June 12, 2014

England's latest New Era

And it's probably "improved" as well

"Brilliant, that's it! We'll settle for a period of middling feats and honourable defeats" © Getty Images

Announcing that a new era has begun always sounds dramatic. We like the word "new" because it suggests something fresh and different, which is why when washing-powder companies try to sell you the same soap-in-a-box that you weren't interested in yesterday, they call it "new" and sometimes even risk a cheeky "improved" as well.

But just because an era is new, that doesn't mean it will be good. If you could go back in time and explain to the dinosaurs that the giant asteroid hurtling towards their planet was going to herald the dawn of the Era of the Mammal and, for evidence, show them a picture of a weasel, they might not be too enthused.

Perhaps as the first barbarians clambered over the gates of Rome, there was a politician on hand to urge the citizens to embrace the exciting Era of the Barbarians with their new and improved method of government and their innovative mud-and-straw architecture.

By the time you read this, English cricket's own new era will just about be underway. In response to Gary Ballance's majestic century before lunch, the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary will announce that henceforth the noun "balance" will include an extra "l"; Ian Bell will celebrate his Least Awful ECB Performing Employee 2013-14 Award by scoring a double-hundred before tea, including consecutive blindfold switch hits for six; and in the evening, Moeen Ali's triple-ton will lead to Colin's Costume Shop, Sparkhill shifting all of its beard ranges, including the WG Grace, the ZZ Top and the XXL Full Rumpelstiltskin.

Meanwhile, down the opposite end of the wormhole of possibility, English cricket will be entering a new dark age. Hordes of Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Regular Goths and Diet Goths will scale the Grace Gates, set fire to Giles Clarke's tie collection and urinate satirical comments on the outfield, while Peter Moores attempts to explain to an angry Jonathan Agnew why England have been bowled out for 12, and why he was overheard describing Waitrose's range of easy-bake pasta sauces as "a bit too tomato-ey for my liking".

In reality, England's new era will probably turn out to be a lot like the last era, only not quite so good. It won't be the dark ages, but it won't be the Renaissance either.

While their opponents aren't having new-era pains, the Sri Lankan Test team is definitely evolving, although into what, we can't be sure. It could turn out to be a new super-cricket predator, able to thrive in all conditions. On the other hand it could be a bit of a dodo.

For one thing, it includes four wicketkeeper-batsmen. On the face of it, this seems a bit like having four bass players in your band, but it could turn out to be a master stroke. Apart from Australians and South Africans, cricketers don't like fielding and are only able to keep up a reasonable standard by being drilled continuously, like reluctant children being made to repeat their seven-times table over and over again. Packing the team with wicketkeepers means at least some of them will be able to catch.

The squad also includes, for the last time on these shores, a couple of legends. For years now, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have been giving the middle of the Sri Lankan batting order a reassuring aura of class and calm; they are the secluded, exclusive café in the middle of a frantic shopping mall. They are like a pair of marble statues, towering over everything else in the middle of a city that is undergoing a drastic renovation. New legends will be built, but for the moment, let's enjoy the old legends one last time.

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