How South Africa Still Holds The Key To England's Cricket Future

The Ashes were a mess and where we go now is anyone's guess. Much of what happens is in the lap of two men not even from the UK...
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The Ashes were a mess and where we go now is anyone's guess. Much of what happens is in the lap of two men not even from the UK...

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I suppose it’s something of a post-colonial irony that the short-term future of English cricket now turns on the fissured relationship between two Southern Africans. Clearly, for the sake of England’s eager pursuit of the ICC Mace through the amorphous months and years of a climax-free Test calendar, if not the entire nation’s spiritual wellbeing, ‘Limpopogate’ needs to be resolved. Post haste.

It’s not entirely clear how a standoff that geopolitical analysts are calling ‘The Fairly Nippy War’ has escalated to the point of Bob Willis proffering his much sought-out and life-affirming pronouncements on the matter, though Andy Flower banging his shoe into the lectern at the UN and stealthily maneuvering several bowling machines to within striking distance of Pietersen’s Kensington pad may have escalated matters. However, using the unimpeachable no-smoke-without-fire logic of the professional gossip, there must be something in the shit-stirring sections of the British press-gang reporting “It’s me or KP” and “My way or highway” ultimata (I say ultimater) as having issuing from Flower’s frankly frightening beak.

Me or KP is not some sort of rutting corporate stand-off between crisp behemoths, either, as though Flower stood for the Walkers (which, ironically, would put Stuart Broad in KP’s faction), for fairness and the Spirit of Cricket. No, it isn’t that. It’s definitely about the cricket, not crisps. So, how can it be resolved, all this business?

The obvious solution would be to book them into a hotel suite with a couple of grams of MDMA powder, then simply sit back until one or the other was giving their erstwhile nemesis a head massage while both swayed gently and rhythmically in a state of cosmic, rapturous bliss to some soul-inflected deep house whose abstract and mellifluous soundscapes seem to crystallize the entire mystery of existence and make our inevitable shared destiny as human beings – death – somehow acceptable, yet without recourse to those self-deludingly superstitious narratives that seem highly implausible in the face of scientific evidence but still release all sorts of semi-addictive hormones in the noggin. But the ECB won’t take the easy option. Oh no.

They could get Dennis Rodman in to mediate. The former Chicago Bulls point guard is currently crooning ‘Happy Birthday’ to portly, Pyongyang-based pariah, Kim Jong-Un, while himself moving serenely from NBA character to Nobel Peace laureate via Celebrity Big Brother.

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Or they could put it to a vote, a Sky Sports News vox pop. “Which do you prefer: (a) a self-promoting, socially gauche swashbuckler who makes you gasp at the audacity of his strokeplay all the while you kvetch when he falls tragicomically short of those standards, in a perverse yet Romantic microcosm of your own indefatigable striving for the sublime, or (b) the terse, earnest, regime-building robocoach who may well have taken his eye off the ball, like some Masterchef contestant who only had time to pop to Lidl, but who you know is capable of taking the proverbial puppies to the vets if he has to?” (There may well be a third way, like hugging it out, but, whatever happens, it needs to be sorted, if only for the sake of making pitiful articles such as this superfluous.)

Yet there are also more important matters to consider, like global warming the increasing disparity between rich and poorthe senseless annihilation of species to support a billion-strong population (who own our arses) and its medical quirks the general direction of the England cricket team and the throbbing question du jour: England: where now? (The cricket, I mean. The nation’s more or less shafted, of course.)

Flower clearly has important strategic matters to take care of, like who the eff is going to treat the great bowlers of the age like clubby trundlers when the mood takes him (no, the answer is not Nick Compton, likeable and handsome and well-surnamed as he may be), thus emboldening the whole dressing room?

Or: who is going to be given Test cap #666?

Word on the street is that Adrian Shankar, yet to formally give up the ghost on his international ambitions, will be invited to play in the first Test of the summer’s five-match India series, in which he’ll be allowed to score 20 runs in each innings – felicitously, some seven runs higher than his first-class average (excepting a 143 against Oxford) at the point Worcestershire handed him a two-year deal in 2011. These are just rumours, mind.

While the world has recently tried to absorb the extraordinary lessons of Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy, Team England – if you believe the Daily Mail (which I tend to do, particularly on the subject of the economic underclass sundering the otherwise fine-and-dandy economy through their welfare-bludging indolence) – is undergoing some painful post-textgate reintegration disintegration issues that require Madiba-like magnanimity in order to navigate its belligerents toward frolicking, no-you’re-the-best-no-you-are rapprochement.

What’s wrong with playing to type once more and turning to Southern Africa for inspiration?