Crying for England

I found myself writing yet another pseudo-intellectual piece on masculinity in cricket, when I thought I should take a step back. Maybe it’s the approaching dawn, or the awfully saccharine John Mayer song playing in the background on repeat, but this blog has missed some personal, out-and-out emotion of late, and that won’t do. I’m Indian, after all, and this is a cricket blog: a little irrationality should be expected.

Well, I’ve been reading up on England’s performance against New Zealand, and it’s so tragic. Andrew Miller’s cynical piece in Cricinfo gives some insight into the length of England’s fall, but I don’t think Miller has come to terms with it himself. He’s clearly bitter, whereas I’m just increasingly resigned and even happily nostalgic. The past has its place, and the present has something else. Deal.

But it’s like a Greek tragedy with these English players; we saw their triumph now nearly three years ago, and since then, the decline has been steady, inexorable and seemingly irreversible. At the end of his piece, Miller brilliantly quotes a delusional Pietersen, who optimistically thinks of doing an Adelaide on the Kiwis, as if that would finally banish the ghost that has haunted English cricket for so long. Do you think Pietersen stays up at night, soaking his bed?

Don’t answer that. I’m not sure I want to know anything about Pietersen’s bed just yet. Still, I can’t helped be moved by this English team. I don’t mean moved as in “inspired,” I just mean emotionally touched (yes, yes, cue the violin strings and shut up). Steve Harmison is forever an enigma, bowling whatever he sees fit, and always looking to the heavens for relief with that languid face of his, as if he’s serving a divine punishment only he knows about.

Oh, and Pietersen! Can it be that he made his debut only three years ago in 2005? Was this the same person who famously reverse-swept Muralitharan in 2006? Crawling to a 42 before lamely getting out, Pietersen seems to think that being mature comes before being good, or even yourself. The demons don’t exist, Kevin; you were just “mentally disintegrated”! Now come on, lad, where’s that famous South African arrogance? Just hit the ball before your average dips below 50, please!

I feel most sorry though for Michael Vaughan, who must chafe at the fates that have made him reconstruct not one great English team, but two. Without Flintoff or Jones or Trescothick, Vaughan carries the fight on knees that look increasingly wobbly. That’s not to say that the rest of the team is not talented or has a fatal flaw: Alistair Cook cuts the part of the English cricketer almost too well, and Ryan Sidebottom just gets what he’s supposed to do. But for some reason, this team just can’t win, and that 5-0 takes most of the blame.

I’ve been thinking a lot about memories lately, and how quickly they can turn your mood. The minute I think about a happy past moment with friends, I immediately become cranky and alone that it’s all in the past, and I worry that the present can’t match it. Nostalgia bleeds into disappointment, and happiness runs along quickly. But a vacated mind is a useless one, and the English cricketer’s is chock full at the moment. Just watch them play and you can almost see them muttering, as Pietersen did, “Adelaide, Adelaide, Adelaide,” under their breath. The contrast with India could not be more stark: the young Indian players are unburdened and fresh, not having participated in World Cup 2007. It’s a joy to hold, their cockiness and first steps. But England, that’s another story: the old country seems forever old, and no matter how young its new players be, it cannot shake off an underlying sense of guilt, shame, and humiliation. And, like I said, it’s enough for a sob or two.

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