Peter Roebuck
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Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains, Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh and other books

A new beginning for England?

Collingwood's side were fearless and kept pressing till victory was theirs. Here's hoping it marks a renaissance in the country's cricket

Peter Roebuck

May 19, 2010

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England's Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, South African Invitational XI v England XI at East London, December 11, 2009
England cricket has been saved by the influx of South Africans © PA Photos
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England deserved their triumph in the Caribbean. The two best teams met in the final and the most resourceful side prevailed. Paul Collingwood's outfit gathered momentum as the tournament went along and met every challenge with mounting confidence. Australia emerged as a side determined to play their brand of cricket but unduly dependent on winning the new-ball battles. They were outplayed for the vast majority of the 40 overs in their semi-final. Accordingly there is no reason whatsoever to cavil at England's achievement.

Thanks not least to these finalists, and groundsmen able to provide firm pitches, the tournament produced a lot of attractive cricket. Indeed, it was the most compelling one-day competition of the decade, with the splendid first edition of the Champions League as its only rival. Happily the tournament galloped along and exposed mediocrities and impostors. Illumination and confirmation were its daily deliverance.

Not a single second-rate over was bowled in the final, and precious few in the entire competition. Even Luke Wright can be considered a serious practitioner, albeit one intermittently employed. Otherwise the bowling was put in the hands of specialists and proven allrounders. Pakistan played four tweakers and came within a whisker of victory. Australia fielded its three fastest bowlers, a tyro legspinner and its main handyman. England probed cannily. Fears that Twenty20 might favour front-foot blasters and punish spinners were confounded. Quite the opposite occurred.

Although beaten, the Australians helped ensure that batsmen were properly tested. The Indians, especially, were found wanting. Plainly the education of the new generation of batsmen is incomplete. Whether or not these performers have a taste for learning remains to be seen. These saplings might consider studying the techniques and lifestyles of the giant oaks close at hand.

If the Australian bowling was satisfying in its rawness, the English version was impressive in its inventiveness. Afterwards Paul Collingwood praised his bowlers for responding to conditions. Certainly they were not slaves to custom, relying instead on swing and pace at the right time, and resorting to cutters and so forth on slower pitches. England did not give much away, and the fielding was alert. Accordingly they were able to pressure opponents into error, not least the taking of the sort of harum scarum single that cost David Warner his wicket and Australia their best chance of taking the trophy.

England's batting was also audacious and varied, with a balance of power and invention, left and right, and an ability to gamble intelligently, as opposed to desperately. Captain and coach deserve credit for creating the atmosphere required to encourage constructive thinking.

Both finalists had strength in depth, and so an ability to renew a faltering attack. Contrastingly West Indies and Sri Lanka relied on a couple of match turners. Pakistan depended on the Akmals, whilst the New Zealanders and South Africans never quite found their rhythm. Twenty20 is an unforgiving game.

Thankfully the batting was as pleasing as the bowling. By and large the strokeplay was clean, controlled and commanding. Throughout, spectators were reminded of the importance of cricket's newest and most telling shot, the lofted straight drive played with open hips, an abandoned front leg and whiplash arms. Naturally the scoop and reverse sweep attract more attention - Michael Hussey's sweep off Mohammed Aamer in the second-last over of the tumultuous semi-final was astonishing - but the straight hit off the front foot with back-foot technique is more reliable and damaging. Not even Eoin Morgan's intrepid activities were as dangerous. No wonder young batsmen practise this shot in the nets. It is critical to their futures and fortune. It has rendered the yorker and slower ball less effective

For all the innovation, though, the batting was often top class. A particular delight lies in watching a proficient operator blessed with an abundance of strokes stretch himself the better to impose himself on an equally determined attack. True mastery does not easily admit to limitations. Nor is belligerence always, or even often, the only way forward. By no means have the swashbucklers had it all their own way in Twenty20.

All things considered, Mahela Jayawardene's batting was the highlight of the tournament. As with Jacques Kallis, it took him a while to come to terms with the format. Previously, anxiety had been his downfall. Now his work was a pleasure to watch as he eased the ball around or else deftly flicked it into an unpatrolled area.

Inevitably, though, the composition of the teams in the final provoked debate. The sight of two batsmen born and raised in South Africa and an Irishman holding the fort for England gave pause for thought. Contrastingly the narrow but distinctive nature of the Australian line-up was ignored. It is not legitimate to ignore the issue. Over the years I have failed to provide a clear exposition of my viewpoint.

As far as Australian cricket is concerned, the inability to involve a wider range of players is frustrating. Daniel Christian's inclusion in the squad was a boon. He is an aborigine whose few predecessors were mostly driven out of the game due to supposedly suspect actions - and never mind that one of them put his arm in a splint in one club game and continued delivering thunderbolts. Christian is an impressive young man devoted to his country, community and cricket.

Alas, the large subcontinental groupings were not represented. Usman Khawaja, a popular young man and a splendid batsman, might well have been taken to New Zealand on the recent Test tour had not injury intervened.

 
 
English cricket spends umpteen millions of pounds and employs numerous coaches and still the side relies mostly on sons of cricketers, and players from other cultures and from the remote North-east
 

The causes of the Australian narrowness are not easily pinned down. Some blame the direct approach that has long been the local way, an attitude enjoyed by those raised within its confines but liable to be taken personally by the unfamiliar. Others point directly towards lingering strains in an increasingly multi-racial society. Others still suggest that the first priority of new Australians is to establish themselves, so that the focus is on study and career. Whatever the reason, Australian cricket remains stubbornly narrow. For now Cricket Australia can only envy the diversity detected elsewhere.

Contrastingly England is a mixed bag. Its ability to absorb all sorts of players from all sorts of backgrounds is admirable. Always I've fought in that corner. But there is another aspect to be considered. To no small degree English cricket has been saved by the influx of South African players, including Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott, Craig Kieswetter, Michael Lumb, as well as Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, cricketers from that heritage.

That these players are as committed as anyone else to the cause is not the point. Why did they succeed? English cricket spends umpteen millions of pounds and employs numerous coaches and still the side relies mostly on sons of cricketers, and players from other cultures and from the remote North-east.

It is a state of affairs long predicted hereabouts. The contention is that English cricket has lost the hard edge brought to it by the aristocrats, miners and wide boys of yesteryear (Douglas Jardine, Harold Larwood and Ken Barrington are my cricketing heroes). Perhaps only those fortunate enough to sample both can appreciate the gulf between, say, Maritzburg College and any Australian club, and their equivalents in England. Exposure tends to provoke a response saying "How on earth are we supposed to compete with this lot?"

The rise of Kieswetter, Lumb, Trott and Pietersen is not a surprise because they were raised in a demanding culture. England has been strengthened by the disruptions in South Africa as that country sets about the daunting task of carrying out an economic, political and sporting revolution without undue loss of blood or capital.

Hackles may rise, but in suggesting that the culture has become complacent, and that the thought process affects every section of a society, this column offers an answer to an extraordinary but long-ago predicted position. The system is unproductive; success has come in part because harder attitudes have been imported. Even the coach is African, as was Duncan Fletcher. Does anyone seriously suppose the rush of African-born players is a coincidence? Let critics present an alternative interpretation.

All the more reason to salute Collingwood, a man from a working-class background who has made the most of his abilities. Determination can take a man a long way. Of late England has been blessed with good captains.

All the more reason to praise Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann, players prepared to look any opponent in the eye. All the more reason to praise a well planned and spirited performance from a combative England team. How many of them emerged because of the system, and how many despite it?

England's response to victory has been sober and sensible. Senior writers have put the victory in its context. It was a Twenty20 tournament. Even so, it was splendid to watch a fearless and well-drilled England side keep pressing till finally the deed was done. It was not the end, but hopefully it was a beginning. Perhaps these fellows can begin a real renaissance in English cricket.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

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Posted by MustardCharlie on (May 22, 2010, 12:34 GMT)

I fail to see why people regard this as something new. It is almost 20 years since England fielded a team of Atherton, Gooch, Hick, Lamb, Ramprakash, Smith (R), Russell, Pringle, De Freitas, Watkin and Malcolm. There were 4 English born players in that team and a Welshman. I don't remember anybody suggesting that Devon Malcolm was only playing for England because he wasn't good enough to get in the WI team. We spent years waiting for Hick to qualify. That was his debut. Lamb? Smith? Nobody questioned their heritage. Both before and since England have fielded many players who were born and/or raised in foreign countries. Why is it such an issue now?

Posted by simon_w on (May 20, 2010, 12:23 GMT)

Just want to express my agreement with the positions expressed by landl47 and Confectionary_Stall (is that you Andy?). That no team made more than 150 against England is an excellent stat that I hadn't noticed, and it *does* seem rather odd to suggest that England can produce bowlers but not batsmen.

Furthermore there *is* more to success than winning. A nation sanguine about its multicultural nature and the openness and equality of opportunity that engenders are pretty important factors in my book. Being inclusive and accepting of others has always seemed better than being exclusive and divisive, to me, and even the disappointing tone of much of the debate over this issue won't persuade me that I'm in the minority.

Posted by lucyferr on (May 20, 2010, 6:58 GMT)

Thanks for raising the issue of multiculturalism - an issue far deeper than mere race, as you so well point out - in both England and Australia. There isn't a thing you said that I disagree with. For the record, I'm brown, and often caught between at least three cultures, depending on how you count. PS: What's a 'wide boy'?

Posted by   on (May 20, 2010, 4:55 GMT)

I think to make your argument clear you should be leaving Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss out of it - they were both born abroad but brought up in England. They are as English as Andrew Symonds is Australian.

Interesting debate about Lumb, Kieswetter, Trott and Pietersen - the reason that they are playing for England - at least in part - is because their talent wasn't getting recognised quickly enough and they see England as the land of opportunity. That could, and probably should, be seen as a positive sign for the English system.

To tackle the issue the ICC - if they wanted - could stop players changing countries after they have represented one country above a certain age group. For me, if you've represented your country at Under 19 level, it seems strange to be able to swop allegiance after that.

Posted by satzcrazy1 on (May 20, 2010, 4:51 GMT)

Congrats to England team, you deserve the WC. Still i think, Australians are better side than England. They have quality batting & bowling attack rather than England. Australians are going to come back strong in Ashes.

Posted by TheOnlyEmperor on (May 20, 2010, 4:27 GMT)

It took Eng 35 years to win an international tournament. I guess they will be speaking of how great a side they are for the next 35 years...

Posted by hornet18 on (May 20, 2010, 4:16 GMT)

Here we go again with Peter Roebuck playing the race card. I wish more Aborogines did play the game - I played against some pretty good ones as a junior. It alarms me though to see Roebucks sweeping generalisations however. For those that don't know the biggest drain of indigineous Australians from Cricket is Football (Rugby Leaugue and AFL). These are by far the most popular games for them and games for which they are athletically gifted. There is an historical case from the 1930's of an Aboriginal bowler being no-balled for throwing (and maybe just maybe Peter - he did throw) but none more that I am aware of. I will certainly concede things would have been much harder for a black man in first class cricket back then but to imply that they were rounded out of the game like cattle is unfair.

Posted by ww113 on (May 20, 2010, 3:40 GMT)

Well played England.A very well deserved vicotry.

Posted by va_jatt on (May 20, 2010, 2:22 GMT)

I AM HAPPY FOR ENGLAND.. I NEVER WANTED AUS OR PAKISTAN TO WIN.. PAKISTAN NEVER DESERVED TOO WIN ...LAST YEAR TOO THEY GOT LUCKY.. I WANT ENGLAND TO WIN CAUSE THEY HAVE NEVER WON ANYTHING BIG LIKE THIS. AND PLUS I LIKE PAUL COOLINGWOOD... HES THE BEST EVA.. A TRUE FIGHTER...SACHIN ,, KALLIS AND COOLINGWOOD.. THREE PLAYER WITH THEIR OWN STYLE...

Posted by ZainHaq11 on (May 19, 2010, 23:27 GMT)

NOT TO FORGET THAT ANDY FLOWER HAS ALSO PLAYED A GREAT ROLE IN INSPIRING HIS PLAYERS AND HAS TAKEN THE BEST OUT OF THEM. PITY THAT FLOWER WAS NOT ABLE TO REALISE HIS MAXIMUM POTENTIAL WHILE PLAYING A COUNTRY LIKE ZIMBABWE BUT THIS WAY IN COACHING HE HAS SHOWN THAT HE IS NOT LESS THAN ANYONE.

CANNOT SAY IF ENGLAND WILL SHOW LONG-TERM IMPROVEMENT IN THE ODI AND T20 FORMAT BUT IT WILL DEFINITELY BE DIFFERENT DISPLAY FROM THIS TEAM IN THE FUTURE EVENTS.

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Peter RoebuckClose
Peter Roebuck He may not have played Test cricket for England, but Peter Roebuck represented Somerset with distinction, making over 1000 runs nine times in 12 seasons, and captaining the county during a tempestuous period in the 1980s. Roebuck acquired recognition all over the cricket world for his distinctive, perceptive, independent writing. Widely travelled, he divided his time between Australia and South Africa. He died in November 2011

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