Cricket: Numbing effect of failure

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The Independent Online
At last everything seemed to be set fair for England's batsmen. Mike Atherton had won the toss on an excellent pitch, Paul Reiffel has already returned to Australia, Jason Gillespie was unfit and the Australians, having won the series, may have been forgiven for concentrating more on their appointment at Heathrow next week.

So, what prompted England's most depressing batting performance of the summer? Defeat has a debilitating effect on people, collectively and individually, and having been so convincingly outplayed in the last four Tests, after raising all English hopes, including their own, by winning the first at Edgbaston, the sense of let-down will have been greater.

After that first victory each subsequent defeat will have been even more demoralising for the side. Questions began to be asked about players who felt secure after Edgbaston and the captain was once again under threat. All these things unsettle and undermine a dressing-room and turn it into a more introspective and depressing place.

Then, of course, those bonding sessions of archery and driving Range Rovers blindfold and doing other uncricket-related activities were roundly laughed at by the media and others which did not help. Not surprisingly, a siege mentality develops, self-belief is called into doubt and before long the mental fabric of the side is stretched and may eventually break.

It requires special qualities in a captain from prevent a side from being badly affected by these sort of pressures and it becomes increasingly easy to imagine every time that the worst is going to happen.

Then the final Test comes along with the Ashes already lost but with a weaker Australian bowling side against them and touring places to play for which should alone be an incentive.

In a world of cold logic, it probably seems simple to summon up everything for a final charge. In reality, defeats like England have suffered this summer have a numbing effect. The captain has also said that he will fall on his sword if England do not now turn in a better performance which can hardly have settled nerves.

Although England's batting on this first day was too awful for words even allowing for the excellent Australian bowling, there was a sad sense of inevitability about it all.