Tuesday, 18 December 2012

England's cricketing triumph: a tale of two characters

So England's cricketers triumphed in India. After a really dreadful year of losses, political intriguing, fallings-out and retirements (including of their captain), they managed to finish the year on a high.

Now, I'm not much of a cricket commentator. I'll leave that to others - though, strangely, the most-read blog I've ever penned was on just this subject, way back in September 2011, at the moment when England's Test team officially became the best in the world. Now, that didn't last - after a horrible away series against Pakistan and a miserable home series against South Africa, the new top dogs.

But what did happen was that England didn't then panic. They held true to some of the mechanisms I praised in the autumn of 2011. What were they again? Preparation; planning; uncovering unlikely heroes; unity; ambition; ruthlessness; strength in depth.

After a truly disastrous outing in Ahmedabad, when they were pumelled by nine wickets, they decided to be ruthless again. To rediscover their core strengths. Their resilience. To pick their best team - including two spinners - and to go back to the basics of picking the best eleven for the day. Stuart Broad, ill and out of form? Sorry, but you're out. Tim Bresnan, willing to give everything but still suffering from the repercussions of a shoulder operation? So are you. It was tough: but it worked. And a new set of young players, emerged as well - Joe Root, Nick Compton - to round the picture off.

But at the heart of this monumental triumph (England haven't won a series in India since 1984/85), I offer you another lesson: a tale of two men.

One of them is quiet, and quite softly spoken; doesn't feel the pressure; doesn't even sweat in the extreme heat. He seems like a nice young man, really: dogged, a bit diffident, not particularly outspoken, a matter-of-fact, straightforward, sometimes abashed sort of person. Alastair Cook (above), England's relatively new captain, might be accused of being just a bit boring, sometimes, were he not one of the most successful batsmen of all time at such a young age.

The other man was also vital to England's eventual demolition of the Indians. A ridiculous, smile-you-can't-help-it, talent-fuelled, adrenaline-charged, absurd, breathtaking innings at Mumbai poked the Indians in the eye over and over again, leaving them reeling away from a showman par excellence. Kevin Pietersen - well, what can one say? Loud, abrasive, difficult, by turns heroic and annoying, self-assured, even swaggering, full of misjudgements and makeups. A more completely different character to Cook could not be imagined, let alone picked out.

They are two utterly, utterly different men. But that's one lesson for team-builders everywhere: yoked together, they were unstoppable.

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