Sometimes Life moves in circles far too mysterious for me to understand. Over the summer, our cricket team (just) managed to win back the Ashes against Australia – the most intensely contested set of games any England Cricket team ever plays. But if you strip away the media hype that surrounded it, what we saw was a Third rate England team just scraping home over a Second rate Australian team. Over the Five game series, we watched 25 days of 8 hours a day where the thing that turned the series England’s way was about 5 or 6 hours of absolutely marvellous periods of play, with Flintoff, Broad, Anderson and, God help us, Panesar doing the honours on England's behalf.
But, we did it.
The we went on to play what to me was the most pointless series of cricket games I’ve ever watched – a 7 match set of One day International games which dredged the bottom as far as I was concerned in terms of excitement and pleasure, and provided a perfect definition of the word “Anticlimax”. The team managed to lose the series 6-1, winning the last match almost as a consolation. Both teams palpably did not want to be there, and it showed in the cricket and the attitude and demeanour of both sides.
You couldn’t help but conclude from their dismal showing that, from a One day Cricket perspective, England were a team of No Hopers. Panic set in immediately after the end of the 6-1 drubbing, with England hopping straight onto a plane to South Africa to take part in a short Knock-Out ODI World competition against the seven best sides on the Planet. South Africa, India, Pakistan, Australia and Sri Lanka stared us in the face, and with most of that lot being expected to beat Australia, let alone England, it was hard to see how we weren’t going to be anything other than slaughtered, taken apart, smashed and beaten very conclusively and very embarrassingly.
Oh Ye, of little faith. Tonight, we are two matches into the series and have played what to me are the two best sides in the world, Sri Lanka and South Africa. And we have beaten them both. Not just beaten them, but imposed ourselves on them in a manner I can’t recall an England One day side ever managing before. They played quite superbly.
What on earth was in the meal on the plane over to South Africa? The batsmen who let the side down, actually and metaphorically, during the ODI matches against the Australians have come to the party in a way that borders on the unreal. We’ve just seen, against South Africa, the host nation and favourite for the Championship, Owais Shah smash a fabulous 98, Collingwood, playing at 4, hitting a very responsible and exciting 70-odd, and Eoin Morgan finishing it all of with a stupendous 67 off 34 balls. It was a glittering performance, and I go to bed tonight with my chest puffed out on their behalf more than a little bit!
Almost the best bit for me however occurred in the first match against Sri Lanka, my favourite team in the whole tournament. England were playing them in their first match after the Australian debacle, and can have had no idea what sort of outcome awaited them. They must have had a real feeling of foreboding at the start of the match, having just watched Sri Lanka thrash South Africa, the favourites.
During the Sri Lankan innings, there was a mix up in the middle which resulted in one of the Sri Lankan batsmen losing his wicket after an accidental collision. The England Captain called him back to the wicket when he was walking off, a move which will endear Strauss to me, at least, for a very long time.
He didn’t have to do it, most of his colleagues didn’t agree with what he’d done, and it sounds like after the match he had more than a bit of a bollocking from Andy Flowers, the England Team Manager. But, as a real demonstration of old fashioned fair play, at a time when the consequences were potentially fatal to England’s cause, and when it would have been far easier to let the guy leave the field and accept the wicket gratefully, it takes some beating in my view.
Good on you Mr Strauss. And what’s more, the cricketing Gods must have agreed with him, because the batsman was immediately out in the next over.
And then England won the match.
And tonight, they’ve just won the next one against South Africa.
So perhaps there are mystical things afoot here – things about which we know not. It does make a very pleasant change from people on a rugby field trying to gain an unfair advantage by chewing on fake blood capsules to get a late substitution onto the field, or Formula 1 Team Managers plotting to get one of the racing drivers in their team to crash deliberately into a wall to gain an unfair advantage.
These things should not go unrecognised, and I hold up my glass to Andrew Strauss for having the balls to do what he believed was right.