Monday, October 29, 2012

Cricket Songs

Most songs are about love. This includes songs about the magnificence of love - both in giddy infancy as well as mature and sincere  exclamations of complicity - and laments about failure in the pursuit with resulting loneliness. Outside of the central amorous song canon there are many interesting topics that pop up. These include songs about partying and dancing, songs about politics, songs about cars and songs with vague lyrics which are, perhaps, about nothing in particular.

So far as I know, there are two great cricket songs.

Writing on Roy Harper’s ‘When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ in (the now defunct) The Word magazine, David Hepworth said that it,
summons the shade of every village cricket pitch we have ever gazed hungrily upon or glimpsed from a passing car… Both John Peel and John Walters wanted this song played after their deaths. There is scarcely an Englishman who wouldn't wish for the same honour. [1]
Like most reflections on cricket, the song is more than the mechanics and narrative of the game. From depicting everyman’s park cricket match in dear, gentle hues, the lyric strides to the elevated plain of existence and death. The game is not used merely as an allegory though. It would be a dull, unsporting soul who held so. Rather, cricket is recognised as the superb use of existence that it is, as delivered in the second verse,
… as those footsteps trace for the last time out of the act
Well this way of life's recollection, the hallowed strip in the haze
The fabled men and the noonday sun are much more than just yarns of their days.
The song forces introspection, arresting attention with its elegiac weight and space, the charged, double-tracked vocal and twelve-string guitar countered against the weight of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. Mr Harper appears on the record’s cover hairy and shirtless with flannel trousers, pads, cap, and bat and gloves in hand. His head calmly down, he is captured mid-stride as if having been dismissed after a handy 20 or so. This same curious seventies aspect pervades the record. A phaser gnarls the guitars from the opening strum but, rather than being a distraction, this, along with the ancient reverb, presents a lost quality.


The other, Paul Kelly’s ‘Bradman’, just sounds so good. A condensed epic, with a narrative punctuated and compelling , it is as lithe as the Go-Betweens in arrangement, brisk pace and all that sparkles of the summer.

The most celebrated of Australian batsmen, Sir Donald Bradman was also a triumphant captain and a man polite and winning on public occasion. He has been canonised in his country as patron saint of the summer sport, known even to those caring nothing for the game. Astoundingly, when ‘Bradman’ was released as a single, backed with the also iconic ‘Leaps and Bounds’, the song stalled on the charts. It is now woven into the Australian sporting psyche, wafting through address systems at Australian cricket grounds and purring from AM radio on Saturday nights in the summer.

I disappoint though, when friends expect me to gush in enthusiasm for the song. For the more absorbing of historical sources lead one to question whether some of its tenets are misplaced and its adulation might be better tempered.


Australia is not always overly probing as to the foundation of her cultural pillars. Typically, the more friendly, colourful and selfless of her citizenry are cherished over the successful. These were not the distinguishing qualities of Bradman. He was an upstanding individual, private and sure of self. ‘A complex, highly driven man, not given to personal relationships’ according to EW Swanton [2]Telling remark is made by Jack Fingleton, Bradman’s most intriguing portraitist and and persistent critic, in his telling attempt at praise,
Together with all other cricketers of our generation, I salute him as the greatest player of his age, the greatest attraction the game of cricket has known. Probably he did not make the friends in the game which others did but, possibly he reasoned, he would not have been the player he was had he allowed his concentration to be upset in the slightest manner. He brilliantly and decisively achieved the objective he set himself when he found his feet in first-class cricket – and that was to be, by far, the greatest run getter and the greatest holder of records the game has known. And in achieving this, be it noted, he gave the cricketing man-in-the-street the greatest value he had ever received for his admittance money and he gained the game the greatest publicity it had known. [4]
For, indeed, dislike of Bradman is recorded among many of his peers, including teammates from successive generations such as Bill O’Reilly and Keith Miller, his chief nemesis Harold Larwood, and those who later dealt with the man as an administrator, including Ian Chappell. Bradman was revered by the public for his achievements in the game and, such was the zeal felt, detraction was not countenanced in the popular consciousness. Describing this, Ray Robinson takes opportunity to dispel notions of Bradman's sanctity,
As in other walks of life, especially business and politics, swift ascent of the ladder of success is apt to have perils. Fingers on the rungs have a way of getting in the path of ambitious boots...
Criticism tended to make the bulk of Australians close ranks behind their national hero. In allowing no shadow to settle on Bradman's image, a couple of his most devoted admirers showed less concern about casting shadows elsewhere. They disposed of fault-finding by simply blaming other players' jealousy. With a few exceptions that was a slur on a bunch of team-men of oft-proved sportsmanship. Arrows from the untiring bows of a couple of ex-player writers caused defenders to lean far the other way, as if all Don's attributes were akin to those of a saint. Did Bradman have faults? You bet he did! [3]
Through his pre-eminence, Bradman became a man of the establishment. Through his persuasion he dictated terms to them and, in time, their own policy. Establishment figures are generally remembered in their best aspect and Bradman is by no means unique in this. Fellow knights Pelham Warner and Gubby Allen were notable players and influential administrators who are generally recalled with fondness, rather than for the fact that they were great snobs who arbitrarily handled the careers of many. A decisive class above Warner and Allen, though, Bradman was a champion, supreme in ability and concentration.

His brilliance and consistency as an accumulator of runs will surely never be eclipsed. His career was one of immaculate standards scrupulously achieved. It was also marked by drama but, in keeping with his character, this was generally quiet and modest rather than self-seeking, and imposed upon by external events. An outstanding example is Bradman’s peritonitis following the Ashes tour of 1934 – stricken in hospital and struggling for his life, the English and Australian nations willing his survival, and his wife travelling at a furious pace across the globe to his bedside. The same tenacity of personality with which he made a full recovery saw him alone successful among the triumvirate of batting greats following the war. While Hammond and Headley’s careers ended shabbily, Bradman secured his reputation with a distinguished performance through his final two Ashes series, made all the more stately by his austerity of shot selection in contrast to the flair of his youth.


To be a cricketer worthy to be followed, with all that entails of veneration and honour, is exacting. One need not only hold skill and the mental rigour required of the game. To be truly great, one must also possess a generosity of spirit that exhibits itself through character. Presumably, a great many people saw this in Bradman. Speaking for not a few journalists, ever shunned by the aloof Bradman who kept his own commercial commitments, John Arlott makes potent remark to imply the contrary,
Not since W. G. Grace has cricket produced such a man who so combined technical skill, concentration, determination or who did so on such a carefully planned course. I doubt that cricket will ever see another for cricket has a way of getting under a man’s skin. I do not think cricket is under Bradman’s skin but I believe that it is under his skull – in close control. Therefore he has missed something of cricket that less gifted and less memorable men have gained. How, I wonder, would Don Bradman define happiness? [6]
Kelly, a shrewd writer, acknowledges at least part of this in the song’s most ambiguous lines,

The critics could not comprehend this nonchalant phenomenon
"Why this man is a machine," they said. "Even his friends say he isn't human"
Even friends have to cut something

For the most part, though, the sentiment in Kelly’s song is, as the writer himself attests, that of Irving Rosenwater – Bradman as resplendent hero, the English XI sharp-toothed and short-sighted as pantomime villains. Central to the piece is the quotation of Bill Woodfull’s famous angered summation of Bodyline, ‘There's two teams out there today and only one of them's playing cricket.’ This attitude is the one generally held by any Australian who cares to think of the series. Such assessment scorns the achievement of the 1932 – 33 Ashes, and Jardine and Larwood become malevolents rather than cricketers. Sadly this cultural attitude has prevailed with resultant muck such as the 1980s television drama that stars Gary Sweet as Bradman. Australian cricket would be the richer for an informed reconsideration of the series.


It is an ever forceful argument that personal concerns and failings are one’s own business and should not come into reckoning on a career. Even so, Bradman's are not so heinous as to  proscribe him. For, as related in The Age by Phillip Derriman, (reviewing Christine Wallace's The Private Don,  a collection of Bradman's letters),
Whatever his personal faults, the Don isn't such a bad national hero, Wallace concludes. "If Australians are to have a secular god," she writes, "there could be worse choices than one who was upright, loyal, sceptical, loved his wife, stuck by his problematic son, delighted in his daughter despite her special difficulties and looked out for his friends - as well as being a sporting legend who put the good of the game before jingoistic interests." [5]
Bradman is a great Australian figure, but one with a complex legacy like Robert Menzies and Kerry Packer – coincidentally men who also dominated Australian cricket. Their deeds were monumental and their contribution to the nation has been great. However, their legacy is not secure from criticism. Kelly’s ‘Bradman’ is a magnificent song, but I feel it perpetuates misconceptions and lacks that which could be of edification. This is all put succinctly by the Queensland left-arm seamer, Tony Dell, who said of Bradman, 
Stories point to him being a selfish, divisive person who fought advancement. To me that does not constitute greatness. [7]
Watching the song’s video clip, though, Bradman’s batsmanship is such as to inspire grand tribute, so graceful and complete as he moves back into the crease and across to pull through midwicket.


* * *

There are cricket songs beside and Sidharth Monga has written an enlightened survey of the genre on CricInfo. There are those already known to the cricket fan – pop songs that only allude to cricket but prove useful for television grabs like 10cc’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and Sherbert’s ‘Howzat’; odd cricket-specific songs, ‘C’mon Aussie C’mon’ being one of few to abide, tuneful enough to gain existence beyond World Series Cricket; and then there are songs by cricketers such as the 1972 Australian touring side's, 'Here Come the Aussies', the World Series Cricket West Indian's, 'La la la la la West Indies' or Brett Lee and his outfit Six and Out.

There are also the less known. In 1981 the cricket song enthusiast David Allen compiled the lyric book A Song for Cricket, comprised of generally antique, pre-war fare – club songs and otherwise. It’s a curious relic but, as a book of words without music or context, it lacks anything of stirring beauty or profundity on the game.

More appealingly there are cricket calypsos, of which Lord Beginner’s ‘Victory Test’ and David Rudder’s ‘Rally Around the West Indies’ are the most often recalled. Each chronicles a pivotal moment in West Indies cricket – the former heralding the island federation as it came of age as a cricketing power, the latter a vain call of hope as the side slumped into what has been the most aching depression of any international cricketing side.

My favourite cricket calypso is The Mighty Sparrow’s ‘Sir Garfield Sobers’, a celebration of the West Indies’ victory over Australia in 1964 – 1965. As ever, Sparrow is raw and fervid, dancing about the beat in his delivery. His glee as he exults in the West Indies’ success and details each point of strength in the team’s false dawn is a joy to share. Other songs of West Indian success include Baldhead Growler’s marvellous ‘V for Victory’ and the mellifluous Lord Kitchener’s ‘Cricket Champions’. Besides Sparrow’s paean to Sobers, many other great cricketers from the islands have been cherished through song. King Short Shirt’s ‘Vivian Richards’ is a very fine tune and Wilmouth Houdini’s ‘Constantine’ a chilling minor-key celebration of the early hero. Beyond calypso, I Roy’s ‘Tribute to Michael Holding’ is a fittingly Jamaican work for the singer’s compatriot, and De Alberto’s ‘Chanderpaul’ is a particularly charming record. Neither do the singers of the West Indies begrudge the success of other sides. Equal reverence is given to opposition sides in Kitchener’s ‘Alec Bedser Calypso’ and Lord Relator’s ‘Gavaskar’. Also, if to your taste, there are socas with songs from such large names as Shaggy and Sean Paul.


Presumably there are a great many tunes from the subcontinent which have failed to come West. Given that the Pussycat Dolls had to spruik ‘Jai Ho’ to create an unlikely and somewhat bizarre hit, it is sadly doubtful any Asian songs of cricket will soon grace the  international charts.

In 2009 The Duckworth Lewis Method produced the most concerted effort in the field of the cricket song with a full-length album of them. Like cricket, their record is not particularly trendy. It is pop music and, as with the rest of Mr Hannon and Walsh's oeuvre, of the gentler Anglo (or strictly Hibernian) style, the natural successor of XTC. In places, cricket and cricketing terms are used with ambiguity and euphemisms in ‘The Sweet Spot’ and ‘The Nightwatchman’ attempt at humour and brave steadfastness respectively. This is in keeping with what might be thought of as an antecedent work to the record, The Kinks’ funny old song ‘Cricket’. At times, as with ‘Meeting Mr Miandad’, cricket is a launching pad to the surreal. Elsewhere on the album those whimsical and wistful attitudes that often creep into the sport are embraced, as with ‘Gentlemen and Players’ and ‘Test Match Special’. The album is at its best in the music hall romp of ‘Jiggery Pokery’, rapping upon the Warne dismissal of Gatting, and the charming ‘Flatten the Hay’, a vignette of an enthused cricket child in the south-east of Ireland. It is an odd album with bristling MIDI ensembles, enthusiastic chorus lines and silly asides. One might find the textures at times so ebullient it is a tad jarring but it is a fine thing that has been attempted and a joy of cricket that it exists.


* * *

Outside of the song, cricket has been celebrated throughout the arts. Though limited in this discussion, I feel the need to make mention of examples in each field for the uninitiated.

If you have made it this far through an article about cricket songs it is likely you are aware that the most significant reflections upon the sport have been made in journalism and literature. Cricket writing had its early notables in authors such as John Nyren, Nicholas Felix and Tom Horan. Its first master was Neville Cardus. Cardus brought a smartness, warmth and significance to writing on the sport, which has stayed with it as a benchmark since. For many he reconceptualised the game. Some cross fellows wish had never blighted the sport with his fanciful works and the fostering of romanticism in cricket writing. In his stead, the lofty canon of cricket literature has been formed by many good writers. To make brief roll call, with deference to the most complete work written on the game, CLR James’ Beyond a Boundary, some of these include RC Robertson-Glasgow, Jack Fingleton, JM Kilburn, Ray Robinson, David Frith, and Gideon Haigh. With a new generation including Duncan Hamilton, Christian Ryan, Ed Smith, the erudite Boria Majumdar and, it is to be hoped, Ed Cowan, cricket literature abides as a vital form.

There is also a significant body of cricket poetry. This includes, as occurs in these matters, a deal of chaff – celebratory in spirit and dull in expression, rhyme and metre. Much of this is represented in Lesley Frewin’s 1964 anthology The Poetry of Cricket among others. Among the game’s better poets, which include champion fast bowler John Augustus Snow, particularly endearing is John Arlott. Some of Arlott’s works drown under platitudes – lovely ones – but occasionally he reaches a neat depth as in his celebration of Jack Hobbs,

There was a wisdom so informed your bat
To understanding of the bowlers trade
That each resource of strength or skill he used 
Seemed but the context of the stroke you played. [8] 


Among contemporary cricket poets, a favourite is Nick Whittock. His work is abstruse but does not prohibit the reader from deriving a great deal from it. In example,

ross taylors a good fucking batsmen 
if ginger beer didnt exist itd be hilarious 
not as hilarious as if ginger beer didnt exist 
n enid blytons works remained exact 
ly as theyre fuck I love cricket [9]

In the visual arts cricket has also had worthy contributions. The National Gallery of Victoria hangs a fine painting in Fred Williams’ 'Cricketer'. Further up the road, a stroll around the Melbourne Cricket Ground will prove an ever thoughtful and stirring experience. Towering in bronze are the guardians of the sacred ground, Louis Laumen’s pantheon of (for the most part) Victoria’s favourite sons. Funded by the gambling body Tattersalls and erected over the past decade, these sculptures endow neoclassical propriety to the perimeter of this beloved place. Finest among the cricketing statues is Dennis Lillee. In his final stride before delivery with beautifully arched body, Lillee bespeaks power, elegance, and athleticism. Like the footballer Leigh Matthews, muscling on the other side of the ground, the bowler is an imposing work of awe singing forth his art in Hellenic glory. Further along perches Bill Ponsford with bat vertically raised. Having driven the ball through the covers his eyes scan the run like a grim watchman. In counterpoint to Lillee’s grace, Keith Miller in delivery stride is a display of aggression. This is not the dapper Miller of romance but a belligerent fast bowler, the spikes in his right boot looming above the viewer’s head with the terror of an iron maiden. The titles of AM and MBE, which decorate his nameplate, lay aligned to the left expectant of some late greater honour soon to come. Bradman is an affable valedictorian, the pose celebratory rather than in action with bat raised and hat doffed. In voluptuous contrast to these deified figures of sporting prowess trots Warne. Unprepossessing and with unconvincing resemblance to the man in the face, the maligned statue more often suffers the name Fat Warnie. Some halfway through his run Warne prances like an inebriated bestial satyr. This, though, is assuredly not the intention of the sculptor and I hope that my views are instead the result of cultural conditioning. It is regrettable that in the immediate aftermath of his career Warne is remembered as much for his jocular character as for leg spin. Undoubtedly during the Boxing Day Test this year some wag will again stick a lit cigarette between the sculpture’s lips. It is to be hoped that Warne does not take too great an offence at this irreverence. It is nice to feel familiarity with one’s champions.

Cricket also has its moments in film and television. Some of these are fond and British, such as the 1953 feature, The Final Test, as well as most BBC murder mystery television series which drop into the stately homes of pre-World War 2 England and are worth their blue blood.  It is good for cricket in Australia that Channel 9 brought their Underbelly treatment to the sport in the recent Howzat! Kerry Packer's War mini-series (but please, instead read Gideon Haigh's book). I suppose that it is also good Brendan Cowell and Stephen Curry have worked their enthusiasm for the game into the currently screening Save Your Legs!  In the hope of a picture more profound I think upon the grand passion of Sam Mendes and dream that perhaps there will be greater gifts in the not too distant future. In recent years there has been a spate of excellent documentaries. Fire in Babylon is the most popular of these, both for its colour and handling of a perennially favourite topic. Out of the Ashes, which details the Afghan cricket team’s qualification for the 2010 Twenty 20 World Cup, is the most life affirming and fantastic. Classically rounded and complete is From the Ashes, which manages to revel in English cricket’s equivalent of the 1966 World Cup while still being a magnificent picture.

* * *

To return to the cricket song, in a moment of reflection one might speculate on what perhaps the most qualified man, Neville Cardus, the adept successor of Samuel Langford and Ernest Newman in musical criticism and arch-stylist of the sport, would pronounce upon the genre for he kept the two subjects apart. He dwelt upon what was fine in each to raise it to the sublime and saw no need to mince the great twin passions as related in the second of his autobiographical works,
But - I am asked this question by nearly everybody who meets me for the first time - cricket and music? "How could you mix them?" 
It is a silly question. As well might a man be asked how he can mix breathing with walking, or wine with song, or George Meredith with gardening, or mountaineering with Wagner. [10]
When I think on this I gravely question whether one may dare to do so, and whether beauty is not best kept discrete.

The cricket song is magnificent though, great in its prospects if still somewhat ill-defined in scope and disunified as a field. With what brilliance exists, I cannot but believe that there are great wonders yet to follow. Thinking on the fellows hanging about test cricket grounds – Lily Allen blowing kisses to Graham Onions; Coldplay doffing out for Midlands village cricket teams; Elton John taking Steven Davies on a world tour; and then the noble Welshmen of cricket, Nicky Wire from the Manic Street Preachers wearing whites in performance and Andrew Falkous from Mclusky and Future of the Left touring the Australian cricket summer – I am so hopeful, even if it is for some great prophet to come beyond our lifetime.

[1] Hepworth, David. ‘Ten Shades of Summer’ from The Word. July, 2010. Ed. Mark Ellen. P. 71
[2] Swanton, W.W. A Personal Recollection. Wisden, London (2003). P. 92
[3] Robinson, Ray. On Top Down Under - Australia's Cricket Captains. Cassell Australia, Sydney (1975). P. 179 - 180
[4] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 180
[5] Derriman, Phillips. Letters reveal the real Don in The Age, 30 October 2004.
[6] Fingleton, Jack. Brightly Fades the Don. Arcadia, Melbourne (2002). P. 189 190
[7] Tony Dell quoted in Australia: Story of a Cricket County. Ed. Christian Ryan. Hardie Grant Books (2011).
[8] Arlott, John. To John Berry Hobbs on his Seventieth Birthday 16 December 1952. From:, Arlott, John.  Jack Hobbs Profile of ‘The Master’. John Murray and Davis-Poynter, London (1981). Frontispiece
[9] Whittock, Nick. don bradman. From: Whittock, Nick. The Doon. Vanguard Press, Sydney (2012). P. 7
[10] Cardus, Neville. Second Innings. (Collins, London, 1950). P. 246

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

End of Empire

I realise that I am tardy with my eulogy for the Australian cricket team as every other journalist and fellow with an opinion have long since given out their obituaries. I refrained from doing so as I wanted to see what aftermath there would be to the ruin. The recriminations have been underwhelming though and immediate attention has flurried onto limited overs cricket without, as yet, sufficient redress given for what was an unacceptable failure. I would like to discuss this at some length as well as several other matters of pressing importance. While drafting this I have found that both Peter Roebuck and Gideon Haigh have written excellent pieces on the subject and would refer readers to them for a far more comprehensive view on the subject.

The major fault and reason for Australia's disgrace lies in selection- both with the decisions made during the series, and more fundamentally, the lack of foresight and planning which has characterised selection these past several years. This Ashes series has been the focus of selectors for the last 18 months though actions would seem to suggest otherwise. Foremost among their mistakes is the mockery of picking a spinner this summer. This, their gravest offence, has recieved comparatively little notice overshadowed by the failure of any of the pacemen to be consistenly effective. Further there was little turn in the pitches and, to judge by Graeme Swann's fairly moderate performance, spin played only a small part in the series. This does not excuse the error though. Nathan Hauritz had been endorsed as Australia's default spinner. To drop him over a bad series in India is ludicrous. If there is any creedence to the conjecture that Ponting had a role in his dismissal after a personal fallout with the spinner then that is disgraceful. Hauritz was adequate for the job and his sacking is inexplicable. Doherty was never a realistic option. Beer was decent enough comparatively but has as yet not developed to an international level.

Fast bowling is a problem for Australia and it is difficult to fault the selectors on the point. I do have some gripes over the never fully explained shunning of Stuart Clark though.


Much as I like him, Marcus North should have been replaced a long time previous to this summer with the same ruthless efficency which marked Steven Finn's dropping. I do not doubt that there is potential to Steven Smith but at a time when dependability was required he was the wrong choice. His ungainly and unorthodox technique did nothing to inspire confidence and I do not think he is yet capable of being the player who Australia are trying to make him. Phillip Hughes, though a more aesthetically pleasing batsman, was also an errant recall. Certainly not both of these gentlemen should have been selected at that moment.

Selection is the easiest point for the uninformed outsider to take umbrage with. Presumably there are a host of other problems within the team and structure. The manner in which all and sundry have scrambled and squirmed to shirk blame suggests so. In seperate interviews I have heard Ricky Ponting, Tim Nielsen, Andrew Hilditch, and even Justin Langer, carry forth on very similar lines. Namely they more or less say, "Yes, there are deep problems within Australian cricket and stiff changes need to be made, even to the core of operations. I, however, am part of the solution not the problem and need to be retained as I will be a pivotal figure in leading Australian cricket out from this malaise." I wish I had kept the newspaper clippings where I saw this statement made in different guises again and again so I could quote verbatim. We can look at other silly comments made though, such as this one from Andrew Hilditch,
"...nobody could be more disappointed than the national selection panel. We picked what we thought was a squad capable of winning the Ashes and it wasn't capable of winning the Ashes, so that is disappointing."
It simply does not wash. Hilditch seems to be attempting to shift the blame onto the squad, or perhaps fate, rather than assuming responsibility for what were the wrong decisions. Indeed he almost solicits sympathy. The fact is though I do feel some degree of pity for Hilditch wracking wildly in desperation. There is no such similar condolence for James Sutherland. Rather than face the actual circumstances of the Melbourne Test he arbitrarily heaped the blame upon Michael Clarke and Phillip Hughes for attending a charity breakfast on Boxing Day. Sutherland claimed,
"That was a supreme error of judgment on their part. The players decided that of their own will... As a professional footballer, you would never do that."
That is of no consequence whatsoever. Its picking a mote from the eye of another while ignoring the beam hanging out of your own socket. In the same breath Sutherland turned upon Hilditch,
"Andrew's comments … were unfortunate, and I think what he was trying to say was the selectors had tried their hardest. Everyone involved needs to take responsibility for what was a very disappointing performance."
What a bitter smack of hypocrisy lies in his words.

Let us not forget events. It was humiliating. Adelaide could be explained as a great victory for England but at Melbourne and Sydney Australia were ground into sausage meat. That which has always seemed an impossibilty to anyone of my generation has occurred and our nation is no more. I do not know how far deeper we can sink but surely it must have been similarly impossible 25 years ago to ever imagine that the West Indies could sink to their present ragtag state.

Getting to grips with mutability is a rum old thing. I find change of that sort on a personal level utterly terrifying. For it to happen to Australian cricket, something perenially secure, is to have a vast surreal gulf open before one's feet. For me the greatest work on the subject is LVI from Tennyson's In Memoriam. Writing for all Victorians, the poet broached the most monstrous of all realisations of impermanence, that mankind and the world as we know it will eventually fade away,
'So careful of the type?' but no.
From scarped cliff and quaried stone
She cries, 'A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go
This same giddy tow relates to Australian cricket which Tennyson devotes to beloved mankind, doomed to,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal'd within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match'd with him.
However I cannot believe that the situtation is utterly hopeless. Despite Ponting pointing to a slumped level of first class cricket in the nation and calling for an overhaul of the entire administrative stucture, I still believe that Australia has a rich domestic level and is a healthy cricket environment. Unlike the Carribean which has faced encroaching Americanisation, devestating the sport, ciricket will maintain interest in Australia and continue to be strong.

Further if the right decisions are made a very good team can be fielded. We do not have those same magnificent seams which have benefited us the past two decades and even were the best available squad to play it is questionable that they could combat this ascendant English side. At least though they could justify the everpresent defence heard from anyone questioned, "We tried our best." Tony Hayward attempted a similar approach for BP over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and was greeted by the jeers of a US Congressional Hearing. Why cricket administrators believe it a valid argument is beyond me.

We have no great spectre to fear but we must accept that for at least the present future cricket will be a struggle and we will lose a deal of it. Truly though this is healthy. It is an exciting time for international cricket and the World Cup stands to be the first bounty of the period. Not in recent memory have the stakes been so equal and what is to follow should be thrilling. While India, South Africa, and England are clearly superior teams both Australia and Sri Lanka are of a very high standard, Pakistan have somehow managed to recover enough to be a sometimes formidable side and the West Indies still shows promise, particularly with young Darren Bravo bringing a fresh wind to the side. I am certainly optimistic.

There is a long six months until Australia tour Sri Lanka. In the interim there is the remainder of the domestic season and a World Cup before serious thought can be given to that touring party. Such being the case there is little point to expostulating my idle thoughts on the team but I would still make good claim for Michael Clarke as captain. While his batting has not yet improved and his unorthodox field settings have not as yet proved their worth, his leadership gives a fresh and optimistic air to the team. There is merit to Ponting returning to the team as a senior player and it would be wonderful to see him successful in such a role so as to be remembered as a great batsman rather than a failed captain. Should this occur though he must not be reinstated as leader and must learn to distance himself from such proceedings and not complicate matters.

The Australian cricket system is to be given a thorough review and one hopes it will be of the astringent, unsentimental type rather than some inconclusive prodding. It fills me with the greatest faith that there is talk of Ric Charlesworth heading the inquiry. I would think that many readers are unaware of the staggering achievements of Charlesworth, a renaissance man native to Western Australia. A doctor by profession, Charlesworth was a member of the great Western Australian squad of the 1970's. This was the state's first gush of consistent success in a team consisting of other great men of standing in this state as John Inverarity and Ian Brayshaw, and players such as Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Tony Mann, Graham McKenzie, Craig Serjeant, and Bob Massie. While Charlesworth holds the unassuming first class average of 30.22 one imagines that had he channelled all of his energies into cricket it would have been far higher. Among his other pursuits he was involved in the Australian Men's Field Hockey team being a member of five Olympic squads, two of which he captained. Charlesworth is also Steve Smith's predecessor as Labor member for the federal seat of Perth serving three terms. Throughout the 90's he served as coach to the Australian women's hockey team in their blaze of success and most recently has been appointed coach of the men's team. I would particularly like to get a hold of his book, Shakespeare the Coach. Charlesworth is known for his judicious, uncomprimising, and unbiased character, austere where required. Such capable a gentleman as he is required to mete justice in these circumstances of ours.


Speaking of the well rounded man, did you realise reader that Usman Khawaja is a qualified pilot?

Andrew Hilditch's contract expires after the World Cup and with 15 years in the role, the majority of which have been hugely successful, it would be a prudent time for him to leave. As with everyone else in the situation he has made it clear he has no intention of doing so though making this one of the first tussles to be sorted. Incidentally Hilditch is Bob Simpson's son-in-law. I wonder if this may be the same daughter who provoked such controversy with Tim Zoehrer. Tim Nielsen's contract was due to expire with the Ashes but he was awarded a premature three year renewal prior to the summer. As for James Sutherland and those in other roles it will be seen if anyone goes to the guillotine. It promises to be a fascinating study.

Devoted reader's might remember my reluctance to discuss the spot and match fixing allegations surrounding the Pakistani players Mohammed Amir, Salman Butt, and Mohammed Asif. At that time I found the thought utterly abhorrent and too horrendous to be countenanced. Hearings have been taking place these past months in Doha, Qatar. A finding was due to be given at the beginning of January but the verdict has been deferred until February the 5th. It would seem almost certain that wrong doing has taken place though to what extent it will be proved we shall see. I have heard some talk of Amir facing the weakest case. Amir is the most talented and exciting player of the trio and it is his downfall which is the most painful. I find myself then willing him on to exoneration even though there may be guilt upon him. I think this is wrong of me though.


We have what promises to be a fine year of cricket ahead of us and I look forward to it greatly. Trumper would like to take the opportunity to wish its readers a Happy New Year and hope that all of us may enjoy it to the fullest. Incidentally CricInfo were kind enough to put up another Fan Following report of mine which can be found here. Thank you for reading.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Conclusions from the WACA

From the outset I must make clear that this will probably be a long and involved entry. I have spent the past four days attending the Perth Ashes Test utterly absorbed in cricket. I've been considering much and will share the most pertinent of these thoughts. To make the process of reading more digestible the material is categorised under headings. Please approach and disregard it as you see fit.


Frankly no. Australia's stunning win at the WACA has not proven wise the more controversial decisions made by Hilditch and his board. The recall of Johnson did arguably win the match for Australia but after their lacklustre travails in the field at Adelaide such a step seemed inevitable.


The dual shifts made to the batting were failures. I have an awful lot of time for Phillip Hughes and after his sacking in the northern Ashes I was railing about, crying blue murder. I question the timing of this recall though. It might have been a good move six months ago when, with North clearly unfit for his job, long-sightedness would have moved Watson down the order despite his success opening. This would have granted Hughes the opportunity to solidify himself in the position, aided by his mentor Katich, in preperation for this most pivotal of series. Hughes looked underwhelming and scratchy, and soon departed the crease in his two outings. Steven Smith was equally unimpressive. Though he managed to stay in the middle for a surprising amount of time in both innings and made a valued 36 runs in the second, he was far from convincing. There were some fine shots played for those runs but there was more evidence of rashness and immaturity including three very close shaves early on. Both of his dismissals were soft.

Hughes has a struggle ahead to grasp his spot and deliver on his early promise, however unjustly it was first seized from him. I have greater fear for Steve Smith. There is no doubt of his talent but I wish he was left alone a bit longer to develop before heaping this pressure upon him. I fear he may be discarded to the growing pile of rejected players never given their proper chance. Bring him in against Bangladesh with the chance to flex himself, don't dump him in the middle of a ferocious Ashes series. There is merit to the Australian selectors embracing youth to rebuild the team but this is a rotten moment to pick. In the circumstances it would have been more prudent to have selected an experienced, in-form player of more dour mould such as Phil Jaques or Michael Klinger. However, having established matters thus, the batting order should not be tampered with for the duration of the series. I only hope that the youngsters can remain with their careers intact.

Siddle had little impact with the ball, (though his brief cameos with the bat were full of staunch bravery), and was little used. I think him a fine player but the lack of variation and depth to his bowling indicates that he is not of test pedigree. One would imagine that he will be dropped in Melbourne to bring a spinner to the side. Given that Hauritz took 5 wickets and made an invaluable 75 runs in the test last year, as well as his convincing performances with ball and two centuries in the Sheffield Shield since his dropping, it would be criminal to ignore the man again. Still the manner in which the selectors have acted seems to indicate Hauritz will continue to be cooly shunned. If the board remains true to their audacious move last week then Michael Beer could debut. Undoubtedly the drama will be played out in the coming week.


Describing England's performance four years ago Simon Barnes wrote in The Times,
"It was cricket as it might have been written by Kafka: a hideous punishment, as unjust as it was incomprehensible... It was like playing cricket against the Gestapo: cricket as a form of atrocity in which resistance is useless... in which pain and hatred become distorted into a loving and grateful submission to the torturer."
Watching Australia slump to 5 for 69 on the first day at the WACA I felt a similar sense of anguish and horrified disbelief. It was as in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure where the hapless hero discovers his infant children have hung themselves; or the bleak misery of King Lear, a world without meaning or purpose, where child is pitted against parent, which Keats called an obscene struggle,
"Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay".
Notwithstanding Adelaide and the slump over these past several years, to witness Australia humbled in such forceful manner was a spectacle of apocalyptic schism, it was to have all my expectations and beliefs of existence toppled upon one another. Despite their deliverance from the jaws of despair to romp home with unlikely emphatic victory, this miserable display of incompetence should remain with those responsible in preparation for Boxing Day.

There is one gentleman above others whom I would like to single out as worthy of blame and censure, Australia's batting coach Justin Langer. I didn't particularly like Langer as a player and his shenanigans since retirement have only confirmed my apprehensions. For example I find it incredibly petty in the man that he returns to Scarborough Cricket Club every finals season to ensure the team's success. In doing so he shirks the weekly grind of club cricket but is able to enjoy the role of saviour, ignoring the pertinent fact that placing a professional in an amatuer competition is a mockery of the spirit of the game.


Langer seems to live his life in a spirit of self-reverential glory, the phoney spiritualism that was a brief fad in the early 90s, and servile obeisance to anyone in a position of power. He retired from the Australian team before being shoved, and latched on to the accolades heaped upon Warne and McGrath though these players were in a class above him. He then proceeded to linger about the Australian dressing rooms, clinging to the past, until being made batting coach and "mentor". What the latter role entails I shudder to think but it almost certainly includes prattling off nonsense of the variety found in his inspirational book, Seeing the Sunrise. I invite the reader to examine Langer's website to see what a hideous display of sham and indulgence the man is. There you will find sage wisdom such as Justin's current thought of the day,

"Every Day is A New Life to a Wise Man"
Another proof of his prattish nature lies in his having been tipped to run for the Australian Liberal Party in the coming years. Langer lives next door to the Western Australian Liberal President, Barry Court, and undoubtedly the pair connive together in their opulence and make evil schemes for the detriment of the nation. This is not to say that cricketers should not go into politics. The sporting hero of the left-wing, Adam Gilchrist, has also been tipped to run for federal politics but for the at least nominally more benevolent Labor Party. We wish him good luck in all his ventures.


Langer is not the first retiree to find it difficult to leave the footholds of his former glory, and his new age mysticism is no more offensive than that of any other middle-aged, middle-class female with ample time on her hands. Really he is a harmless enough plant and it is sanguinary of me to slander him so. The man has engendered a bitter loathing in me though ever since he nearly sabotaged last summer's cricket season with his endless occupation of the ABC commentary box. Over two exciting series he had a intimate viewpoint from which he could have shared unique and revealing facts with listeners. Instead Langer bored the nation with insipid nonsense about practicing Zen Do Kai at dawn on the beach and endless stories about his own achievements. He showed no interest in the action before him rather being wholly concerned with himself. I do not imagine that I was alone in sending a vehement letter to the ABC on the subject and haply he has not returned this Ashes.


One would think then that without media distractions he could concentrate on doing his job but Australia's batting was a sham. In fairness Mitchell Johnson when speaking of his aureate innings mentioned having a throw down with Justin Langer prior to trotting out so perhaps my attack has been completely without foundation. I still don't trust him though.


There are discordant murmurs and grumbling throughout our nation. While buoyed by victory, the population seems disenchanted with Ponting as well as the greater cricket administration. From my observations though the most vehement criticism is being levelled at Michael Clarke. I have heard jibes on buses, taunts on the ground, and read questioning in the papers. The immediate source of disatisfaction stems from his recent indifferent form with a current series average of 23. This certainly is inconvenient at the present time, but while the past six months have been disappointing please recall Clarke's previous stellar form averaging 65 from the 2009 until the end of the 2010 summer season. His batting is not to be doubted and the pertinent question is more will he ever prove himself worthy of being considered among the great batsmen.

The public's distaste for the heir apparent is really rather the result of Clarke's personal character which has been on unfortunate open exposition these past years. This has led to wide-spread debate about his capability for captaincy. Ignore the tabloid drivel about his relationship with Lara Bingle, that aspect of his personal life has nothing to do with us. Clarke has lost the golden hue of his younger years. He speaks more or less like a bogan, he acts in the manner of a slight prima donna or self-aware celebrity, and seems very boring as a person. I have doubts as to whether he is a particularly nice fellow. Yesterday morning I watched him shirk off some young autograph seekers while his team mates patiently penned all manner of accessories (not to mention Justin Langer who took the task up with a relish). To me this is always the sign of a poor character.


Clarke uses a Twitter account to make statements to the public. The reasons behind some celebrities doing this is beyond me as they divulge their private lives to all and sundry. Shane Warne and Liz Hurley made easy the work of tabloid journalists by venting over the network these past few days. Clarke's Twitter is a very dull affair and here are some extracts from it,
Watching the brake up.. Very funny show... Jennifer Aniston is hot..
Hot radox bath, candles on and a few of my fav tunes... Great recovery for the old body.. Thinking home made hamburgers for dinner..

Enjoy everyday of your life.. This is not a practice run..

It goes on in more or less the same vein with drab personal tripe, platitudes about cricket, and messages to his friends. Stand this in comparison with Graeme Swann's Twitter who more or less uses it for the correct reasons: to give information and be funny,
I commented on the amount of roadworks in Perth today to our taxi driver. His cryptic response? "it's cos they all smoke marijuana". Huh?!
The life that Vinny Chase lives in Entourage is remarkably similar to mine. In yesterdays episode he had a haircut. Last week, so did I. Wow

Monty and ajmal got very excited at the airport when some dude called Kano made an appearance. Turns out he's what the kids call a "rapper"

I googled
him, but turns out "rap" isn't my cup of tea. So I put shed seven on and pressed genius on my iPod instead.

For those interested, the genius playlist threw up charlatans,stone roses, inspiral carpets, soup dragons, mansun, oasis, longpigs, dodgy...

...and even a bit of Cast! So what's it all about, do you really wanna know? Sadly my young teammates are oblivious to any of these bands
All of you who enjoyed that playlist should make a pilgrimage to south nightclub in manc. Clint Boon is dj no less. Amazing indie disco

What is truly exciting about Clarke is his tactical acumen. It meant nothing in the course of the match but was a most thrilling sight yesterday when, with Ponting from the field, Clarke set a field to Finn consisting of the full complement of slips, including leg slip, with only a silly mid-on in front of the batsman. In his appearances in the role Clarke has revealed himself to be a dynamic, imaginative, and aggressive tactician in the mould of Mark Taylor. I truly look forward to the appointment of Michael Clarke. Whether it will come following the World Cup, or whether Ponting will linger, we shall have to await with patience.

CricInfo were kind enough to let me write a Fan Following report for the third day of the WACA Test which can be found here. I am awfully thrilled to have something published on the website and very grateful to them for the opportunity. Hopefully I can write more for them in the future. Gosh I feel chuffed.


In closure, Australia still have a way to go before they can think to win this series. England were appalling in the WACA Test. To lose the game after having Australia at 5 for 69, and then again after being none for 78, is disgraceful. They are the better team though. Who would have thought that Ian Bell was actually good? On the last southern Ashes tour Bell was the most spineless and useless player in the dreadful squad and now here he is looking wondrous. Despite squandering the game and pathetically collapsing in the final innings, England's professionalism was on display immediately following the match with the reserve bowlers again out on the pitch. After four days of seeing any number of cricketing celebrities, (including an unconfirmed sighting of Barry Richards), I did not spot Andy Flower apart from his arrival at the ground on the first day. I can only imagine then that he sits ensconsed behind screens and paperwork in some burrow masterminding what could be the greatest achievement of his career. It would be difficult to trump his courageous stand with Henry Olonga on the death of democracy in Zimbabwe though.

Boxing Day is going to be an utter treat. I hope dear readers that you are as riveted as I am for this is surely the most splendid of pleasures. Oh and on a final note I must share with you my favourite comment overheard at the test between two drear old wind bags sat in the members-
"That Watson is a lazy looking bugger isn't he?"
"Yeah. I bet you he has a collection of surf boards at home."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand

Journalists and newspapers around the country, (not to mention retired players of great repute), are exhibiting the puzzled workings of their brains over selection issues, especially the question of just what Nathan Hauritz has done to be so bitterly cast out into the cold. Could the truth indeed be so petty that the captain, after butting heads with Hauritz on the issue of lines in India, demanded his removal while simultaneously advancing the suit of young Doherty? Did Ponting place his nepotism over the interests of team and country? There is plenty of controversy we could mull over but as no doubt dear readers you are discussing this amongst yourselves already, there is little point in adding my dull thoughts to the cauldron. Trust to providence and however bizarre the workings of the Australian Cricket administration might seem let us hope that these four men, who have a vast experience in the sport and have made it their profession to oversee the selection of our team (thus devoting all their energies to the pursuit rather than their idle conversation at the pub as with you and me), shall bring us through these travails. My plea does smack of 21st century political apathy but I cannot believe that these gentlemen are making such odd decisions without some greater sense and purpose behind their actions.

The country is in turmoil though. Reading the latest censure this morning coming from Stuart MacGill, I was struck by some noticeably different comments of his I read not so long ago. This is not an isolated case. Back tracking and head scratching seems to be all the rage. As there is nothing we can do my friends apart from witness what is to occur let us be prepared. Perhaps we will witness Australia gather like the resplendant phoenix, a grand renewal ushering the last fruitful stage of Ponting's captaincy along with the foundations made for a new order. More likely though there lies disaster before us. Like the descending Titanic or the aghast Germans as the reperations of the Great War were heaped upon them, we will observe in helpless anguish as our nation crumbles and is humiliated. Take heart and courage for though it will be horrific, the experience will also be edifying and will cure us of some vices. Namely arrogance.

Let us leave Australia for now though. I would like to discuss this recent ascendancy of the English considering its permanence, and its place the post-war context of cricket in the country. 2 years ago the English cricket team was utterly, and very publicly, derailed. Having begun to recover from the southern Ashes humiliation with a promising summer against South Africa, for the second time the English cricket administration errored in promoting their spunkiest player to the captaincy rather than he who might be most suited to the role. In Pietersen's defence he seems to have been quite courageous on the field as a tactician and leader, however his well known willful, pervicacious, and prickly temperament seem to have savaged all off-field stability. To their merit the English cricket board rectified the dire situation with wholesale change. Pietersen was axed but to assuage his anger the affable but seemingly weak minded Peter Moores was shoved as well. Rather than make conservative retreat to the comparative but ultimately uncertain safety of Michael Vaughan, the correct decision was made to put the two most level headed and professional men in charge.

It was an oversight not to give Strauss the office a long time before as he is so cool and steady at the tiller. While I occasionally find some of his decisions to be lacking in verve, he is the perfect man to lead this English squad without an ego to trouble anyone elses. It is to Andy Flower that most of the plaudits seem to go though and with good reason. The focus and discipline which the revered gentleman has brought to the side is incredible. He has fostered unity in the squad and created a postive atmosphere in which his players feel free to express themselves. To hear even a buoyant Kevin Pietersen gushing like a child at Christmas about the joys of the dressing room brings home the fact that this is a very different English team to the one we are used to.


The recovery from the Pietersen/Moores catastrophe has been little short of remarkable. Certainly the start made in the Wisden Trophy tour of the West Indies was far from propitious. However the team regrouped in such assured fashion as to reclaim the Ashes a mere six months after their bedraggled nadir. The subsequent tour of South Africa was frustrating for several reasons but the remainder of 2010 has been a triumph for England. Their dominant performance in the Twenty 20 World Cup carried more integrity than was even possessed by the fledgeling competition and successful routs of Australia and Pakistan paid proof to the new professionalism of England. The Adelaide Test has been their most successful outing so far and the question now is whether this is the apogee of a flash in the pan, or the latest step in something seemingly impossible for England. Having convinced all these past fifty odd years of being the most frustrating team in the world to support, momentarily delighting fans with moments of great brilliance only to crumble into a disappointing slop, England appear to promise more now than they have in a long time. While it is slightly premature for such conjecture, I would like to countenance the idea of a great Strauss/Flower, and presumably, subsequent Cook era.

England have not been convincingly good at cricket since Peter May's tenure in the 1950's. I realise that to many cricket history seems unutterably dull as it is little more than a list of names, dates, and figures. Bear with me and I will try to relate some of the colour of this last great period of English cricket. Peter May was the final strand in the great line of gentleman English cricketers. Tall, handsome and charming, he was a superb strokesman of class and elegance, effortless in style and prodigious in the scoring of runs. May inherited the captaincy from the great Len Hutton and, despite the accolades, his tenure was certainly not without it's faults. As a leader he often lacked imagination and his record is marred by failure in later years, most noticeably in two Ashes trouncings. Despite this though for the way in which they carried and exerted themselves May's England were truly great.


The captain's adjunct was Colin Cowdrey, born on an Indian tea plantation and later to be the Baron of Tonbridge. Cowdrey's technique was perfect and he was a dominating and imposing batsman. Though at the height of his powers immediately following the war, Denis Compton, the English counterpart to Keith Miller, resurged as the side's effulgent all-rounder. Compton is known for his gallantry with a breathtaking and show-stealing charm far more forceful and loud than that of May. He was also a very good footballer and took both the league title and F.A. Cup with Arsenal. Godfrey Evans was the greatest keeper ever seen at that time and vies with Alan Knott for being England's finest player in the role. Further he invented the idea of the wicket-keeper batsman, especially as an entertainer. Less chronicled but no less significant in the side were the bowlers such as Jim Laker who took 19 wickets in a test, and Tony Lock the modest but sure spinner.


At this time colonial teams were flourishing. Pakistan made their debut and each nation sported truly formidable teams (apart from New Zealand). This was a great period of international cricket. The achievement of May's team was to stem this threat and for the final time stamp English dominance on this most wonderful of sports they invented. Though matters began to unravel after the disastrous Ashes tour of 1958/1959, May's side were victorious over every test nation, often in difficult circumstances. Since that time England have floundered. Some would point to Ray Illingworth's tenure of three years without defeat but really this was diligent and dour determination, more boring than convincing. Though great individuals have emerged and fantastic series have been won, England have never seemed a force of any consistency.

The sadder truth though has been that the English have lost interest in cricket. Though still nominally the nation's summer sport, it is jeered by the greater mass of the populace as a rarified waste of time for toffs and those would want to give themselves airs. Certainly it still has its very loyal and dedicated followers, but the country is in general interested in football and football only. It seems difficult to believe now that cricket was once played with the same avidity by London street urchins as the youthful economic elite of Harrow and Eton. To what extent the post-war decline of public interest in the sport is the cause or result of England's declining fortunes is not a matter we have time to discuss. What is evident though is that cricket lost touch with the English. The ploys of limited over cricket have been ephemeral in their success and it seems unlikely that the game will ever regain its place of affection in the modern nation's bosom.

What is interesting though is that England's latest success has been built upon recognition of the nation's multicultural identity. There have been jeers about having four South Africans in the team and an Irishman with his boot half in the door, but in truth this is a representation of how England now is. South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders have utilised the colonial heritage and resided in the capital to their economic advantage for decades so I feel it warranted that they play for the adopted nation. Indeed the initial precedent was set by no lesser personage than Ranjitsinhji in 1896. The colonies aside, I think it would be wonderful to see some of the other emigres make up the side. I feel certain that the Polish are not pulling their weight. All that can be done to foster such development should be, it is a matter of concern that the county system has introduced a new set of restrictions to curtail international involvement.

England the proud land of old order no longer is. The idea of a blue blooded English side is not merely impractical, it is hogwash. I have a collection of English verse which mythologises the subject and would like to quote from the anthologist, A.N. Wilson's preface,

England is no more... We stand in what appears to be a remote meadow land, and hear not the song bird, but the distant roar of motor traffic. We attend cathedral worship, and hear, not the words which have echoed in those stones since the reign of the first Elizabeth, but alien, jarring words, injurious to faith as well as repellent to the ear. We are of a generation that has never seen an old market town unmarred by thoughtless town planning, intrusive road signs, tactless functional building, and aggressive emendations to the doors and window frames of buildings which have stood since the time of George III. We have watched those characters familiar in fact as well as in nursery rhyme - the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker - replaced by out-of-town shopping malls, and supermarkets. We have seen corn exchanges turned into mosques and old parsonages made into the second homes of hedge-fund managers.

Less controversial, and more heartening than naturalised players, is the increase in recent years of native English players of different ethnic backgrounds. Monty Panesar, Ravi Bopara, and Ajmal Shahzad are but the newest stock in a tradition that goes back 50 years to Raman Subba Row.

This is incidental to the matter I really want to discuss though. That is are England now capable of being a dominant force, establishing an era and restoring dignity to their nation? For the present it is far too difficult to say. They still need to press forward their advantage over Australia into a victory but even if that proves to be the rout promised it will be of small international consequence with such a stricken foe (though certainly it will be of great consequence in terms of the Ashes). It will be England's performance over the next few years that will display the team's worth, particularly against the globally pre-eminent teams of India and South Africa. The World Cup in March will certainly be of interest, but of greater pertinence is the Indian tour of their country in August. England won't face South Africa again until 2012 but this would be the next great test. This is of course assuming that England swat Sri Lanka in June and New Zealand in the southern summer with the assurance one would expect from a dominant side. It does seem bizarre to speak of England in this manner but this does now seem a very palpable possibility and really it would only be healthy for the game. England will have to convincingly defeat all of the other test nations in the world before it may be granted to Strauss to have presided over an era as significant as Peter May.

My instinctual mistrust of England's sporting prowess still screams to me that this is all a flight of fancy and the team is certain to fall to failure soon. However I have written in this fashion all along and am being consistenly proved wrong. As our own nation collapses into ignominy then perhaps there is some small solace to be taken from the possibility of us standing on the verge of a historical epoch.