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In touching distance of a shovel and spade
by Sreelata Yellamrazu
Jan 19, 2007
There are three teams in the competition. But there is only one team that appears hopelessly fractured. Even the ‘stick fast’ glue has failed to hold it together. The worse part is the corners are threatening to fall apart. With the World Cup only a matter of time, England is shaping up to be perhaps the most hapless team of the tournament.

England enjoyed the first half-century opening partnership for the first time on the long tour to Australia. If that does not sound tragic enough, do not know what is! But that is not nearly the end of the story. If the batting suffered what has now become the usual debilitating collapse, England bowlers showed sparks of life that was both reviving and refreshing for cricket lovers everywhere. But England would not be treated to success. Australia still gate-crashed the party and showed England the boot and perhaps, even the door.

Would Andrew Flintoff be forced to shed a few tears again in what now must seem a forlorn country for England? When he hangs up his boots (which is still a far bit away), Flintoff will consider this as one of the grimmest phases of his entire cricketing career. England’'s talisman has been tested to the hilt. The exhilaration of victory he will have long forgotten.

One may well ask why, when Flintoff was the chief protagonist of the victory against New Zealand in the last game England played in the tri series in Australia. But what is important to notice here that England’'s equations have faltered as have Flintoff'’s been shuffled like a deck of cards.

Andrew Flintoff will wonder as much about his own personal graph since embarking on the current edition of the Ashes. It has been well documented by now that the England Cricket Board has relied more on supercilious superstition rather than cricketing logic in appointing Flintoff as captain. Andrew Strauss had done no harm to his brief stint as skipper. But it was natural that England would revert to the larger-than-life icon that is Flintoff.

Dubbed an overweight, overestimated ungainly lad upon his entry into international cricket, many mocked his comparison with Ian Botham. But he transformed into an attractive cricketer in an all-rounder'’s role for England. After the debacle of the Ashes, a whitewash unimagined in eighty-five years, the England Cricket Board was more than relieved to bring back Michael Vaughan, another leading charm for England cricket, in the restored position of skipper.

The untimely blow of Kevin Pieterson'’s injury was not distressing enough for England’'s cause. As if destiny had an unsettled date with England, the dressing room was only beginning to warm up to the homecoming of the famed skipper, when Vaughan has yet again been waylaid by injury. Before England could say no more shocks, please, the captains had changed guards once again. Ironically, Flintoff was just coming off having enjoyed an unrestrained rein as he batted gloriously to seek out victory in England’s first face off against New Zealand.

Cometh the captaincy, cometh the long face and sorrowful hues. That is how Flintoff must feel as he failed to get going in Brisbane and could only watch his team melt away into oblivion and sheer despair. James Anderson and Jon Lewis nearly did what Glen McGrath and Stuart Clark set out to do. But for England’'s lost cause, there was no Mike Hussey or Nathan Bracken to push matters forward. The incidental factor was that both teams played out almost the identical number of overs (Australia played three more than England’s near thirty-nine) to get the same number of runs (155), and yet one had a little bit more steam to prevail upon a downtrodden one.

Where is England going? You may ask. It is hard to tell but no difficult to predict. The biggest malaise about England’s thinking in the last decade or so has been the penchant to reach for the quick-fix band aid at the first hint of trouble. This, of course, is not a clue of a storm brewing. This is a full blown typhoon that is threatening to throw England off and knock them off their feet.

The stop gap approaches have been a dime a dozen. Their lack of any concrete planning keeping the future in mind is not only mind boggling but also, sloppy. While no offence is directed towards Paul Nixon and Mal Loye, they are not exactly the typical exuberant youth and future of cricket in England. Both players have made their debuts in the early stages of this series at the tender age of thirty-six.

While age should not be a barrier to genuine talent, there has to be a limit to which England must halt their itch to big in the overcooked men for piece-meal affairs and look to make a more palatable, long running recipe themselves. To Loye’s credit, his brief innings of thirty-six runs at a run a ball. If anything, it looked to give England the much need facelift.

But Nixon'’s case is symptomatic of England’'s rather aged thinking that is growing increasingly weary. It was literally a toss up between Chris Read and Geraint Jones that decided that the former would traverse the journey to the present Ashes. It is obvious to all and sundry that their decision is hardly emphatic and far from convincing. Nixon will, in all probability, be another player who without being popularly dubbed ‘bits-and-pieces player’ but will be one of the blink-and-you-miss short lived players to ever have played for England.

England could well surprise everyone else by making a comeback in route and reputation. But most indications suggest otherwise. It would be safe to say England looks far more average and scathingly unremarkable than it did from the last year and more so than it has over the last couple of decades. Their tryst with destiny seems frighteningly bizarre like the Doomsday Clock. It’s ticking, for sure!

 
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