Burning Bridges Light My Way

“This is not what you wanted, not what you had in mind.” – Moderat (Bad Kingdom)

The last 26 months have made a huge difference to me. I remember how angry I was when we coughed up the Champions Trophy on that dull Sunday June afternoon in 2013, as all our mental failings were laid bare in front of us. I cared, passionately, about how our team got on. I remember 2004, when Browne and Bradshaw won a low scoring encounter in the early Autumn gloom to win the Champions Trophy for the West Indies in 2004 at The Oval. I was gobsmacked. Unexpected, our team that had won all its tests looked nailed on once they’d taken care of the World Champions in the Semis.

We have a way of losing. We have a way about us when we lose. In football competitions there’s usually a hard luck story. Cricket – I still remember Adelaide, of course. But that might be the best/worst yet. A freak ending, and I should feel crushed. But the thing is, when you’ve been so angry at the people running the sport here and in the world game (especially the former), you’ve only so much to give. Despite the constant exhortations that these are a “great bunch of lads” and that people can’t understand why we can’t give this team our all, the sheer fact that newspaper columnists and the useful idiots were lining up to polish Andrew Strauss’s clock (that’s clock), shows what the real power wants. It’s all about the management baby. The palpable sense of articles being re-written and the eulogies put on hold was prevalent. Everyone with a vested interest in pumping up their tyres were ready to give it “all that”. And we know what would have been included in “all that”. We all know.

That management today nearly had it all. It nearly won a major ICC tournament overseas. It nearly had a trophy to ram down the KP fanboys’ throats. It nearly had a load of endorsement opportunities, a boost to their T20 Blast, a load of heroes to parade before an adoring public, and it nearly had their total justification after an Ashes win and a success in South Africa. A T20 win in India? Beyond comprehension. Think of the plaudits, think of the bragging. See you lot on BOC – what do you know?

Let’s be honest. Don’t buy the inexperienced team stuff. There’s a lot of experience in that team, but it is on the young side. It’s fit, it’s enthusiastic and it has room to improve. Saying we are inexperienced is getting your excuses in first.

This England T20 team showed signs of progress before Bayliss. Many of us do not forget the care-free, ambitious, gleeful win of Eoin Morgan’s England against India in the match at Edgbaston in 2014. This had come in stunning contrast to the often staid, dull approach of Alastair Cook’s 50 over side. It really didn’t take rocket scientist levels of deduction to draw the conclusion from a World Cup of nearly all out aggression, that sitting in and making nice handy totals wasn’t the way forward. We’re not exactly talking out of the box thinking. But there they were, giving it all up to Strauss. We are a funny nation.

A major England defeat in many major sports comes with some ready-made controversy or “bad thing” to hang our hats on. Last night it was the classless WIndies. But wait a minute. I know, for one, that I have a go at Australia a lot for their conduct on the field, but that’s what we do. We’re aggressive, and we’re not backward in letting people know we want to “mentally disintegrate” them. While England have, in some ways, “re-connected” with the public who wanted to “re-connect” by a more open approach to fans they previously treated with a little contempt, their conduct on the field hasn’t been without blemish. So let us stop pretending that it is. Ben Stokes, who, as I’ve said, isn’t my favourite player in the team, had been gobbing off to all and sundry this summer, including, it seems to his own coach (according to Cook, half-jokingly, he says Stokes and Bayliss communicate by swearing at each other). I don’t know about you, but if you dish it out, you should expect to take it when the you know what hits the fan. While I will defend Ben to the hilt over his bowling the last over – that Ben Chokes headline is an utter disgrace – he isn’t, outside these shores, a sympathetic character.  But those berating him for his final over yesterday have quickly forgotten that Stokes’s final over against Sri Lanka, when defending less, was absolutely magnificent.

We cannot, simply cannot, have a go at the West Indies for their celebrations. My least favourite player in the England team, David Willey, is not someone who I’d employ in the diplomatic service. Stokes we know. Root’s a chippy little sod. There have been outlandish celebrations throughout, and no doubt we’ve been giving players little send-offs throughout. But for the likes of Newman to turn all maiden aunt on us about the West Indies’ celebrations, and therefore lack of class, as if that matters, is laughable. Watch when we clinch the match against Sri Lanka. The game was over before the last ball, yet when it was concluded, all but one player rushed to engulf Stokes in the huddle. Jos Buttler, to his great credit, went over and shook Angelo Mathews hand. I saw it. I doubt Newman did. It reflected well on Jos, and increased my affection for this terrific talent, and less so on his team-mates. West Indies, their players largely hated by their board, not, by any means, without fault or iffy personalities, had clinched a world title. You might not like their celebrations, but STFU about them when your team do pretty much the same.

Also, imagine an England player who would stand up to his board as Sammy did, deliver that speech, excoriating the suits surviving one minute as an international player in his future career. Imagine how the media in this country would react, the sides they’d take, the understanding they’d show. Yeah. Picture it.

I understand people having issues with Gayle, Bravo and Samuels. But don’t imagine our players are universally loved overseas.

Then there is the ICC. They got a tournament they did not deserve. I’m not having a pop at India’s cricket fans for anything. The ICC and the host board, increasingly, in financial terms, one and the same, treated all fans like crap. You have the new jewel in your crown, and you treated it like a pre-season tournament at times. Crap ticketing, arguments over hosting grounds, switching locations (remember India v England got switched in 2011), an awful format. Despite the ICC they got a Final they did not deserve. They got a semi-final in Mumbai they did not deserve. Those who split the cricket from the governing body, claiming that all sports are poorly run, are being wilfully negligent. FIFA may be inherently corrupt, but the World Cup is treated like the sporting treasure it is when it comes to earning revenue and growing the game (because growing the game earns more revenue). Host stadia are known ages in advance, the draw takes place six months before the event and you know where every game is being played. It draws massive audiences around the globe regardless who is playing. The ICC, as this blog, and the commenters point out constantly, treat the major events as if they are personal fiefdoms, treat fans with contempt, constrain the playing field, ensure major teams get at least four matches, and yet no-one outside of what is rapidly appearing to be labelled as an “evangelical sect” seems to care. Those England folk raging against the ICC don’t share the entire portion of the Venn Diagram with the “KP fanboys”, but there’s a decent correlation. Chris, in his piece later this week on the press and the WT20, may reflect further. Watch those “evangelicals” get marginalised further. As one journo once said, and as I was reminded today “I report on men in boots, not men in suits”. Or something like that.

England made remarkable progress, are clearly on the right lines, need a little think on their strategy perhaps (I’m still really keen to see Jos in at four, or three if the openers have lasted until the 6th or 7th over), but are a team on the rise if they don’t let this heartbreaking loss get to them. They can leave India with the knowledge that they’ve made our limited overs cricket respectable, they’ve developed a number of players in the white heat of international competition and that they have done a lot to rehabilitate “Team England” in some people’s eyes.

Have a great rest of the day.