It didn’t take long after Friday’s Australia Day debacle at the Adelaide Oval for the question to be raised again: is this the worst English cricket side ever to visit these shores?
The usual former Pommie stars were quoted, repeating that they believed less talented sides had been here, but had managed to achieve more (which must cut members of those sides – knowing they are still considered less skilful than this lot!).
It should be noted that the one-day side includes a whole brace of new players who weren’t responsible for the Ashes disappointment, but seem to be even worse than those who have now departed. Lordy! Then again, there are enough of the same players (Strauss, Bell, Flintoff, Collingwood) to justify the summer-wide criticism.
But I think the wrong question is being asked. The judgement on this English side doesn’t need to be: “Worst team ever”. It can already be: “Worst–performed English team ever” or, my favourite: “Most mentally-fragile English team ever.”
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This seems to be the key point. Forget talent, or on-side or off-side shot-making, or ability to move the ball in the air or land it consistently to pressure a batsman. All of these things are largely irrelevant because this English side can’t do them when it matters.
Very few of the English stood up when it mattered (as in, when the Ashes series was still alive, pre-dead rubbers in the last two Tests), and Australia Day’s nadir, which was possibly even worse than the Poms’ fourth innings capitulation in that city’s Test match, if you can believe that, only showed yet again that this mob doesn’t have what it takes up top.
I recognise the difference between mental illness and clinical depression, and not handling sporting pressure. That’s why I don’t want to bring Marcus Trescothick’s pre-Ashes departure into this. But during the series, fast bowler Steve Harmison admitted he was desperately homesick and couldn’t wait to leave Australia and the touring party appeared to lurch along.
How hard can it be to travel the world, playing cricket? It ain’t exactly “down pit”, in the dead of an English winter. And the players’ families can travel with them. Not many of the touring professionals at the tennis seemed to struggle with playing sport on the road.
On the field, the same lack of mental toughness has been shown again and again in this English side. When somebody has needed to stand up and simply bat with conviction, knees have trembled.
Worst side ever? Maybe. Softest side ever? Yeah.