Expect the unexpected: cricket edition

In times of great upheaval and uncertainty, it is often the small things in life that become the most important, their simple and consistent pleasures giving us the strength to face the day and carry on despite our hardships.

Unfortunately, English cricket is neither a simple nor a consistent pleasure.

Despite recent Test series victories and a steady climb in the world rankings, the England Test team haven’t been overly consistent of late. In fact, they still lie one place behind Pakistan in the rankings at no 4.

Not too long ago they were losing to the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Then they were losing the last Test of virtually every series they played. Then they were thoroughly beaten in the UAE by the Pakistan side that begin their tour proper of England  this week.

And the inconsistency hasn’t exactly been banished since then.

Joe Root’s performance at no 3 has the potential to be the deciding factor in this series.

While the scoreline in the recent series against Sri Lanka paints a very flattering appearance, the reality gives a different picture. Against a distinctly average Sri Lankan outfit, England were 83-5 on the first morning of the tour.

There are deep questions over their top order batting strength. Admittedly Alex Hales seems to have progressed nicely into his role as opener, although his failure to convert steady contributions into match-winning centuries is a slight concern. But the issues for England’s batting are now most pressing in the three spots that follow him.

Joe Root’s performance at no 3 has the potential to be the deciding factor in this series. For the past two years he has been England’s star batter, their most dependable player. His short time at no 3 earlier in his career does not backup this reputation. There is no doubt that he is physically capable of taking on the role – how often has his technique been made to stand facing the new ball from no 4 after an early flurry of wickets? His technique is not the issue.

For England’s sake, let us hope that his mental strength is up to the test of batting at first drop. There is no reason to think it wouldn’t be; he is now one of England’s most senior players, a settled vice captain, a role model, and someone who has dealt with and learned from scuffles with opponents. Did somebody say David Warner?

Then comes the middle order. James Vince failed to make a single contribution during his five innings against Sri Lanka, and given Pakistan’s superior quality bowling attack he will have to find the county form that earned him his call-up sooner rather than later to avoid becoming the under pressure batter in the England lineup.

Mohammad Amir’s skills with the swinging ball have the potential to be deadly in English conditions.

Speaking of county form, let’s hope Gary Ballance doesn’t find his. Despite an average that only climbed to the not-so-heady heights of the mid 30s thanks to an unbeaten century in the County Championship recently, Ballance has – ludicrously – earned himself a recall. It will be interesting, if nothing else, to see how his largely unchanged technique stands up to the test of Pakistan’s pace bowlers. It is hard to believe they will have been quaking in their boots after hearing of his call-up.

It will be fascinating to see how England fit Ben Stokes back into the side once he is fit to bowl again. There are a number of possibilities available – dropping a batsman, harshly replacing Woakes, leaving out the spin option of Ali (and potentially replacing this with a combination of Root and Borthwick) – who knows which one will take the fancy of England’s selectors. Perhaps the only certainty is that there will be a further degree of change to the England side in the coming weeks.

And what of Pakistan’s side?

They come to England a strong team, and a stronger one for the presence of Mohammad Amir. Undoubtedly the senior faces of the team will rally round the quick bowler, and his skills with a swinging ball have the potential to be deadly in English conditions.

But despite their strength, they have fragilities of their own. Many of their batsman have poor records in English conditions. Their own middle order has problems, not least the fact that Misbah-ul-Haq, their 42 (yes, 42) year old stalwart, isn’t exactly as fresh as he was at the start of his career.

Given the relative inexperience of their batting lineup in English conditions, the starting of the series at Lord’s will be a veritable blessing for them. Add on to that the fact that England’s chief destroyer from the Sri Lanka series and no 1 ranked bowler in the world, James Anderson, is missing from the lineup, and Pakistan’s chances start to look a lot better than many people are giving them credit for. Especially when England’s bowling lineup will be completed by a debutant and the recently unreliable Steven Finn.

Make no mistake, England will be challenged by Pakistan. Really challenged. In a series that starts surrounded by unknowns and uncertainties, the only thing to be expected is the unexpected.

 

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On my journey to the hospital

I walk down
the stairs of the
double decker, stopped
by a body in front of mine.

The bus stops, the doors open, the bodies move forward.

“Thank you very much, have a nice day,” says the body to the other body behind the glass screen.

“Thanks,” I say,
my legs carrying my body off the bus.

On the dangers of patriotism, with reference to the referendum

It is five years from now. Economic growth has slowed, prices have risen, wages have fallen. The economic and political climate is unstable. Racism and xenophobia continue to rise. Life is bad.

But at least now we live in Great Britain, ever since we took back control. Control of our identity, control of making Britain great British again. A Great Britain that is about being British. British values. Values of Britishness. The British people. The patriotic British people, who have pride in their country and their heritage and their people. Because pride, after all, is a good old British value.

Yes, life is bad. But we don’t mind. At least we have our patriotism.

You head home from working eight straight hours without a break. It’s hard, but you don’t mind too much – you need the money to cover the petrol costs of the commute, even though you carpool. The buses haven’t run for months, now. Unfortunately, you’re only 23 so you’re not entitled to the gloriously generous National Living Wage. Otherwise life would be a breeze.

The referendum debate was dominated by ideas and ideals of nationality, identity, patriotism

There’s just enough time to pop into the bank before heading home. Your financial situation had a bit of a complication when the last branch moved out of your local area. For some reason a lot of the people who worked there have moved to Dublin now.

On your way to the bank, you see a dirty foreigner being verbally abused in the street. At least, that’s what you would have thought was happening a few years ago, but now that we’ve done away with political correctness the abusers aren’t really doing anything wrong. They’re entitled to their opinions, anyway. The foreigner doesn’t say anything about it. Stiff upper lip and all. The few non-Britons who are left are finally learning our values.

You turn off your windscreen wipers as you pull into a parking space next to a “Nissan” car, whatever one of those is, and you tut loudly at the car opposite that’s taking up two spaces. Isn’t Britain great. You have to wait half an hour to see anybody, but at least everybody waiting knows how to queue properly. But how couldn’t they, after all. They’ve got British values running through their British blood.

The default nature of patriotism is extremely dangerous

The city centre is starting to get a bit rundown since EU funding for projects was withdrawn. On your way back home, you switch on the radio. Your local BBC station was shut down after the Tories cut funding for it. White noise. You consult the depths of your knowledge archives for the best British value to mitigate the situation. Ah, got it. You apologise to the other people in the car.  They say it’s fine, really. You feel good about yourself, your country. You are a Great Briton, and proud to be one. You live in a great country, and you are happy to do so.

/

The referendum debate – and, indeed, increasingly politics in general in this country – was dominated by ideas and ideals of nationality, identity, patriotism. The narrative was created, and created successfully, by the Leave side that they were patriotic optimists, sticking up for Britain and everything that made our country great in the first place.

They invoked ideas of duty and betrayal, of past greatness and future return, of pride and patriotism. People listened.

But why should they have? Regardless of which option was “patriotic”, why should we be patriotic?

please do not use ideas of pride and duty to further ideas of racism and xenophobia

This, increasingly, is not a country that I am proud of. I don’t think I do “vigorously support” my country. Of course, there are aspects of it that I love and that I am proud of, but in its current state and undertaking its current endeavours I cannot call myself a patriot.

In fact, I think the default nature of patriotism – the fact that national pride is something we should all feel, something that unites us, and something that those who don’t feel it should be shunned and stigmatised as traitors for – is extremely dangerous.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with being proud of your country, but when this pride is a default or an expectation or a feeling that comes from a position of assumed superiority, then it moves precariously towards being frightening.

I am perfectly happy for people to belt out the national anthem while waving St George’s crosses or Union flags. Please do queue properly and apologise needlessly. No, really, do, I love it. But please do not use ideas of pride and duty to further ideas of racism and xenophobia. Patriotism easily becomes nationalism. And that only leads us towards a dark, scary road that I thought the world would never travel down again.

the calls for change and the desires for political revolution must be answered more positively

However, it seems to me as if this road is currently under construction.

Of course the referendum was not singly about immigration, but it would be a lie to deny that it wasn’t the main issue for most of the public. And the public attitude appears to be becoming more and more intolerant. Hate crimes rose 500% last week. Across the continent, and, indeed, the world, the xenophobic far right are making ground. The current economic and political instability, coupled with the public’s disenfranchisement and (rightful) mistrust, will do nothing to help this.

But this is a situation we have been in before. And this time the calls for change and the desires for political revolution must be answered more positively.

Hopefully, in true British style, the roadworks will do very little. Hopefully we will choose a different journey.

But if we don’t, then I dread to think what this country will become. There will be chaos. And that definitely isn’t very British, is it?