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December 2008
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Lawrence Booth: No right answer for England

December 10th, 2008 by Lawrence Booth in England, England in India

Three years ago a group of cricket journalists were invited to The Oval to help the Surrey team with their pre-season media training. One exercise involved asking the players topical questions and then giving them feedback on their answers. The aim, beyond honing a few clichés, was to improve relations between the cricketers and the reporters, but Mark Ramprakash was bemused when told by the News of the World correspondent that what he considered “a very reasonable and balanced answer” might have provoked the headline “RAMPRAKASH SLAGS OFF WORCESTER”.

I was reminded of Ramprakash’s subsequent lament – “whatever you say, the press can do what they want with it” – by reactions to the various post-Mumbai decisions taken by England’s cricketers. Because for every columnist praising their behaviour, there has been another questioning it. Journalistic objectivity is an elusive notion at the best of times. It is even more so when we try to become psychologists. How elusive? Well, try these interpretations on for size…

Event 1: England agree to return to India

Interpretation A: This is, as Kevin Pietersen says, a gesture of “shoulder-to-shoulder” solidarity with the Indian team at a time when a troubled nation needs all the support it can get. England’s cricketers are visionaries, implicitly urging other nations to tour the subcontinent and striking a blow for east-west relations. In short, they are heroes.

Interpretation B: England ummed and aahed for ages until Reg Dickason’s security report finally spelled out the truth that Chennai, though very wet indeed, is safe. Even then, they needed to agonise for a further two hours before the squad agreed to embark on what will be one of the most heavily guarded trips in cricket history. In short, England’s cricketers, with their insistence on protection from India’s Rapid Action Force, are a product of their risk-averse times.

Event 2: Andrew Flintoff sings the praises of team unity

Interpretation A: Flintoff’s contention that “one of the reasons I decided to go was for my team-mates” is a glowing endorsement of England’s team spirit and a sign of the increasing maturity of our sportsmen. After all, seven years ago Andy Caddick and Robert Croft pulled out of the tour to India in the aftermath of 9/11. This time, and without pressure from their bosses, England’s cricketers have embraced the bigger picture.

Interpretation B: Flintoff and his mate Steve Harmison could not afford to miss out on the opportunity to impress in the home of the Indian Premier League. A fortnight’s window in the IPL remains open to England’s players in the spring and runs and wickets in Chennai and – fingers crossed – Mohali could catch the franchise owners’ eyes. Would such unity have been on display in, say, Pakistan?

Event 3: England give half their match fee to the victims of the Mumbai atrocities

Interpretation A: An impressive gesture from a side which has come to understand its responsibilities to the outside world.

Interpretation B: An impressive gesture from a side which is being encouraged by its paymasters to do everything possible to keep Lalit Modi on side.

This is not intended as a rights-and-wrongs analysis of what has happened. But as a pastiche of views expressed in one place or another over the past few days, it is a reminder of what provoked Ramprakash’s world-weariness back in 2005: it’s all very well making a decision – just be prepared to see it dissected to within an inch of its life. Sometimes, this hack really can feel the players’ pain.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian. His third book, Cricket, Lovely Cricket? An Addict’s Guide to the World’s Most Exasperating Game is out now published by Yellow Jersey

Posted in England, England in India | 3 Comments »

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