Cricket: Time to Face It England - You Are Not Worthy ; THE ASHES SERIES the Difference Was Not Just an Imbalance in Talent, but in Sheer Intensity and Spirit
Lawton, James, The Independent (London, England)
THAT ANDREW CADDICK gave up the Ashes with a no-ball, after a brief but mesmerisingly beautiful exhibition of flawless batting from Damien Martyn and Mark Waugh, was a parable not from the cricket bible Wisden but the real thing. Judgement had come down written on large stones, all of which had been used to batter the head of English cricket.
England, as currently constituted, had no place in the temple of the game represented by the historic rivalry and were duly thrown out.
Their challenge to a superbly gifted, and spirited, Australian team was always a fiction and the concern now must not be the scale of defeat, which has been as profound as anyone could have predicted even as Steve Waugh's tourists were dismantling England's confidence limb by limb in a catastrophically hapless one-day campaign, but the meaning of it.
What it means is that we no longer have an authentic rivalry with our oldest cricket enemy. We have an open-ended source of rebuke, a recurring statement of inferiority - it stretches over seven series of English futility now - that will never be silenced by the ramshackled, crisis-hopping parody of a system which is geared not for the radical transformation required but the preservation of individual roles within the game.
In a sporting culture more atuned to the realities of world- class competition David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, would have already been asked to submit his resignation. Not because Graveney is personally responsible for the decline of England's position in competition with Australian - that is a much longer story - but simply because his selection policy this summer has been little more than a series of speculative lunges crowned by the farcical confusion which accompanied the choosing of the latest team on the eve of the potentially decisive third Test.
Usman Afzaal was brought in as "street-fighter" for the Tests because the Australians in the one-day games had "worked out" Owais Shah, a player previously nominated for his talent and his competitive character - some talent, some character if it was judged too fragile to survive fleeting individual failure in a huge collective disaster, and what was the depth of that original assessment, and the calculation that Afzaal would deal with the pressures of the first Test of an Ashes series? At Edgbaston he resembled a plucky, hyperactive rabbit caught in the headlights. Dominic Cork and Craig White were asked to deliver again that which had plainly gone missing.
After Saturday's debacle, during which White was not asked to bowl, an Australian journalist could only shake his head when he was told by England coach Duncan Fletcher that Robert Croft had been chosen on the strength of his consistent record against Australia rather than the match-winning break-out of Phil Tufnell in what now seems like another lifetime, and his potential batting contribution. Here, Croft scored three runs and bowled three overs, and though he claimed the currently devalued wicket of Ricky Ponting his mere presence at this point was still another strain on logic.
But these are the details of what amounts to a collapse of a way of sporting life. Judged on a wider sweep, the problem of English cricket remains pretty much that of football until the Football Association had the nerve to admit it needed outside help and appointed the sophisticated, consummate professional Sven Goran Eriksson. Cricket, to be fair, has edged in that direction with the appointment of the Australian Rod Marsh as head of the new academy, the need for which was dramatically confirmed here when, at last, some of Alex Tudor's vast potential was drawn out. English football, like English cricket now, was always too ready to draw a veil over the direst of failure. Almost unbelievably, when you consider the workaday reactions of the rest of the sporting world, Glenn Hoddle and Kevin Keegan were allowed to continue as national coaches even after the most grotesque of failures in, respectively, the World Cup and the European Championship. …