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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Thursday January 08 2009

In my Samizdata piece yesterday, I pretty much ignored the ruckus going on in the England cricket set-up just now, preferring to focus on the latest Australia v South Africa game.  I said why I thought that to be a significant game in terms of the big picture of test cricket as a whole.  Now I will explain why I consider the recent burst of English quarrelling to be rather insignificant.

Cricket is a team game, but not in the sense that most team games are team games.  In most team games, teams play as a team, doing things together second by second, passing the ball from one to another, for instance.  A scratch team of footballers is a hopeless mess compared to the same team a few months later, once they’ve got know each other properly, sensing just where to put that magic pass and sensing just where that magic pass will go.  Cricket, by comparison, is a team game only in the sense that individuals take it in turns to do individual things for their team.  When the batter bats, he’s as alone as any singles tennis player.  Ditto the bowler when he bowls.  The rest is pretty much psycho-babble (spirit in dressing room, plan to win, etc.), in other words not complete nonsense, but far less important than what each individual does, and is capable of doing.  The trick for winning cricket matches is very simple.  Have good players!  Have better players than the players against you!  And just as soon as you’ve got the best players showing up to play, they are able to start playing winning cricket, even if the different guys in a team can hardly stand the sight of one another and have no idea what the other guys will do next.

When Surrey won a string of county championships in the 1950s, which I am just about old enough to remember, all kinds of rumours used to circulate about the rows they used to have off the field, and sometimes on it.  It mattered not.  They were the best players.  May, Barrington, Laker, Lock, Loader, the Bedsers.  Let them hate provided that they play.  It may even be that a bit of quarrelling is good, because it gets the juices flowing.

A commenter on my Samizdata piece said that he was glad England had got this rowing out of the way now and that it hadn’t erupted a fortnight before the Ashes began.  In truth, had it happened then, it would not have mattered that much, so long as the best England team showed up on the first day of the series, with someone captaining them semi-capably to say who bowls and where the fielders should all be standing.  So long as each individual, individually, then tries his hardest, and as a result a decent proportion of them consequently give of their considerable best, England will be in with a good chance, against these Aussies.  If the Aussies turn out next summer to be less good players than their predecessors, as now looks likely, then them getting along with one another splendidly won’t help them much, if at all.

On the other hand, were England to lose the services of Kevin Pietersen for the Ashes series next summer, which has not happened so far as I can tell, that would be truly serious.  He’s one of the world’s better batsmen just now, and England have far too few of those just now to be doing without one such.  Pietersen will still want to make a stack of runs for England, perhaps even more now than before all this ruckus.  And exactly the same will apply to the rest of them, whatever they think of one another.

If, on the other hand, the rowing got to the point where some of their best players didn’t want to play for England any more (as happened at Yorkshire under Boycott), that would be serious.