James Lawton: It's time Flower told schoolboy Swann and his classmate Broad to grow up
Champions are supposed to spit in the face of bad luck - not reality
Isn't the status of best team in the world supposed to give you some kind of edge, a certain bearing? Not in terms of immaculate behaviour perhaps, and still less natural-born humility, but maybe an understanding that when something goes wrong you have more than enough resources to overcome the setback.
Let us be charitable and say that the answer provided by England's cricketers yesterday was less than categorical.
Indeed, on top of more technical worries – including the question of when some of his top batsmen will prove that they understand the rudiments of dealing with spin bowling – England's coach Andy Flower must be wondering if it is time to make that broader point.
Few men, after all, are better equipped to address the gulf between England's world No 1 ranking and some of their more schoolboyish behaviour.
As the leading batsman of his native Zimbabwe, Flower devoted himself to the challenge of facing some of the great spin bowlers. He pulled it off with great accomplishment. He also took in the somewhat broader picture of his nation's pain under the regime of Robert Mugabe and made a public protest that rang around the world.
By comparison, suggesting that two of his most gifted players, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, take a shot at growing up hardly seems too much of a reach – not, certainly, after their reaction to the wholly legitimate decision to deny Broad the wicket of Sri Lanka's stubborn Prasanna Jayawardene.
Having seen that before catching Jayawardene off his own bowling, Broad had plainly delivered a no-ball, Swann then argued that the umpires should declare the Sri Lankan, who had trailed off towards the pavilion in the understandable belief that he had been dismissed, run out. This was not the behaviour of the world's best team. It was some of the wilder agitation of the school field.
Broad, who is spoken of as a future England Test captain (and maybe with a little more urgency given the current crisis of incumbent Andrew Strauss), was naturally livid. He peppered tail-ender Suranga Lakmal with bouncers as the composed Jayawardene pushed his team's lead to 340.
This, of course, left England with a fourth-innings challenge of historic dimension – and one eased only marginally by the evidence that two front-rank England batsmen had finally come round to addressing seriously their responsibilities. Kevin Pietersen did profit from one dropped catch, but both he and Jonathan Trott showed more than a touch of authority in carrying the score to 111 for 2.
That might have been a suitable point to draw down a veil over another day when England made mostly a mockery of the ranking which came to them after some brilliant consistency in the series against Australia and India. Instead, there was the sight of an unabashed Swann announcing England's new status as favourites.
No doubt the man from Nottinghamshire had some considerable reasons for self-satisfaction. His six-wicket haul – a 12th five-for in Test cricket – was a fine return to some of the best of his work, though, naturally, he implied that the idea that he had suffered a distinctly pallid year was still another critical misapprehension.
The critics could say what they liked, he said. He knew who he was and what he could do.
Yes, he had the figures to prove it and some might say even the licence to shape his own view of reality. That, though, may be part of England's current and far from resolved problem. The leadership of Strauss and Flower certainly created a superb team ethos – one which engulfed the Australians on their home soil and an Indian squad abysmally prepared to defend their own No 1 rating when they came to England last summer.
Strauss, especially, hammered home his belief that the real challenge arrived the moment England set foot on the mountain top. The journey, he said, was only just beginning. Previous captains have said similar things, most notably Michael Vaughan amid the orgy of triumphalism that followed the 2005 Ashes victory – and preceded the gut-wrenching whitewash Down Under in 2006/07.
Could this England be heading in the same direction after three straight defeats by Pakistan – whose major task appeared to be the healing of wounds – and the threat of still another one at the hands of sixth-ranked Sri Lanka?
It doesn't help that Strauss appears so consumed by his own doubts at the crease that an old and brilliant focus has never been under graver threat.
Most disturbing of all, though, is the brittle belief that was exposed yesterday when England asked the umpires to stand cricketing law on its head. Champions are not supposed to do that. They are supposed to spit in the face of bad luck – not reality.
MCC willing to tour Afghanistan – but not Pakistan
The MCC is planning on sending a team to Afghanistan in the near future, but has ruled out touring Pakistan. There has been no international cricket in Pakistan since the fatal attack on the Sri Lanka team in 2009.
The MCC president, Phillip Hodson, told BBC Test Match Special: "I think there is much more chance of taking a team to Afghanistan than there is to Pakistan. I think we could do something in Afghanistan and I don't think it will be long away."
Afghanistan is an emerging nation in world cricket and cemented a place at the 2012 World Twenty20 last week.
"I am going to Afghanistan to look at Kabul and the cricket pitches we have put in," added Hodson.
Pakistan has been starved of international cricket since gunmen opened fire on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore that left six police officers and a driver dead, and several players and officials injured.
In December, the Pakistan Cricket Board expressed confidence that international cricket could return to the country in 2012.
Facts in figures
253 Highest last-innings score at Galle – by Sri Lanka against Australia last year.
60 Overs bowled by Monty Panesar before his first wicket at Galle.
1 Century scored by Andrew Strauss in his last 48 Test innings.
12 Number of Test five-wicket hauls recorded by Graeme Swann.
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