So here it is. Rain is the only thing that might prevent Australia regaining the Ashes in the quickest time possible as England seem hellbent on making the last tour look like a high water mark. Predictable in its ineptitude, exceptional in its execution, the anger doesn’t even apply to what’s happening on the field.
This has been a tour created over four years, and with all due respect to the hosts who have played well throughout, they aren’t even really a part of it. Last time out England were obliterated by a bowler who took ample revenge for his previous tribulations, and instead of taking defeat on the chin, English cricket decided to turn in on itself, dismiss all those who dared to question the prevailing line and embark on a process of self immolation exceptional in its stupidity.
There’s no wishful thinking about what might have been, no feeling that had certain players not been kicked out they’d have been the saviours of this particular tour, but merely a total lack of surprise that we have reached this particular point. A culture gets what a culture deserves, and this is what English cricket is and what it deserves.
Is there anybody out there who is prepared to take even the smallest amount of responsibility? It doesn’t seem so. Not the ECB, who care about money to the exclusion of all else, not the administrators who openly regard people who love cricket with the kind of contempt no other sport quite manages, and not those players above reproach who seem to find any excuse that allows others to be blamed. At Adelaide, a bowler with 500 Test wickets to his name agreed England could have bowled fuller, but said that the coaches could have told them that. Did Courtney Walsh need a coach to tell him what to do? Did Glenn McGrath? In microcosm, there is England right there, a cricketing organisation where nothing is ever anyone’s fault, and nothing is anyone’s responsibility.
Players come and go, form comes and goes. But the absolute certainty of the modern England structure is that only a few should ever be blamed for it, useful patsies who can be vilified and discarded, as long as those who are chosen can be protected and kept in place. Turn the most successful batsman of the modern England era into public enemy number one (and you know, who gives a shit about the rights and wrongs, this is what it amounts to in the round), keep in place, and not only keep in place, but actually create a legend around a captain who has oversaw the most abysmal leadership seen in years, praise to the skies the decisiveness of a new administrator even though he is plainly woefully out of his depth. And then above all else, insult and abuse anyone who dares to object. All that happened last time, all that has led to this.
Four years in the making, the ability to plumb new depths should come as no surprise to anyone, yet apparently it still does. Every decision the ECB makes studied in isolation, with no regard to the whole, no consideration of a pattern of behaviour. Players chosen because they fit into a box of conformity and woe betide anyone who dares to be an individual. Standards of behaviour that manage to fall despite the attempt to force everyone to be the same, and a side that has no chance of being good enough because of the panic stricken ejection of the latest scapegoat who coincidentally always seems to be an individual. And there’s one coming too. As it lurches from crisis to crisis there’s one ready made to be castigated, not for his own behaviour, but as the person responsible for everyone else’s failure. It’s going to happen, and it has happened before. Why be properly reflective when there’s a useful idiot who can be hung out to dry.
These are chickens coming home to roost. Each exclusion from the side, each whispering campaign against a player which might be the right call on its own as far as selection goes, but is ever underhand, vicious and endlessly repeated. One after the other, those who aren’t the right sort of chap are removed, and the latest lamb to the slaughter slots in for a few games. No plan, no strategy, just endless marketing bullshit and excuses.
It’s not like any of this was unexpected. The “all time great” opening batsman who has been struggling for some time, but all those who dared to point out that might be a concern were told to pipe down. Again. The bowling attack that lacks pace and variety, with a structure entirely unable to produce anything out of the ordinary, but which manages to wreck the unusual, either via the press or the medical teams. It’s all part of the whole. Individuals don’t matter, the cosy little club does.
And then there’s the press. The most supine, pathetic body as a collective it’s been our misfortune to have inflicted on us. They haven’t been observers, they have been complicit. Following the diktats of the governing body, exchanging analysis for access, attacking those who pointed out the lack of emperor’s clothing, failing to consider the reasons for the shambles and justifying the unjustifiable. Cricket reporting as a means of advancing an agenda, picking on those who dared to be different, refusing to criticise those in charge. They have been the entirely witting participants in reaching this point, and even now they would rather criticise those individuals who have done the most in a failing team.
They ECB are responsible for cricket in England, they are not meant to be a cabal of self appointed, self promoting, self aggrandising charlatans who view their own interests as being the same as those of cricket. Yet at every stage, they ignore the wider game, and this is where they’ve led us to.
Test series come and go, players come and go. There are ups and downs and successes and failures. None of that is new, none of that will ever change. But a governing body who loathes the game except as a means of making money won’t be devastated by this performance because it simply doesn’t matter, unless ticket sales and subscriptions fall off. This is where we are, success is not defined on the field, success is defined in the accounts.
And perhaps the most damning crime of all, is turning passionate cricket supporters into those who don’t give a stuff how the team does, except as a symptom of the wider malaise. Those who would follow England abroad, those who would buy tickets, reduced to rage at the sport and ennui at the performance of the team. This is a special achievement, one that can only be managed by deliberate, determined attack. Replaced by those who care little, but who will attend an irrelevant T20 match to have a few overpriced beers and add further to the coffers.
And the worst bit of all is that it doesn’t work. Every sport has its fanatics, those who can be relied upon to be there through thick and thin, while the casual interest fan can bulk it out in time of plenty. But not the ECB, who expressly push them aside as performance disintegrates, viewing figures plummet and participation amongst males reaches crisis levels. This is their defeat, this is their disaster. And it’s not an accident.
Rain permitting, England are going to lose. They thoroughly deserve it. Not the players, who are undoubtedly doing their best, but the structure, the governing body, the media and all those who care for filthy lucre over the game.
I hope you’re proud of yourselves.