To anyone who looks on at England in this World Cup and is appalled at what they see, I can only look on and be appalled.
Abject. Inept. Shameful. Disgraceful. No, I’m not having it. It would be a terrible injustice to this bunch of cricketers who have produced one of the finest spells in English cricket over the last nine months. Bob Willis ought to take his mortar board off.
The players are exhausted. Not so much in body, but in mind. You can see it in Graeme Swann’s tetchy strop against Bangladesh, James Anderson’s hazy eyes and the ever-present perspiration on the captain’s face.
What has gone is the stunning consistency and intensity of focus that was the foundation of their success in the 2010 World Twenty20, against Pakistan last summer and in the Ashes. They are now playing in fits and starts.
They have been on the road since last October (excluding four nights back home). It isn’t just the cricket. Between Australia and the subcontinent they have had to adapt to new time zones, new hotels, new diets, new climates; in short to a new environment and culture. This is touring. I have an Italian friend who finds it strange that she feels so tired since moving to London from Italy last year. Adaptation fatigue.
It is no good saying they are well-paid professionals who should be up to this. There are limits.
To think some complained when Andrew Strauss and Anderson took off the tour to Bangladesh last year! Michael Vaughan, in his cautionary tale Time to Declare, warns of the strains placed upon an England captain. “I felt like a zombie inside,” he says. One fears for Strauss in particular, but as my colleague pointed out yesterday, the whole team is in danger of living dead.
I feel sorry for these cricketers. If they lose tomorrow they will come home as failures, another bunch who messed up in the World Cup, sunk by the anchor of historic flops. There was no Ashes homecoming. We were rushed on to a draining one-day series, which mattered because of its proximity to the World Cup. Pictures of Strauss holding the urn when he finally landed in this country were incongruous. The moment had gone.
Neither has England’s World Cup been a write-off. To have been the equal of India’s batting was a notable achievement. Strauss played one of the best one-day innings by an England player. The bowling to beat South Africa was superb. They could still win tomorrow, win the whole thing.
But if they don’t beat West Indies there will be no shame for this team.
In the future we may look back on the scorecards and cast this World Cup into the bag of Neil Smiths, reverse-sweeps and all that. But we would do well to remember the context of England’s outstanding achievements and the relentless demands of their schedule. These players might feel like zombies, but they are human.
Benj Moorehead is editorial assistant of The Wisden Cricketer