James Lawton: Cricket's triumph mocks tawdry start to season

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It is not often the august Royal Automobile Club get it wrong but they did this time. They said the distance between Edgbaston cricket ground and St James's Park, Newcastle, was 208.78 miles with a driving time of three hours, eight minutes and 40 seconds. The cost of petrol, they added, would be at least £35.

That last projection seemed particularly suspect by the time Alex Song stamped on Joey Barton, and Barton dragged Gervinho up from the ground where he completed his dive, and Gervinho gave Barton a little slap across his cheek (pictured above), and Barton went down as though he had been hit by an Exocet missile, and Arsène Wenger complained about the referee.

At this point, it seemed that the ground we had covered from the moment Sachin Tendulkar sucked in his disappointment at losing his wicket in the most draining circumstances was so vast and so dispiriting you had to doubt whether there was enough oil in all of Arabia to get the journey done.

You might say that it was just the Premier League's bad luck that it should return to the TV parlours of the nation so wretchedly, quite so soon after another superbly grown-up performance from England's new world champion cricketers. But then, in sport, as in life, you tend to shape your own fate.

This was, after all, the end of a week when the nation which one way or another pays for the Premier League was peeking through the smoke and the rubble of looting and burning. A time, you might have thought without getting too dreamy about it, for the distraction of a few particles of decent football.

Wenger, and the usual television huckstering, suggested we had some of this but if Arsenal's pretty version of the game gets any more old-hat, it might start shedding mothballs. Gervinho showed plenty of skill but had the overall impact of a marshmallow. Sound familiar?

Any comparison between the dynamics of cricket and football is in danger of being stretched but maybe there was a point which had as much relevance at Edgbaston as at St James's Park.

It was that, in the third Test, at least one team were striving for something of that which might not be spelled out entirely in the lines of a five-year-contract. Maybe it was about lasting achievement, something to warm your hands on in 20 years' time.

Newcastle-Arsenal's shelf-life extended no further than the time it might take to submit to a cold shower.

It was a match without bite or any other kind of redemption and what was so sickening was the speed with which even the most squalid behaviour is now absorbed by those who sell football as nothing, either more or less, than a prime entertainment commodity.

Back in Birmingham it would have been pointless to pretend, for all the English glory, that the crass commercial priorities of Twenty20 had not already caused much damage to the fibre of Indian cricket.

There is one last hope now as the Indians make their way forlornly to the last rites at the Oval later this week. It is that we see something of the best of what is left of Indian magic at the most meaningful level of the game.

When Tendulkar was run out while backing up, you didn't have to be a traitor to feel the deepest pang of disappointment that he had missed out on the chance to score a hundred. It would be comforting, but probably vain, to believe that at least some of his angst was shared a few hours later by Joey Barton and Gervinho.

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