The End of the Beginning

After years of humiliation at the hands of Australia, the dark, cold days of the English winter of 2010-11 were the best of times for followers of the England side, but, for all their pride at the collective triumph of their team, the feelings of the players would have differed according to their individual circumstances. 

With the year and the series closing, my own thoughts turned to those of Paul Collingwood and Stuart Broad.

While England’s success in Australia hasn’t been especially surprising, the same can’t be said of the way in which it has been achieved.  Leaving aside Perth as an exception which proves the rule (that England are the better team), Adelaide and Melbourne have seen England dismantle and humiliate Australia in ways that would have been completely implausible just a few short years ago.

They have been assisted by Australia’s timidity and confusion, both on the field and in the selection rooms, where there are deluded people who think that Steve Smith is a Test match number six batsman, or that Ryan Harris is a number eight, or that Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer are better cricketers than Nathan Hauritz.  This was a team which used to set the standards for the whole world.  At times these past few weeks they have been a shambles.

And, as Andrew Strauss made certain to acknowledge in his post-victory interviews, much of England’s achievement can be attributed to that satisfyingly familiar cliche, the ‘team effort’, to which everybody contributed.  This is broadly true, but some players contributed more than others.

Paul Collingwood has many virtues, but these cannot obscure the fact that he is the only one of England’s specialist batsmen who has failed even to make a single half-century, and much of the time he has batted with the elegance and sure footedness of an inebriated man trying to walk across an ice rink.  Not that you ever went to him for elegance – just resolution, unquenchable spirit and the best damn catching ever seen in an England shirt – but this must have been one of the last great days he will ever know in England whites.

Today has been a clammy, foggy day in the English Midlands and Stuart Broad’s thoughts will, of course, have strayed far from his Nottingham home.  Unlike Collingwood, though, he will have further opportunities to be part of triumphs such as this, for the England team forged by Strauss and Flower will have many more days like these before they’re done.

Two contrasting players.  One old, one young.  One in Australia, one at home.  One at the beginning of the end, the other at the end of the beginning.

Now that the MCG cheers have faded, a penny for their thoughts tonight.

Different Shades of Green, 29th December 2010