English cricket: running scared

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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The England cricket authorities would like to make it clear that any humiliation suffered in the forthcoming World Cup matches will be due to the players having been ‘rattled’, not by Australia’s bowlers, but by a hoax threatening letter from an apparently non-existent outfit called the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe. To paraphrase Sir Henry Newbolt’s invocation of the English fighting spirit on both cricket and battle fields: ‘Give up! Give up! And play the blame game!’

But don’t be too hard on the players. After all, by getting their excuses for failure in early, the cricket team are only following in the finest traditions of British sport. Perhaps those few who could still care less about English cricket should start dashing off spooky letters to Shane Warne and Co, signed from the Sons and Daughters of Surrey.

The will-they-won’t-they farce over England’s match in Zimbabwe says rather less about the well-documented problems of that blighted African state than it does about the British state of mind. From Tony Blair’s Government through to the England and Wales Cricket Board and beyond, reactions have been marked by an exaggerated fear of risk, by moral cowardice and a reluctance to take responsibility, all given disguised topspin by a lot of ethical posturing.

Let’s not pretend that the England team’s reluctance to play in Zimbabwe has anything to do with political or moral objections to Robert Mugabe’s regime. They were happy enough to tour Zimbabwe less than 18 months ago. Just a month back, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, made clear that his players had nothing to say on the broader issues.

Late in the day, they have balked at going over fears for their personal security, despite the likelihood that they will be just about the safest people in Zimbabwe. That is their business. But dressing it up as something nobler is about as credible as if Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp were to claim that his fear of flying is really an environmental protest against air pollution.

As one African paper retorted when New Zealand refused to play their match in Kenya over fears of terrorist attacks, perhaps those who insist on playing only in entirely safe venues should boycott Lord’s, where bin Laden might just ‘poison their soup’, and instead consider staging their World Cup matches ‘on the Moon’.

Back home it seems that everybody has been keen to strike moral poses while passing the buck on a decision. The presence of the saintly figures of Bob Geldof and Clare Short in the pro-boycott camp make clear that this is supposed to be a clear-cut issue of Good v Evil. That theatrical pantomime version of international politics bears little relation to the less flattering realities of the West’s role in Africa.

But then, campaigns for sporting boycotts have never had much to do with changing things for the better in the real world. These futile gestures are more about making the campaigners feel righteous. Maybe, as some imply, it really was the refusal of England to play cricket or rugby against South Africa for a few years, under the guidance of the Rev Peter Hain and his fellow evangelicals, which helped to bowl out the apartheid system. Then again, perhaps it was the small matter of those decades of sacrifice and struggle by millions of black South Africans.

I shall probably boycott the entire cricket tournament in Africa, on the basis that a contest that half-a-dozen countries take seriously has no right to call itself the World Cup. Meanwhile, back in the world of proper sports this week, England are due to play Australia at football, the one game where we might still expect to beat them. Should the Aussies score first, however, we demand that the England team walk off the pitch, in protest at the historic mistreatment of the Aboriginal peoples.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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