From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.25 :: Jun. 24, 2010
The Australians delight in calling us “whinging Poms” and I have to confess that they are right. For once. I prefer to think of us as “grumbling Great Britons” but why split hairs. At the moment we are in the middle of a summer of discontent that is almost unprecedented.
British sportsmen seem to have found more reasons every day to curse our luck and the inefficiency of others and in particular our friends, without, very often, any good reason.
Take, for instance, the minor run of bad luck and unorthodox judgement that has overtaken the English footballers now in South Africa for the World Cup.
When Fabio Capello, their manager, who has had an unequalled record wherever he has been and guided England deftly into the finals, left the Arsenal youngster Theo Walcott out of the squad there was grumbling everywhere, even though Walcott had a poor season for his club.
Here is a 21-year-old who still needs time to learn his trade and who has done nothing to demand a place during two trial games. He looks like a colt in a classic horse race, going very fast but going nowhere special. Let's hope he is tomorrow's man.
When the gangling veteran centre half Rio Ferdinand hurt his knee the wave of protest could not have been louder if he had done it deliberately.
So far Grumblers United 2, Contented Souls 0.
We were also being asked, day after day, what benefit England might accrue from the presence of David Beckham. He is too injured to play, he is not to coach, according to Capello, and finally he had to be sent to spy on the Americans, England's first opponents, as much to quieten the grumblers as to teach Capello anything new about a side from the World Cup basement.
Guess what? It has certainly not reduced the tongue power of the grumblers now at the height of their pessimism.
My suspicion is that Capello wanted to have Beckham on hand because the two of them see football in the same light. They are both old-fashioned, calculating, thinking soccer men. Originally Capello hoped Beckham might control the final stages of a game for him from a substitute's place deep in the midfield; now that Beckham cannot take part Capello wants his brain nearby just in case things go badly wrong.
Our cricketers could hardly have had a better start to the season. They won the T20 World Cup handsomely. I have never seen an England one-day side play with more confidence than they did in the final against Australia.
Their next opponents were Bangladesh who, if they have any purpose in Test cricket, are ideal cannon fodder for a team setting out — like England — on a tough 12 months culminating in an Ashes series in Australia.
Andrew Strauss and his merry men — yes, an England team with a smile on its collective face — destroyed Bangladesh, the cricket equivalent of the American soccer team, with such concentrated fury that I could hardly believe they were the same team that has struggled to put away Zimbabwe in recent years.
They even managed to win without the Michael Vaughan-Ashley Giles think tank or any of the four destroyers from the 2005 Ashes miracle — Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff — and found youngsters who might fill their roles one day.
What's to grumble about? Give me a minute while I try to remember all the ways fans and critics complained about selection, the batsmen, the bowlers — although not, for once, the fielding which was astonishing — the tactics and the captaincy.
There were too many foreign-born players, not enough reserve bowlers, Strauss could not possibly play in the one-day matches, the wicket-keeper Matt Prior was not making enough runs, England should always play five bowlers.
Spectators were under fire for not attending matches without any thought that they might be suffering in the economic downturn or using their good judgement to watch the newly popular high definition television instead.
Heavens, it has been a good time for the grumblers — at a time of record success by British stars.
There are one group of workers whose grumbles I understand.
The support staff of the England and Wales Cricket Board have been told they can no longer put cooked breakfasts on their expenses when they are staying in hotels.
Instead of bacon, sausage and eggs they must be content with rolls, cereals and a cup of tea. It is nothing to do with the expense — cooked breakfasts often come free even at the poshest hotels — but rather a way of ensuring all the apparently indispensable staff stay fit and healthy and do not set the players a bad example.
Umpires have been given the same instruction and believe me they really know how to grumble. It will not be long before the sound of complaint reaches all the way back to Lord's from a couple of the umpires who have, as the Italians put it, a reputation for “using a heavy fork.”
So if you hear a deep-throated chuckle any time this summer look towards the heavens.
It will probably come from the late, great umpire David Shepherd who made sure he had the stamina for a long day in the field — and the energy to stand on one leg when his superstitions about 111 kicked in — by ensuring he had a large breakfast.
If someone had tried to take his bacon and eggs away, they would have had a very severe lesson in why Great Britons can be great grumblers.
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