Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Short Changing of English Cricket Fans

After winning the Ashes down under it seems harsh to write such a bristling piece but on the basis of what has happened since it is unfortunately the stark reality.

This blog has read with incredulity some other pieces about the England players ‘having had enough’. What utter rubbish and what an insult to the thousands of fans who follow the team all over the world. If England were not going to bother making a fist of the one day internationals in Australia due to emotional and physical exhaustion from their Ashes exertions, would it not have been polite to have told their fans beforehand so they need not waste their money? Many Bangladeshi people may have also spent a relatively large amount of money to attend the match last night, to see some of the ‘global superstars’ only to be hideously short changed also. It is not good enough.

Listening to the Test Match Special podcast – usually a centre for excellence in terms of views there was more nonsense about James Anderson being physically spent, that there was nothing left in the well, what rubbish. He is a fit and extremely well paid professional sportsman. Millions of other people feel tired at work but they are not remotely as well rewarded nor do they receive the regular adulation that he does. Being ‘tired’ is not an excuse and it is an insult to suggest that it is. These same players that were too tired to play Bangladesh or Ireland were seemingly well enough rested to play well against India and South Africa.

Winning in English sport on in the international stage seems to be hugely problematic. The 2005 Ashes win sent English cricket into a tailspin that only a further home Ashes series could seemingly motivate the players sufficiently to snap themselves out of. The English rugby team is only now starting to rebuild after winning the World Cup in Australia in 2003, many players happy to readily accept their medals, knighthoods, book contracts and ride off into the sunset. England’s latest Ashes heroics look to do have done nothing for a team that was for so long greater than the sum of its parts.

It is true that a grueling schedule and long periods on the road will take its’ toll and injuries and loss of form to key players such as Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and in the latter instance Paul Collingwood cannot be ignored but the simple truth is that the England effort is simply not good enough. They have embarrassingly lost to both Ireland and Bangladesh and came very close to a hat trick (the only one they look close to taking in this tournament) by only narrowly beating the Netherlands. Despite that, they chased now a mammoth 338 under the lights against the hosts India and fought tooth and nail to dramatically beat South Africa proving there is definitely gas in the tank if the players feel the occasion is worthy of their attention.

What is without question is that the team is short changing the fans dreadfully whether they be the ones who traveled to the games or the ones setting their alarms back home in the early hours of the morning. Watching James Anderson bowl seven wides in the 46th over of a must win game against opponents – who with all respect to Bangladesh – whom England should beat comfortably belies someone who simply does not want to be there. This is the man who tormented the Aussies all winter on pitches that supposedly did not suit him. If he does not want to be playing at the World Cup (once every FOUR years) then what on earth is he doing in an England shirt? He should be upfront and honest beforehand he does not want to play and have his substantial central contract reduced accordingly.

Graeme Swann’s petulant reaction to the dewy conditions also showed him up as the type of spoiled professional sportsman that so many have come to loathe. Tough conditions of any kind at different venues are part of any outdoor pursuit be it wind and rain at Murrayfield or bone hard football pitches in Moscow. It is part of sport and to blame the night time weather in Bangladesh for his inadequate performance in the match should be simply beneath him. The ECB put on a West Indies Test Match at Durham in June in 2007, it was grey and very cold, hardly conditions conducive to good cricket from the visitors from the Caribbean yet I don't recall the same level of bleating.

England's’ selection policy for one day cricket must also once more come under scrutiny. Sir Ian Botham years ago stated many times his disdain for England’s preoccupation with ‘bits and pieces’ players, cricketers being picked despite neither their bowling nor batting being good enough for the team in either discipline.

The experiment with Matt Prior opening failed in Australia. Yet when they needed to win a World Cup match last night they reverted to it, his idiotic and lazy stumping summing up the mindset of the team. Prior is not Adam Gilchrist, opening batsmen should open the batting. Alastair Cook scored a hatful of runs down under and if Strauss can be considered a valid one day opener I see no reason why he can’t be too. Pietersen’s selfishness means he does not want to bat up the order in any form of the game except maybe 20/20 for fear of not getting a bat.

Michael Yardy is another example, a spin bowler who seems to be picked more for the fact that he can hold a bat than for any talent with the ball. Monty Panesar is shocking with the bat but surely spin bowlers should be picked for their ability to bowl spin. It seems to this blog that in Cook and Panesar, we have a world class opening batsmen and a very capable spinner both sitting at home watching the shambles unfold on the sub continent.

This blog always attempts to write balanced pieces rather than simply ‘rants’. England may well beat the West Indies and go on to reach the final and then lift the trophy and put humble pie on the menu for the rest of the year but we somehow doubt it. The attitude of the players and the ineptitude of the selectors so soon after such a glorious Test Winter in Australia has sold the many England cricket fans ridiculously short and they should all be thoroughly ashamed of their efforts since the final day of the Sydney Test.

On a final note, congratulations to Bangladesh on a great effort and for holding their nerve for a famous victory – No Nonsense.