie, or have Matt Prior fly a Lancaster bomber over Lord's or get Joe drunk and encourage him to try to paddle across the Thames on an inflatable duck.

But after a four-month odyssey of defeat that has taken in three formats, two hemispheres and three continents, the players aren't the only ones in need of self-analysis. In the light of recent events, the nation's cricket pundits, prognosticators and hacks have also been opening the rose-tinted curtains and letting in the daylight.

In the Daily Telegraph this week, Michael Vaughan had this to say: "… we have produced steady teams capable of boring sides into submission. It has led the players to believe they were better than they are."

Has it? I'm not sure it was the England players who believed they were better than they were. For example, who asserted, last summer, that James Anderson was the greatest England bowler ever? Was it James Anderson? Er, no, it was one Michael Vaughan.

Vaughan wasn't alone. In the autumn of 2011 when England were top of the world rankings and the nation's cricket journalists were bringing to their job the same objective analysis you might expect from a tabloid editor on the morning of a Royal wedding, our newspapers and cricket websites were awash with patriotic drivel, including the hilarious suggestion that Strauss' England deserved to be ranked alongside West Indies of the 1980s as one of the greatest Test teams ever.

This is the second time in a decade that a hype bubble in English cricket has been followed by a crash. The 2005 version was, perhaps, understandable, after a couple of decades of misery and suffering, but you would have thought that the pundits had learnt their lesson. Instead, like bankers flogging dodgy mortgages, they came to believe in the rubbish they were peddling, as did the people buying it, so when the bubble burst in Perth, it led to shock, bewilderment and a desire to find scapegoats, preferably South African.

So perhaps one good thing to come out of England's decline and fall is that the next time they win a Test match, journalists, pundits and commentators may not be quite so keen to get out their St George flags and clamber on board the open-top bus.

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

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