Tuesday, 17 December 2013
The Ashes: sometimes, the day just goes against you
England's cricketers have relinquished the Ashes as quickly as they could. Old enemies Australia (above) are cock-a-hoop, and they're rightly ecstatic that their long losing streak has finally come to an end. A proud and patriotic people, deeply invested in their sports and teams, getting kicked around the cricketing world was just no fun at all.
Now an inquest will start. It'll have to, because England have been beaten so badly, and so quickly, that nothing else will do. Already the dread words 'deep-seated', 'malaise', 'domestic game' and the like are being bandied around. Suddenly tinkering with the county game is the problem. Or the tedious go-slowism of England's conservative and non-attacking top batsmen. Funnily enough, no-one was saying any of that six months ago.
Regular readers will know that Public Policy and the Past is sceptical about these sorts of explanations. It's difficult to tell where structure ends and agency begins, of course, but in a game like cricket - which is all in the mind of the players, and all in the momentum of any game or series - we're all in favour of agency here.
Remember that, even this time, Australia had a really bad first day in this series. When a visibly nervous Mitchell Johnson came in to bat during the First Test in Brisbane, they were tottering at just 132-6. A few whacks later, and the next day's fateful leg-slide flick by Jonathan Trott that got him among the wickets, and things looked utterly different. The Australians looked like they didn't know what to think until they got some breaks - like the three tosses they won to bat first three times in a row. Had England taken their catches on day one of Adelaide's Second Test, the result might have looked pretty different there too. The visitors wouldn't have spent all those punishing hours in the field. They wouldn't have started to pine for the dark evenings and Christmas lights of home - or just about anywhere that wasn't full of jeering opponents. England got some tough breaks, as well as coming up against some tough opponents.
Don't take it that PPP is saying that it was all about luck rather than judgement. This debacle had probably been coming for a long time, especially since Australia did so well in coming back into last summer's Ashes following their humiliation at Lord's. The signs have been there for a long time - if people have wanted to see them. But the humiliation, the burn-out, the grind-your-faces-into-the-dust level of defeat? That's probably down to the sequencing as much as any so-called 'underlying' causes. Oh, and the individual misjudgements of batsmen who were subject to a slow-motion landslide that needed a few pebbles, somewhere - almost anywhere - to get it going.
You know what? Sometimes it's just a bad day. Or fifteen.