Although I agreed with much of Tom Hollingworth’s wide angled perspective on UK sport, there is one group on whom it will fall on deaf ears, namely the English cricket supporters. As the wiseacres pontificate over the World Cup debacle I have not seen much sympathy for those who pay thousands of pounds to watch it.
In 1995, finding no newspaper prepared to pay for my freelance services and receiving a small inheritance from a grand aunt, I travelled to South Africa for the first time for the Atherton tour. You may recall Mike Atherton’s back to the wall occupation of the crease under fierce bombardment from Alan Donald to earn a gritty draw. After that all resistance collapsed. As I went from Durban to Port Elizabeth to Cape Town to Pretoria in the jovial company of the Barmy Army my enduring memory was of South Africans mocking us defeated fans in our coaches bearing us back to our hotel. This applied to test match and the ODI games. So little has changed in 20 years.
Fast forward to the Flintoff defence of the Ashes. After a enjoyable breakfast with Aussie legend Neil Harvey in my Melbourne hotel, there was a palpable excitement on the streets as English fans made their way to the G (MCG). It did not last too long. We lost the test in three days and I felt sick from too much sun and too little decent cricket from our boys. Then as now those cheerful fans with their gallows humour who have never disgraced their country and filled test grounds like no other deserved a lot better.
With all the clamour for an overseas coach and the criticism of Moores, Downton and Morgan, it is perhaps sensible to look at the statistics. England are in fact ranked sixth in the ODI table just behind Sri Lanka and New Zealand. However the significant table is the top ten batsmen, where England do not feature – Root is 14th. De Villiers and Amla are top of the table with Sangikkara and Dillshan not far behind. David Warner is in there but perhaps surprisingly not Brendan McCallum. In the bowling table only Anderson at seventh is listed. So this tells you all you need to know: the paucity of players of the necessary calibre. I am reminded of the notoriously curt Clem Attlee’s comment when he sacked a minister who confronted him railing away. “Not good enough” was all he said.
As Tom’s list shows, you need world class players to win in any sport. I was surprised he omitted double Major winner Justin Rose from his list. Bob Tickler’s p/a Polly also firmly believed that Scott Brash – Gold Olympian and one of the best show jumpers – and Chrsitine Dujardin should be up there in lights too. Maybe one day we will see the odd cricketer too. For our supporters I hope so but as they plan the next trip to the West Indies and rum cocktails on the beach they will accept whatever inadequate fare is dished out. Would not it be rather nice and lift morale if the England team, instead of being locked up in a 5 star hotel with their play stations with their heads filled on how to bowl to Chris Gayle, engaged with them?