Unconsciously Decoupling

Title inspired by Gwyneth and Chris…..

So that was the first leg of the “summer”. England pretty much wiped the floor with an over-matched Sri Lanka side, bereft of established star talent, incapable of mastering early “summer” English conditions. England did what they had to do. They took advantage of their home superiority in two comfortable wins in the Northern heartlands, while being on top in the London match-up only for the opportunity of a whitewash to be denied by rain. England won the ODI series 3-0 with one tie and one no result, and comfortably won last night’s T20 international. The Super Series, in its inaugural incarnation ended, let me work it out now, 10-2, plus 8-2, plus 2-0 – so 20-4 – and that was that.

And I’ve never been less interested.

Take last night. I went supermarket shopping after work, and forgot to take my phone with me. I completely forgot the game was on, so never kept up with what was happening. At 11pm I noticed the highlights were on Sky, so sat down to watch them, not knowing the score. When it became evident that Sri Lanka were not going to post 200, and the wicket was as flat as anything, I decided going to sleep was a better option and looked up the score. I’ll commit the highlights to disc, stick them on my laptop hard-drive and likely never watch it. Another T20 with context, another international fixture, eroding away the special nature of the international (i.e. top level) game in an orgy of money accumulation and TV schedule filling. Pile ‘em high.

There are many on these pages that decry the fact that we play Australia and India too much, and not enough attention is given to the so-called “smaller nations”. And you’d be right. But series like these arm the holsters of the powers that be and the TV masters, rather than us. Sri Lanka were, for vast swathes of this series, outclassed. England won the test series without major contributions from their three and their five, and with Joe Root, Alex Hales (although he had a good series) and the Captain failing to make a hundred. Jonny Bairstow had a terrific series with the bat, and so my commenters tell me, a less than terrific series with the gloves. Moeen Ali made a hundred, but will always be a source of contention as to his place in the team. The bowling was sound, brilliant at times, but we know that in home conditions. England don’t look, by any means, the complete article in the way their 2011 team, or even, Bell’s travails aside, the 2005 one. We still get to 50 for 3 too often. We still need the lower middle order to save our bacon too often.

With the problems with Compton, the stuttering starts, the bedding in of the unconvincing Vince, we still gave the Sri Lankans a hell of a beating. This points to a worrying lack of strength in the opposition and not necessarily our over-riding power. The gold standard for a world class, all-time great team in the modern era is Australia of the late 90s, early 2000s. It carried no passengers. It had people queuing up to replace them. It won with authority and power – huge batting totals, scored quickly, and aggressive bowling with brilliant spin. Go back to the 1980s and the West Indies. Their bowling had depth, with great fast bowlers playing very few tests. Depth in the batting was much more of an issue.

England 2016 has some really solid pieces, but it lacks key cornerstones of success which intimate that it isn’t up there yet. What may be more concerning is that in the 2005-2011 eras there were players constantly coming in to test cricket and being ready for it. Nick Compton is probably a really good indicator of where we are. He wouldn’t have sniffed test cricket in 2005. Nor, probably, in 2011. But in 2012 onwards, after the retirement of Strauss, he was the next opener on the rank. We’ve followed with a number of players that exuded promise, but weren’t consistent enough. Alex Hales has had seven tests and while he is promising a lot, he isn’t cemented in there. If the Pakistani opening bowlers are on the form they were in 2010 then he’s in for a really tough time. Remember how Strauss started his test career? KP? Ian Bell (a very good 70 on his debut)? Matt Prior? Alastair Cook? They came in as if they were ready. James Vince has come in, against gentle opposition, and not produced. Sure, we must give him a run, but those that start badly have a high correlation with those that finish like it.

From my own personal perspective, and by extension the blog, this has been a trying summer. Blogs run on enthusiasm and energy. Producing piece after piece takes effort, will and a desire to opine. I try to not repeat myself over and over again, but know that I fail! It is also true that the blog runs when there is an engine being driven, and to do that you need fuel. The ECB, England and the media have done much to deprive us of fuel. It’s true to say that I really don’t have the energy or will to write more at the moment. Non-competitive cricket, where it’s obvious that nations like Sri Lanka are in serious trouble, do that to me. This isn’t the Murali Sri Lanka we are beating. This isn’t the 2014 Sri Lanka we are beating (we couldn’t do that), it is a weak side, regularly turned over on the road. They may have some talent to build upon, but it is a way away. Coming to our shores next is Pakistan, another set of notoriously poor travellers (away from UAE), and we hope that there is more of a contest. Mohammed Amir on 2010 form, minus the obvious, will be a treat to watch. Lost in that spot-fixing horror was the fact he bowled an amazing spell at Lord’s, undressing fine players’ techniques, and it will be interesting to see if he still has it.

 

(Note here – I can’t stop you discussing the merits of whether he should be playing or not, but I find the debate tedious. He’s served the designated time, paid off his debt to cricket as opined at an international level, and the rest is conjecture. It won’t stop people, of course. It never does.)

The title of this piece is directed towards my feelings about cricket. I feel less engaged, less connected than ever before. A dull series, uncompetitive, unsurprisingly so, played out to a context of self-congratulation and wonderment by our media, while all around the distress signals are being let off has that effect. I’ve been the Jeremiah too long. I can’t care until the problems the international game has now are really, truly resolved. Top players are burned out in no time, and for that the test game is weaker. Lip service can be paid when only T20 can bring the massive bucks, and even that isn’t guaranteed. The issues surrounding my anger for the last two years have not gone away, and nor are they likely to. Potentially England will play 27 international matches next year. Potentially 55 days of international cricket. It’s madness. You don’t make top quality cricket better by playing more and more of it. But that’s what we are doing. Day night ODIs in late September, a test series starting in late August, giving players little rest but lots of match fees. It’s mad. They complain of lack of context, then pile on added games. The one thing this series proved is that dead rubbers remain dead rubbers despite the Super Series.

I used to go to every Millwall game. You could not have found many more diehard fans. I even went to dead Anglo-Italian matches (we never qualified for the Italy bit). Then I started missing the odd away game in midweek or a long distance away. Then it would be nearer and nearer.  Then I missed West Ham away because I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. Then I stopped altogether. I then started missing the odd home game. Then more than the odd one. I finally decided to stop going altogether. Two years after that we got to the FA Cup Semi-Final. You couldn’t have paid me to be there. I still love the team. They’re still my club. I love what, ironically Neil Harris (our manager) has done this season, and yet I still feel no compulsion to return. I unconsciously decoupled from attending football matches. Maybe that’s what happening with cricket. Because if you don’t care, you stop having a reason to persevere. It means I don’t read FICJAM, don’t get irate with Newman, can’t be bothered with TCP and the Get Out A Compton band, and don’t feel the need to watch the games. Which isn’t a recipe for longevity.

Pakistan. We need you. Big time. Let’s show the world test cricket has a future. Be great opponents.