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Following the recent Ashes and one day debacle in Australia, England cricket fan Graham Shorter takes a look at why a poor England is actually much more enjoyable for the army of armchair pundits.
England have just lost the ashes 5-0. A whitewash. A drubbing. Embarrassing. Brilliant.
Andy Flower was quoted soon after the final Test in Sydney talking about it feeling like the end of an era of English cricket.
It is indeed the end of an era for England; the end of a dull era of English domination in which routine victory followed routine victory, and followers were starved of genuine talking points and debate.
The winning era has seemingly already been replaced with a new dawn. The lifecycle has come full circle (as it probably always does in the end) and we are now entering an era of uncertainty; of question marks and of genuine debate about the way forward, as well as scathing criticism of the individuals in possession of England’s key positions. We have returned to the nineties.
You see, whilst we were all outwardly celebrating England’s rise to the top under Flower and Strauss, secretly it was pretty boring really. In England, and in Yorkshire, we are much more suited to complaining about failure than we are celebrating success (unless we have beaten Lancashire of course).
Since Flower took on the full time role as coach after the trip to the West Indies in 2009, and before the most recent ashes submission, England had played 17 Test match series. We won 12 and drew 3, losing only twice to Pakistan in the desert and home to South Africa.
On the face of it that is a spectacular record. In reality though, what does it give us to talk about? Not a great deal.
During that time, save for the odd isolated calamity or poor dismissal, all of which strangely involved KP (either an argument with Peter Moores or chipping one to mid wicket once again off the last ball of the day), there was no debate. What will the team be for the next Test inevitably yielded the answer: “same as the last Test.”
Should we go in with four or five bowlers, who should be skipper, who should bat 3 – all with the usual answer of “same as last Test.”
The biggest talking point the Sky commentators could find to focus on was Andrew Strauss’s refusal to put a fourth slip in place even after the ball went through the gap to third man for the 16th time.
In August 2011, England became the top ranked Test team in the world. In his 50 Tests as captain, Andrew Strauss secured 39 wins or draws and a home and away Ashes series.
England were dominant. However, the criticism had dried up almost as much as the pitches we prepared for ourselves to play on last summer.
How quickly it all changes. I have had more genuine debates in the last few weeks with my teammates, work colleagues and family about the failings of English cricket, than the last few years combined.
It is genuinely much more interesting.
Even our friends at Sky and on the radio have revelled in this new era – the Ashes Verdict programmes have been devoted to picking a new England team.
We don’t know who the coach will be next series. We don’t know who the captain will be, and we don’t even know whether our best player will be involved.
Aggers and Boycott visited the Royal Hall at Harrogate recently. An hour was ringfenced for discussing the ashes capitulation. What would they have talked about after 2010/11 – “We’ve bloody won again, stick of rhubarb, my mum could have caught that…”
This time round, within the new (circa nineties) era, they have a 5-0 whitewash to pick over. England’s premier spin bowler gave up and went home, our number three bat had to return home and our most promising fast bowler has the yips and has been ruined.
Loads to discuss!
At the end of the nineties, England had become the worst ranked Test team in the world. We were at rock bottom.
Phil Tufnell was found leaning up against a cigarette machine in a pub in London. Nasser Hussain was booed at the Oval. Terrible you might think, but rich pickings for discussion, for debate, and for a chat in the pavilion after the game on a Saturday. Plenty to moan about.
That decade was characterised by an array of left field selections, poor performances and off the pitch incidents which, although apparently painful at the time, on reflection provided us with ammunition to occupy our thoughts.
Throughout that decade, England played 83 Test matches and only won 26 (ten of which were in losing series) – the knives were mostly out in the press and you didn’t know from one game to the next who would be in the side.
At the pinnacle of England’s failings, we can look at selections like Aftab Habib, Ed Giddins, James Ormond and Simon Brown, to entertain us. We were desperate, yes, but it led to a much more uncertain, exciting time to be an England follower.
If somebody bowled a leg break that pitched they were ready to be given a go in the Test side, take Chris Schofield and Ian Salisbury for example.
If a newcomer scored a run as well as taking a wicket they were the new Ian Botham. There were many of these, most notably Yorkshire’s Darren Gough, but others included Dominic Cork, and (whisper it) Ronnie Irani.
Players would be dropped and re-picked multiple times, such as Graeme Hick and Mark Ramprakash. It was bedlam. Ray Illingworth wore a tracksuit to press conferences.
David Lloyd was once coach – this actually happened for those of you too young to remember – do a google search for “we flippin’ murdered ‘em.”
Now it’s happening all over again. The era is back. Scott Borthwick is a leggie, get him in. Ben Stokes is the new Ian Botham. Alistair Cook might quit, he might be sacked.
England Team Director Andy Flower has quit and he was wearing a tracksuit. We genuinely don’t know who will be in the next squad.
Tymal Mills can bowl fast, get him in.
There is something to talk about again. We all have an opinion. We are all experts again. Thank goodness for that.
This is what it feels like when England are rubbish at cricket. Isn’t it refreshing?
By Graham Shorter
Photo by Jason Milich