England ended 2011 the number one test nation on the planet. And the only goal entering 2012 was quite simple: win everything.
So far, they have won: nothing.
Outdone by spin in the UAE for three matches against Pakistan, and again in Sri Lanka in the first test last week.
This was the same England that obliterated India and Sri Lanka last summer, the same England that retained the Ashes in Australia just a little over a year ago, the same England that won six straight test series, the same England that had not lost a test series since 2009.
And it just goes to prove once more that modern cricket teams, no matter how high their quality, cannot compete at the same levels in unfamiliar conditions.
This is not a new problem in cricket, winning in a different hemisphere has never been easy, but it does seem like more and more an issue facing teams.
And, personally, I think it is one of cricket’s biggest problems: having home teams wipe the floor with all visitors makes for boring sport. Even diehard Australian supporters were surely hoping India would at least look like they were interested in making one match worth watching.
The potential causes: the IPL, the Twenty20 format, Indian cricketers not playing county cricket, just an overall decline in the quality of the athletes ( that last one is not necessarily permanent – I think football is going through something similar), or maybe simply all of the above.
Or maybe just simply that these athletes are being forced into too much cricket; and thus the overall quality of the game is being downgraded. The inability of teams to win in unfamiliar conditions is a symptom of a larger disease: too much bloody cricket.
I have talked over and over again about how there is quite simply too much cricket, and that all parties are to blame: the ICC, the national boards, the players, and yes, the fans. Especially the fans. Everyone needs to step back and take a good hard look in the mirror: do we really need to have non-stop cricket?
There was a period last week when there was a match happening somewhere for like 36 straight hours or something crazy. Twitterers loved it, myself included. Putting the kettle on, following match after match, ball after ball. But goodness is no one thinking of the players?
Which brings me to last week’s match between South Africa and India. The just plain gross one-off Twenty20 that no one could really explain. The epitome of the problem of too much cricket. And to the fans credit, there was outcry from cricket supporters near and far: this match crossed the line.
But where were those fans during the Asia Cup? Or any other of the countless meaningless matches that take place every week? We cannot just act indignant at matches like the Twenty20 last week, we need to turn off all meaningless cricket; let the ICC know that we want quality over quantity.
Bottom line: England is losing in the sub-continent because South Africa played India in Johannesburg. And the fans are partially to blame.
(Also, as a side note, one of cricket’s blackest of black eyes is spot-fixing: and meaningless matches just absolute scream out to gamblers that they are ripe for spot-fixing. I have preached this before, I will preach it again.)
I am not a fan of the NFL, but they take care of their players, and for the time being, they seem to value quality over quantity. That is quite seriously a model that the cricket world should look at.
I know I am being a broken record here, that I write about this all the time, but it is really something all cricket fans need to start thinking about.
Update: here is a lovely write up from The Sight Screen on the “why” behind the South Africa-India T20.