February 9, 2009

Money or pride?

Which one are England playing for? They need to clear their heads quickly and find out

Pietersen's declaration to Gayle during the Stanford series, about not needing the money, seems to have become the team's motto © AFP

Where did it all go wrong? That is the question that England were left pondering on Sunday, as they lolled around the Hilton hotel in Kingston, keeping low profiles and killing time on the most improbable day off in recent Test history.

It's a question that will haunt their dreams tonight as well, and will doubtless tail them around the edge of Kingston Harbour to Norman Manley Airport later in the day, as they leave the scene of their crime against Test batting, and fly off to regroup on arguably the last island that any of the squad would have chosen for a new beginning - Antigua.

Where did it all go wrong? If you're looking for a scapegoat as convenient as Ian Bell's imminent sacking as a Test No. 3, then look no further than the paradise isle itself, a nation with as many beaches as days of the year and which, during the Stanford Super Series in November last year, proved to be as boggy to England's prospects as a wicket rolled with quicksand.

It is simplistic but instructive to examine England's efforts before and since that week in the winter sun. On November 1, they squandered the opportunity to become instant dollar millionaires amid petty bickerings about the lights, atmosphere and ethics of the contest. Instead they were rolled over for 99 by Chris Gayle's Stanford Superstars, which was riches (of the non-literal type) compared to the miserable 51 they mustered at Sabina Park on Saturday.

Before they started playing for pocket money instead of pride, England had won five matches in a row under the inspirational (and ephemeral) leadership of Kevin Pietersen. Since that week they have lost seven internationals out of eight, and their captain and coach as well. That doesn't amount to a scientific study, but as circumstantial evidence goes, it's damning nonetheless.

But where, in the same period, has it all gone right for West Indies? No matter what happens for the rest of the series, regional pride has been reaffirmed in the most uncompromising manner imaginable. Their fourth-day performance was symmetry, poetry and tyranny all rolled into one - the timing, almost five years on from Steve Harmison's conquering of Kingston, was exquisite; the execution, in the form of Jerome Taylor's searing full-length seamers, deadly.

And it could be argued that that performance, too, had its roots in November's Stanford demolition. The crossover between the West Indies Test team and the Superstars is not absolute by any means - only six players featured in both matches. Nevertheless, all four of the key performers in the Sabina Park victory - Gayle, Taylor, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Sulieman Benn - were present in Antigua as well.

Stanford has not been kind to Caribbean cricket since that night. His largesse has been scaled back amid rumours of financial problems, and last month he laid off 200 staff in his Antiguan-based operation. But for a squad of players whose professional lives have been spent coping with the whims of a near-bankrupt cricket board, that fleeting but definite proof of their worth as athletes has proved more galvanising than any victory they had ever before achieved.

As Gayle himself declared after sealing that US$20 million bounty: "This is better than anything in the world, I'll tell you straight up." Whether he still believes that after the glory of Kingston is a moot point. A maiden century on home soil and a victory to rank among West Indies' greatest of all time provides quite some competition in the pantheon. But by first learning to win for themselves, West Indies - so often accused of divisions and partisanship - have been given a reason to rediscover what it means to win for the region.

As fate would have it, the teams have no alternative but to be reminded of November's match-up when they touch down in Antigua. The route from the airport takes them straight past Sir Allen Stanford's private ground, and if Andrew Strauss, Pietersen's successor, needs any more reasons to feel undermined in his new role, he will doubtless recall that he was not even deemed worthy of a place in England's ill-starred squad. Instead he played in the tournament for his county side, Middlesex, for whom he managed 42 runs in three consecutive defeats.

When the IPL came calling for Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and a smattering of their team-mates, they responded as if they were withdrawing their labour en masse, bailing out of a tightly fought contest in Jamaica and tumbling instead to that incredible innings defeat

Whereas Gayle and his team-mates recognise the opportunities in cricket's crazy new era of untold riches, the changing game has so far proved disastrous for England. Despite being among the highest-paid cricketers in the world, they spent most of 2008 grousing about their lack of opportunities in the IPL, and then finally, when the franchises came calling for Pietersen, Andrew Flintoff and a smattering of their team-mates, they responded as if they were withdrawing their labour en masse, bailing out of a tightly fought contest in Jamaica and tumbling instead to that incredible innings defeat.

It almost feels as though Pietersen's declaration to Gayle during the Stanford game - "we don't need the money" - has become England's team motto. His words may have been clumsily expressed but they deserve to be reported in the spirit they were uttered; he was genuinely touched by the rags-to-riches tales that were unfolding right before his eyes, as men such as Benn and Darren Sammy awoke to the realisation that their families would never again flirt with poverty. Nevertheless, England have long stood accused of being stuck in a comfort zone, and their lack of hunger at key moments this winter has been truly incriminating.

That maybe says something about modern British society as a whole, although ironically, nowhere in the world has more of a reputation for being laidback than Jamaica. Right at this moment in time, however, achievement is very much in vogue in the island. Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, was present at Sabina Park on Saturday, and his heroics during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing have, by all accounts, conferred an identity on his compatriots that has not been felt since the cricketers ruled the world in the 1980s.

Bolt is another man who has been amply rewarded for his talents in recent months, but that does not diminish his standing - far from it. One of the great pities about West Indian cricket's era of hegemony was the complete lack of financial reward that came with the success. Playing for pride was all very well, but it could not be perpetuated in a society that forced a distinction between breadwinners and heroes.

All that is changing now. There may not be another Stanford inter-island competition, (and more's the pity to be honest) but the past two tournaments have provided an invaluable leg-up to the game. Caribbean cricketers are back in the shop window - Taylor and Fidel Edwards were the latest to join the IPL gravy train during Friday's auction - and success now has a tangible reason to breed further success.

That doesn't mean that the region's fans will always be treated to the sort of jaw-dropping feats we witnessed this weekend, but nevertheless, the incentive at least is in place. England, meanwhile, need to clear their heads quickly and work out whether they are in this game for money or pride. Unlike their opponents, they seem incapable of accepting it both ways.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashok on February 11, 2009, 21:17 GMT

    I do not think the collapse of the England batting had anything to do with money, as the heading suggests. Every cricketer has great pride when they play for their country. It is unfortunate that the cream of the batting, Strauss, Cook and Bell, failed twice in the same test. It is most unusual for the top 3 batsmen to fail twice in the same test, some of them due to rank bad and irresponsible shots. Lack of discipline has typified the current West Indies team during their past few test series. While WI overcame this deficiency, it seems to have transferred to the England team in no uncertain terms. It is essential for every player to be accountable for his actions while batting or bowling. Whilst Flintoff, Broad and KP showed lot of courage & commitment to task, the same cannot be said of the others. England appear stronger than WI on paper,in both batting and bowling. It is vital that every player rises to his potential & contibutes to the team success. If they do England will WIN.

  • hayden on February 11, 2009, 6:32 GMT

    i couldnt agree more with Uppi. in the lead up to this series all that was coming out of england during the captain v coach saga was "ashes year' this austraila that! it was almost as if they presumed that they would beat the west indies and that would be that! the first test showed you need to show respect to the opposition and prepair for them accordingly not just expect to win by simply showing up! full credit to the windies though, world cricket is so much better with a strong west indian side in it! as for the indians sticking up for their beloved ipl. it is partly responsable as it puts some players in the dressing room so far above others in terms of pay that can cause rifts in the camp. you wouldnt notice that with team india as anyone close to national selection already has a ipl contract! it also infringers on the english summer meaning english cricket loose their top player overseas when they would prefer them playing county cricket prepairing for upcoming tests!

  • Roger on February 10, 2009, 9:56 GMT

    The real problem for the English players/team is that the organisation of the international team is in a muddle. (1) There is no proper coach. It's long, long overdue that the ECB finally wake up an appoint a top internationally experienced coach (2) The captaincy issue needs to be settled. Pitersen was and still is the logical man for the job. All he wanted was a top level coach to work with. Peter Moores never was such an individual. Pietersen was right about that.

    So it's not as simple as just pride or money, it's about getting the right people in the leadership roles of Captain & coach. And they had better hurry up because Australia are arriving in June !

  • dinker on February 10, 2009, 5:19 GMT

    Gilliana---"IPL has taught the Indian bowlers the variations needed to succedd in ODIs.Our players havnt got such a chance"--Andrew Flintoff Nov 2008 in India after 2nd successive loss in the ODI series.what is your take on that comment? Who is greedy for what and who is to be blamed for endless defeats of English cricket team....

  • P Subramani on February 10, 2009, 4:35 GMT

    This business of 'money or pride' after the Kingston humiliation is very unconvincing. As professionals, cricketers basically aim to make a good living proportionate to their skills and there is nothing wrong with it when the same philosophy is followed in other sporting disciplines as well.I do not believe that the IPL had anything to do with Kingston 2009.It is just that Jerome Taylor, one such professional, and always seen as being reminsicent of the great West Indian quartets of the 80s played to his potential. For those of us, and I think that lot is in a great majority,who have grown used to seeing the Carribean juggernaut of the 80s and early 90s ride roughshod over the rest of the cricketing world, it is just deja vu. The West Indian teams since have had great players individually but have been unable to win much.It could have been the lack of money that caused the slump.We should be grateful to Stanford for having brought back the true kings of the game back.

  • Gilbert on February 10, 2009, 3:01 GMT

    I apologise profusely to all commentators for having used the words, 'typical of their mentality'. This was not an insinuation directed to India and to all Indians in general. It was targetted at the BCCI. The rest of my comments still stands. As an Australian, I declare that India is my favourite test team and support it wholeheartedly. Apologies once again to all those that were affected by my previous comments.

  • Chiradeep on February 10, 2009, 2:39 GMT

    On the contrary, I would believe that with WI having played for money in the Stanford debacle (for England, that is), it is finding it easier to play for pride now. As someone has rightly posted earlier, give the English team some monetary incentives, so that their thoughts aren't on their bank balances any more. At least then, they will be able to concentrate on the job at hand.

    Playing for money brings real, Messerschmitt-up-your-a^$e sort of pressure - ask Dravid or Kallis who played for Bangalore last year. Isn't that good for the cricketers, who learn to handle any cricketing situation in a professional and calculated manner?

    The truth is the present English lot, bar Freddie and KP, are mentally fragile. And this is not to say they would win nothing on this tour - in fact, we all hope that the standard of English cricket goes up and WI respond identically to make for thrilling Test cricket.

  • Chiradeep on February 10, 2009, 2:28 GMT

    Andrew, why money OR pride? Why is it so difficult to have money and play with pride, whether it be for a brewery baron or for Old Blighty?

    The problem isn't either pride or money - it is plain, simple ineptitude. Let's start with England's bowlers - Shane Warne rightly said about Monty that he's played the same test 34 times. Harmison has to be the most mentally fragile fast bowler in the world - how else could you explain the same tosh dished out time and over again from a guy who was good enough LONG BACK to get 7/12? The rest of the bowling line up is a support cast at best, lacking tooth. And, what and how much does England expect Flintoff to do? Support Harmison or cover for Bell and Cook? Strauss has 4 hundreds in 25-odd games over the past couple of years, which is worse than any Indian opener playing in the IPL.

    The earlier England realizes that a team needs 11 performing individuals, that KP isn't messiah and Flintoff isn't Botham, the quickly it'll learn to start winning.

  • Ghana on February 10, 2009, 2:03 GMT

    Pretty ordinary article. To answer the question you posed, England are playing for BOTH money and pride. The series is 4 test matches and its far from being decided. English talent pool is better than cricinfo's.

  • Manoj on February 10, 2009, 1:49 GMT

    I am not sure what this author is trying to say? He is railing against everyone in the england team, against IPL (why does IPL get dragged into evrything???) and talks about some rags to riches stories of the windies players, effectively trying to make humiliation more palatable by sympathising with the victors. I really don't understand what IPL has got to do with it??? Someone please explain! IPL was a great success in the first season , had 44 days of exciting and competitive and serious cricket and promises to be even bigger. I am lookin forward to it. The author seems to be jealous and / or confused (How could this be happening !! :) ) Manoj

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