Sunday, September 19, 2004

Wicked Wicket 1: Union-not-so-Jacked

England’s win in the ICC Champions Trophy against Sri Lanka last evening has given me the long-awaited opportunity for some shameless self-promotion of the didn’t-I-tell-you-all-so-way-back-then variety. Am pasting hereunder (underwith?) one of the pieces I wrote back in January 2003, for my lightweight cricket column “Wicked Wicket”, in the afternoon paper Today.

It was always a sore point with me that cricket followers (especially in India, it seemed) failed to acknowledge any of the achievements of the English team – even when they had just beaten Pakistan in Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Hence this piece. (More egotistic drawing of attention to own prescience: check the bit about the refusal to break in anyone aged below 27, in the light of 26-year-old Andy Flintoff’s contribution to the New England over the past year!)

Wicked Wicket
by Jai Arjun Singh

Here’s something I never thought I’d be doing – sticking up for the England cricket team, that too right in the middle of what promises to be one of the most comprehensive Ashes wallopings in history.

Conversations with friends, as far back as I can remember, have been based on the assumption that England are a team of no consequence. I’ve been suckered into it myself, and still admit that nothing provides as much glee as watching the sport’s originators play dominos on a cricket field.

There’s something about English cricket that encourages this malice-laced attitude among the rest of the world, especially the subcontinent. Their still-antiquated approach to the sport, reluctance to break in anyone under the age of 27, the low standards of county cricket…and not least, our perceptions of their condescending attitudes. That last bit makes their mauling such fun to watch. After all, when your nose is in the mud, where does the stiff upper lip go?

But try being objective for a bit, and you’d see that England have been a better Test team over the last few years (especially since 1998, when they beat South Africa 2-1) than they are given credit for. And, importantly (for a side that has a reputation for complaining on tours), they’ve travelled a lot better than many other teams --including India.

Of course, that isn’t saying much (as I write this India are 120 for 7 in the Wellington Test) but consider the inflated opinion many of us have of our own team. Most would hoot at the suggestion that England could be better than us in any sense at all. But they are. They’re better even than Australia on at least one parameter: they’ve beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka recently.

I’m not suggesting we get euphoric about Nasser Hussain’s chappies; in fact I look forward to watching them get steamrolled in the fourth Test Down Under. But perhaps there’s some grace in conceding that the Union isn’t as jacked as many of us like to think it is.

- January 20, 2003

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