It is Day Two of the first test match of the summer; already, England have found a way to massively disappoint. They won the toss and elected to bat, on what was a windy, overcast day; it was as if Root had decided to bat first if he could the week before and no acts of God were going change his determination. Hearing this on the radio yesterday morning, my immediate thought was “They’ll be 100-5 sometime shortly after lunch”. I was being a tad cynical: England only ended up 100-4.
They were all out for 184 long before the day was through. It followed a script we’re all used to, with the whole thing hinging as always on the exact same variables. The top order collapsed, other than Cook who made an impressive 70. However, Root fell for single figures. As usual, England supporters hoped the middle-order would bail the side out. It did the best it could but couldn’t deliver. Pakistan are currently 136-3 and looking strong.
This makes me think ahead to the football World Cup. Predicting how England will likely do, sadly, isn’t tricky. They’ll fail to top the group at the expense of Belgium, face Poland in the last 16 and go out after a 0-0 draw on penalties in that match. Or they’ll somehow limp to the quarter finals, where they will be utterly destroyed by the Germans. This is a best case scenario, by the way – if England failed to get out of the group, that would not surprise me in the least.
I don’t mind so much that England is experiencing a dark patch in terms of sporting excellence (or rather, I sort of do, but there’s little that can be done about it), it’s more that I wish teams representing England didn’t always fail in such predictable ways. This isn’t in any way a recent phenomenon, as slightly older readers out there can attest to. I recall distinctly being in a pub to watch the England v Portugal quarter-final World Cup match in 2006. As soon as the match was over and before the penalties began, my friends and I planned out our escape root and coordinated exactly where we would stand when England missed the last penalty and it was all over. None of us really thought seriously about England winning; that is just not the done thing, and therefore it was better to prepare to get out of there before it all got ugly.
Part of me wants to believe that now that England no longer have Rooney playing effectively at left back half the match, digging the ball out from around his own goal and then carrying it down the wing, only to then realise he’s the lone striker and there’s no one to pass to (England’s vaunted 5-5-0 formation of the past few years), we’ll at least be less predictable. But I know I’m fooling myself. Just I like I now consider a scenario in which England’s cricket team can get some early wickets after lunch, go into their second innings with Pakistan barely leading and then wack 500 runs out by close of play tomorrow, I know in my heart of hearts that Pakistan will almost certainly bat out the day and win by an innings sometime tomorrow. It’s just the way it is.