Good day to you. It’s test losing day on Being Outside Cricket, and we know what that means. Rancour. Introspection. Anger. Despair. Ambivalence. Wait. Not ambivalence. That never happens here. Imagine what it would be like if this were the Ashes! Instead of that anger, we are probably all still too busy laughing over the other events. No, not Afghanistan winning the World Cup qualifying, or the news Varun Arron is going to play for Leicestershire. But worrying about whether Malcolm Conn is OK. Australia Fair indeed. We’ll come to that.
To England first. Another defeat by an innings away from home, as they came within 20 or so overs of forcing the draw their first innings of 58 didn’t deserve. There were half centuries in the innings for Stoneman, Root, Stokes and Woakes, but none went on to the big century or the 250 ball stay that the situation was going to require. It was certainly a better effort, and survival until later than we probably expected, but it was still very disappointing. England’s record away from home is abominable, and the excuse that no-one is winning really doesn’t wash. India, for example, went to South Africa, lost 2-1, but were competitive all the way. Australia have been pretty competitive in South Africa too (more of that later). We fold like a cheap suit, and it’s not good enough.
But that is the easy bit. Identifying the issue is a bit like identifying why Monday and the horrors of commuting, has to follow Sunday and the relative pleasures of sitting at home watching the Australian media drown in hubris. It just happens (God, that was a bad juxtaposition – Ted Dexter will be after me). Why it happens needs some more deep seated, probably psychological analysis. How has Joe Root stopped getting to 100 in test matches? Why does Stoneman look like a test opener, and then looks so out of his depth? Why does Alastair Cook do “it” so rarely in match saving situations? Why is it just absolutely bleeding obvious that Stokes is worth his place as a batsman alone when he is clearly carrying a back injury? Will Bairstow ever be consistent with the bat while he has wicket-keeping duties? What the bloody hell has happened to Moeen Ali? Is it a measure of our desperation that Dawid Malan’s form is going to be more John Crawley than Graham Thorpe? When will Stuart Broad bowl another one of “those” spells? Would Woakes be in the team if he couldn’t bat? What’s James Vince doing there? What’s Liam Livingstone doing there? What’s Jimmy Anderson really offering these days? Why did Craig Overton have to spoil it all? It’s like an episode of SOAP.
England started the day three down, and didn’t have to wait long to be four down after Malan nicked to Latham at second slip with 10 runs added to the overnight score. Stokes settled in for a decent bat, and Bairstow joined him, which you sensed needed to last well into the second session to give England an earthly. 20 overs of denial, especially from Stokes, followed, but Astle got the England keeper who pulled a long hop to mid-wicket to give the hosts their fifth wicket. England could probably have lost one wicket in the first session, at worst two, but it became three on the stroke of tea when Mooen succumbed, and for all intents and purposes, England had too.
Woakes and Stokes put up a long spell of resistance throughout the second session, and hope started to rise. But this England team have become specialists in hope rising only to be disappointed, and although I’ve not seen it yet, it is the dismissal of Ben Stokes that has the tongues wagging, or keyboard fingers itching, on social media. Another gift wicket, another at the interval, and another hammer blow. He may have made 66, and we are great at having a go at the contributors rather than those who flop, but one wonders just how much more vehement a KP or Ian Bell dismissal in those circumstances might have been treated by the press.
300 for 7 at dinner, England fought gamely for another hour or so, with Woakes completing a half century, but the game was up. When Anderson lofted tamely to end the innings, England had been beaten by an innings.
I know a number of you, including those who don’t comment on here, made/make a bee-line for the site when we lose. They seem to like our sense of anger, our dismay that this is going on, that somehow, if only we’d done things better we might have won. I would normally go off the deep end, usually going at members of the media not giving it to us straight, the ECB pulling the wool over gullible eyes or some other matter that would get the rage machine firing.
This England team are now in the laughing at them stage, as I said after the 58. For a team mollycoddled and given all the support staff and encouragement they need, they under-perform mightily. Or do they? Is this, whisper it, our standard for the foreseeable future? Half decent home, half a team away? There is no sense of anger here, because even some of the media cheerleaders have given up, thrown their hands up in the air, and just accepted it. Sure, they’ll give some big and mighty words, but they don’t mean it. That the selection of James Vince did not have them screaming blue murder showed that. A selection to be laughed at, was one to be ignored, by and large. I don’t sense anger from the fans, I don’t sense anger from bloggers and I certainly don’t sense it from Strauss, Harrison and Graves. England writers, one senses, are only conceding test cricket is in trouble because England test cricket is. There is so much to put right, you don’t know where to start. There are so few solutions, one senses it is going to take luck to find them. I don’t think there’s much upside at the moment because batsmen seem incapable of making very big scores on a regular basis, and our bowlers don’t look like bowling teams out overseas. That’s a combination.
But the best thing about this loss is when it happened. It happened on a weekend when our best of enemies decided to have a meltdown. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written, but if I may, could I be permitted to give you some more…
First, one of the fascinating things was watching the scandal develop. There was the press conference. As soon as Smith announced he was part of the group responsible I tweeted “he has to be sacked as captain”. There were some out there who thought this was because of ball tampering – it wasn’t, it was because he was admitting a conspiracy and you can’t have that. After all, you can’t even text your mates in the opposition these days.
But the Aussie journalists at the ground seemed strangely reticent. Indeed Peter Lalor praised the two for confessing and fronting up. At this time Australians would mostly have been asleep, and I was waiting for the Sydney / Melbourne boys to wake up. Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Courier-Mail all seemed quiet. Then Michael Clarke woke up, tweeted, got dressed and let fly. Fox Australia let them have it with both barrels and the floodgates opened. It didn’t take long for a tsunami of hand-wringing, a flood of self-loathing and some good old scapegoating of the present for past sins and we had ourselves a full blown meltdown. I’ve seen this happen before, and it never gets less dull watching it. By the end of the Aussie day we are seeing mentions of life bans, every Aussie and his/her pet koala having a say, and proportion and perspective abandoned for the immediate future. How could they? How very dare they?
The second is something that might strike you odd. I loathe Australia as a cricket team, but I love watching them play. The male equivalent of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. You want them to lose, but you want them to lose with them playing hard and keeping the winning team on their toes. It’s why I will always love 2005 over 2011. So I think we need a strong Australia in test cricket, because we need a great rival that over time has been better than us. Their late 90s, early 2000s team had sanctimony by the bucketful, cheating (in its widest sense) down to an art. We, well I, secretly loved them for it. Every action movie has a baddie. The fact is Australia genuinely never saw themselves as the bad guys. They were, it seems, utterly convinced they were the pinnacle not just in achievement, but in attitude and fair play. Every piece this weekend, will nearly every, seems to take this line. There was a running joke between me and my mate Adelaide Exile about Gilchrist’s selective sportsmanship, but now Adam is seen as a paragon of virtue. I’ve seen it suggested that Ricky Ponting come back to instil Aussie values, which I presume including haranguing umpires if he doesn’t agree with decisions, and screaming at visiting coaches (and I love, almost unhealthily, Ricky as a pundit). I think I speak for many when I am amazed they think this way. This isn’t me putting my lot on a pedestal. How the hell can I with our vile governing body, a director who called his former star player a c***, a team for many years hated by match officials every bit as much as this Aussie team is now, it seems. We are laughing at you Australia. Stop it. We know you are upset. Take a deep breath, realise this was stupidity personified, that there is a sporting crime and someone has to pay, make them pay, then rehabilitate, reform if you must and move on. We will, once we’ve stopped laughing.
Third, watching the press and others stick the boot in here is very funny. They should be looking at the way Australia handles this and be ashamed. There’s no sense here of one Cricket Australia. If the organisation doesn’t do something to address this, and presuming it isn’t off the charts, or too soft they will come to some thoughts, the press will crucify them. They will do it to their Australian of the Year, who was exceedingly popular it seems, until he isn’t. The Cricket Australia statements included fans, don’t say they are outside cricket and to fuck off because this has nothing to do with them. They at least provide some recognition. If they care in Australia, they care too much, which is not an awful thing. Here, our press are so terrified about losing access, that they avoid conflict. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t need to draw you a picture.
Me? I’d make sure they never captained their team again – that honour and increase in pay has to be forfeited – but they should all play again if their form permits it. A suspension seems in order, and Bancroft needs to do the time too, but if it is six months they’ll miss just ODIs, T20s and a test in Zimbabwe. They’ll be back for India at home. A real punishment may be to ban them from the IPL by not giving NOCs, but that might bring in m’learned friends.
As I said, we’ve all read a lot. Sydney Morning Herald has been my go to site, and I recommend it to you all.
But as Jo Moore said, this is a good day to bury bad news. England chose the right time to lay a cricketing egg. We await Friday in Christchurch to see if there’s an Easter resurrection, or we prove to be the bunnies we really seemed to show in Auckland. And with that, comment away on the lines above if you feel you want to, and thanks for your contributions over the weekend, whether you agreed with us or not.