Alex Massie

51 All Out

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Apologies for the radio silence. I'm still struggling to comes to terms with England's Jamaican debacle. Matters were scarcely improved by an ill-considered trip to Murrayfield yesterday. Back to the drawing board then.

Still, while there was a certain grimness to Scotland's sluggish performance against Wales, at least it didn't plumb the depths of England's cricketing fiasco against the West Indies. When the tourists stumbled to 15/3 I suggested, jokingly, that they might lose by an innings. But I didn't actually expect them to go ahead and do it. Right now the Ashes look as though they will be contested by two pretty mediocre sides (though Australia should, alas, still and rightly be favoured.)

All sports are on good terms with humiliation, of course, but there's an extra-special comic quality to cricketing collapses that makes them much more galling, yet engrossing, than calamitous mishaps in rugby or football or other sports. It's the sense one gets of a virus being passed from one batsman to his successor who proves equally susceptible. Of course, for England fans it's also just like old times and there must have been many who secretly rather hoped that England's humiliation would be completed by the side registering its lowest score in 130 odd years of test cricket. It's cheering too that the very best players are not immune to the sort of collapse familiar to anyone who's played prep school or village cricket.

Yet all this does the West Indies a dis-service. They played with spirit, skill and intelligence. Of the England players, only Andrew Flintoff and Stuart Broad can be happy with their performance (though Matt Prior's first innings knock was, one hopes, a harbinger of good times to come). Most of the post-match recrimination has focused on the batting and one assumes that Owais Shah will replace Ian Bell (even though I don't think many people consider Shah a long-term solution). Frankly, however, Alaister Cook and Paul Collingwood can consider themselves fortunate to retain their places too. If the batting is one, and preferably two batsman short of top-class, then the bowling is just as much a concern: Steve Harmison looked uninterested and could barely muster any speed, while Monty Panesar was comprehensively outbowled by the previously unheralded Sulieman Benn. But who to bring in? Jimmy Anderson has taken 27 test wickets outside England at an average of 51. If the ball won't swing in Antigua then it's hard to see what Anderson brings. So will England risk playing two spinners?

Who knows? What's becoming clear, however, is that far from having just one or two more pieces to fit in before the Ashes England actually only have two or three in place. And that too, mind you, is part of the problem: the arrogant assumption that the West Indies were there to serve as a kind of tune-up before the main event. That characteristically English mindset has receved the response it deserved and been exposed as the rankest form of presumption. In that respect, England deserve all they've got so far on this tour. Hubris, after all, is paired with folly. On the other hand, let's also hope that this series marks the rebirth of caribbean cricket. That's rather more important to the sport than questions concerning Ian Bell's place in the England side. So, in that sense, for once cricket really was the winner this weekend.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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