Cricket: But it's awfully hot out here

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The Independent Online
OH DEAR. Results like this week's can ruin the whole existence of the humorous sporting columnist, and not just because you feel like throwing scarcely portable items of furniture through the nearest open window. England's defeat by Sri Lanka is literally beyond satire.

Who could better the image of Alec Stewart wandering off the field at the end of the game, his head bowed, his piggy eyes dulled by failure, and the sound of the whirring cogs in his brain audible across the ground? I know I can't. And with England's youth footballers beaten 2-1 by Ghana, all the usual jokes about gritty 0-0 draws with Christmas Island have ceased to be jokes, and turned into predictions.

Still, there's always hope, and besides an endless litany of failure, the past seven days have also reminded us that in one activity at least Britain leads the world - yes, no one has better excuses than the British sportsman. Quantity? Quality? We've got both. Here's Keith Fletcher:

'We are not used to playing on turning wickets because we don't have them in England. Consequently our batsmen had to learn the technique of playing spinners in five weeks.'

'It's very nearly too hot here for Europeans to play cricket.'

'The match looks as though it is being played on two different wickets.' Most ingeniously of all, he suggested that Emburey and Tufnell had actually been handicapped by having to bowl on helpful wickets. 'They were so unused to them that they rarely found the pace to bowl on them.' The poor mites.

It's not just cricket, of course. Whenever any Englishman loses anything, you can bet he'll be standing before a microphone blaming it on someone or something else before you can say 'Four-nil down at half-time.' Only this week in the Bangkok Open, when Steve Davis was beaten by the 19-year-old wunderkind Jason Damien (or was it the 17-year-old prodigy Damien Jason?), snooker's greatest player of the modern era just couldn't stop himself. 'I never expected too much of myself in all the heat and humidity,' he explained to disbelieving reporters. Why bother turning up, then?

In fact, the ability to come up with convincing or at least coherent excuses has become one of the most important tests of the British sporting official. Graham Taylor may be unfailingly hopeless as a manager, but his excuses have always been spot on. Whenever England lose, you can bet it's down to the rigours of our domestic programme, the general improvement in standards of world football, a disastrous run of injuries, an unfortunate case of food poisoning at the hotel, a freak hailstorm during training that morning, the effects of a voodoo curse placed upon the goalkeeper, and the untimely kidnapping by aliens of most of British football's best midfield players. It's never down to anything simple, like Graham Taylor not having a clue.

Excuses, though, are but the hors d'oeuvre to that other wondrous British speciality - Keeping Your Job At All Costs. Once, erring cabinet ministers and BBC director-generals resigned as a matter of honour. Now, even Ted Dexter can find good reason to stay employed. All those endless, terrible cock-ups, and what's the most important thing on the England camp's mind? Whether Goochie feels like captaining England again this summer. Can he spare the time? Wouldn't he prefer to get on with some gardening? If Gooch does go, the one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that it won't be a matter of honour. And the Australians arrive in May. A glorious summer of sporting excuses starts right here.

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