FIVE years ago, I went for a job interview as a sports writer on a well-respected regional daily newspaper. The editor, a fast-talking, fast-thinking, ebullient middle-aged chap, fired a series of questions at me about cricket, as England were in the process of tumbling to a particularly comprehensive Ashes defeat Down Under.
He wanted to know what my thoughts were on the England cricket team. As my knowledge of cricket was (and still is) pitiful, I bumbled my way through a barely-coherent answer based on the two-minute clips of the first couple of Tests I had seen on the news each evening. The basic thrust of these news reports was that England were rubbish at cricket, and that Nasser Hussain might want to think about his future as captain.
“But should we bring them home?” asked the editor.
“Well, no,” I said. “That wouldn’t really be practical, would it?”
I didn’t get the job, as the editor made the outrageous decision to give it to somebody with talent and a reasonably basic all-round sporting knowledge.
My knowledge of cricket has improved since then, but some things haven’t changed. I’ve never been one for writing thunderous opinion pieces announcing the death of English cricket/football/rugby (delete as applicable, although I reckon we’ve got a good chance in the darts again). And I’m not going to start now, despite England’s comical batting collapse against Sri Lanka in Galle earlier today.
Make no mistake about it, England were appalling, and were lucky to be all out for 81. It was pretty much on a par with that first Ashes Test in Brisbane five years ago, when England managed to score a whopping 79 in their second innings as the Aussies won by 384 runs. (The Aussies went on to win the next two Tests in that series by an innings, and the series 4-1. Hussain’s captaincy lasted a few more months, before Michael Vaughan took over.)
England spent two-and-a-half years climbing back from that 2002/2003 series humiliation in Australia to win the Ashes so gloriously two years ago, but seem to have spent the two years since tumbling back to the place from which they rose.
Increasingly, they resemble cricket’s answer to the Stereophonics; a half-decent bunch of lads who had a bit of success and promptly started shedding all that had made them good in the first place, instead pumping out rubbish. England over-achieved in beating the Aussies in 2005. But that raised expectations they are now unable to come close too.
Read the message boards of today, and you’ll get the same response as five years ago. Sack the coach, sack the captain, sack the team, make them forfeit their wages, they’ve got no passion, they’ve let down the fans. That last point is undoubtedly true, but it’s amazing how many of us turn into Victorian mill owners when our sporting teams let us down.
English cricket has come back from lows such as this before; too many of them. Series defeat in Sri Lanka may well spell the end of one or two Test careers, though: Matt Prior and Ravi Bopara may not be England players for two much longer.
Still, the bonus for England is that the match will probably finish a day early, meaning the squad can be home in plenty of time for Christmas. Bring ’em home early? It’s almost as if the players have been listening to the editor who interviewed me all those years ago, and have decided to bring themselves home.