Forget the sweets, England's posturing leaves a sour taste
The likes of Sidebottom, Anderson and Prior must stamp out the boorish behaviour which is unsavoury and hard to take seriously
Sunday 05 August 2007
It doesn't take much to see that England's problems amount to something more than a hill of beans in this crazy world. The sweets on the crease at Trent Bridge may have grabbed the headlines but they diverted attention from a wider issue.
England are increasingly going about their business like a bunch of cheap hoods. It will be fascinating to discover ifthis is part of their strategyfor levelling the series against India in the Third and final npower Test starting at The Oval on Thursday.
The prattle when they are in the field is incessant, and seems to become louder when either they are behind in the game or less illustrious players are batting. Fielders constantly return the ball ferociously to the wicketkeeper – low, hard and who cares who's in the way, particularly if it happens to be the batsman – from the most innocuous positions.
Some of the bowlers are being deliberately belligerent, not only attempting to stare malevolently but also following through to the batsman's chinstrap, generally intending to intimidate. It is all so much posturing. Since much of it is being executed by James Ander-son, a bowler who off the field is bashful to the point of being uncommunicative, and Ryan Sidebottom, who sports a magnificent hairstyle once seen on Shirley Temple, it is also difficult to take seriously.
Somebody really ought to have told Sidebottom by now that, far from being menacing, he looks as though he is about to burst into a rendition of "On The Good Ship Lollipop". He and Anderson should consider letting their bowling do the talking, because at times they have bowled exceptionally. On the other hand, Chris Tremlett may need more raw meat.
Some of this has always gone on, but the combined effect makes for uncomfortable viewing. England are boorish and becoming unattractive to watch. There were some weasel words spoken after India's splendid victory at Trent Bridge to go 1-0 up, many of which lamented the jelly-bean saga for diverting attention from an excellent match. Yes and no. Had it not been for the puerility of that exercise (and while nobody's saying, the net is closing in) more questions might have been asked about their general conduct.
India are not blameless and had a word or two to say at Lord's, probably prompting England's riposte in Nottingham. But it was only a mild exaggeration of what has gone before this season. The cheap hood-in-chief is the wicketkeeper, Matthew Prior, who talks animatedly, spurring on his comrades, disparaging the opposition, being terribly smart. He may as well take the field in a trench coat and trilby doing Humphrey Bogart impressions. Prior, all of six matches into his Test career, said: "It comes with the territory. It's international cricket, it's a hard game. We all want to win, so you've got to have banter."
He was supported by the coach, Peter Moores, who having made a misjudged plea for the removal of stump microphones, said: "That's how he usually operates, that's what he does and that's what he was selected for." Moores, of course, knew exactly what he was getting. The team that he built at Sussex with Chris Adams was hardly known for reticence.
England are in danger of alienating their audience and of getting the balance wrong. Of course Test cricket is not a garden party, but nor is it a nightclub brawl. Prior would do himself a favour by looking at more experienced contemporaries.
Adam Gilchrist, who plays for a pretty good side, is not perpetually on the verbal case, and Kumar Sangakkara, of Sri Lanka, has mellowed considerably, understanding that a well-chosen word here and there is more penetrating than the interminable stream of insults in which he used to indulge.
England could do themselves a favour by examining the recent past. They won six successive series home and away in 2004 and 2005 not by posturing, not by enlisting braggadocio and machismo but by playing uncompromising, frequently attacking cricket. In their finest hour two years ago they might have been toe to toe with Australia, but they were not snarling. England are missing Andrew Flintoff for many reasons, but his sunny disposition and his determination to enjoy the contest are among the most obvious. And Stephen Harmison is the gentlest of souls. Likewise Matthew Hoggard. Under-stated intensity has brought them, respectively, 197, 205 and 240 Test wickets.
The unsavoury demeanour is particularly annoying because we are engaged in an authentic Test series between two pretty good teams. It should clearly have been the keynote series of the summer, of at least four matches, and the nonsense of playing seven one-day matches casts further doubt on the credentials of the administrators in both countries.
Both sides should be unchanged, and England's seven-hour selection meeting on Thursday focused more on the squad for the Twenty20 World Championship and one-day series in Sri Lanka than the composition of the squad for The Oval. However, they may be slightlytempted to introduce Stuart Broad for his Test debut. This is improbable given his lack of recent cricket, but the gamble could be taken. The batting order will be unaltered, but nobody should think they are untouchable. It is not performing well as a unit. Ian Bell is starting to look vulnerable, and a score when he is up against it would allay many doubts. The justifiable move to give Ravinder Bopara an opportunity is looking unstoppable.
England are capable of winning the match to ensure that their captain, Michael Vaughan, retains his record of never having lost a home series. It would help if they learned to be good again at being noble.
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