Any English person with a love of cricket knows life has its ups and downs. But until now we have had no need to feel truly ashamed. The decision by England to scrap a mini-tour of Pakistan feels like one of those watershed moments from which any reputation for fair play will never recover. The men’s tour would have been four or five days at most, to play a couple of T20s. It’s hardly a trek across the Antarctic.
And this against Pakistan, a country which, more than any, needs international cricket at home. And a country which bailed England out last year, when Britain was in the grip of Covid, by playing a series of Test matches that did so much to keep the game alive. Now we can’t be bothered to honour an agreement to pay a brief visit there. It is a disgrace.
Quite how this happened is not that easy to disentangle. The journalist Peter Oborne has no doubt it was ECB chairman Ian Watmore, and savaged ‘invisible Ian’ ferociously on Sky News. Certainly the ECB statement waffled vaguely about ‘player wellbeing and mental health’, suggested security might be an issue (it wasn’t) and ducked behind a hint that Covid bubbles might be the reason.
Come off it. It’s only a few days, and the Pakistanis were here for months in a bubble, and not in the Mandarin Oriental either. ‘Wellbeing and mental health’ matter hugely of course, and will probably crop up again in discussions about the forthcoming Ashes. Is it so different from what some used to call ‘homesickness’ at school, though admittedly without the extra hazard of a 90mph Pat Cummins bouncer heading for your throat?
Is it player power? Nothing wrong with players being better treated, but they too must balance their own interests with the wider cricket community. Key players — Joe Root, Jos Buttler — have young children and it is understandable that they are wary of touring without their families. The question will be to balance the economics of TV with sensible scheduling amid a surfeit of franchise cricket. If the players are already rich, their voices are loud.
But the failure of leadership off the field in English cricket is appalling. Ashley Giles is the managing director, with a duty to safeguard its position in regard to the worldwide game, to the community of nations who play cricket, and to the fans. In each of which he appears to have failed miserably over the betrayal of Pakistan. The Pakistani players came over here last year in the belief that England would tour. They are entitled to feel considerably betrayed.
What a pity that world cricket is being run on the playground principle that the bullies get what they want and the rest have to lump it. The withdrawal from the Pakistan tour has all the hallmarks of a wealthy nation treating one of the less well-off members of cricket’s international community with disdain. There is a great opportunity for the game to expand and prosper, but this needs generosity and co-operation. Above all, English cricket needs proper leadership.
So the Ryder Cup ended in a monumental thrashing for Europe, which is just what the tournament needed. And it was reassuring to see Rory McIlroy blubbing like a small kid who’s been separated from his mum in a large crowd, reminding the rest of us that even a wildly successful sportsman can be just like the rest of us: if they cut themselves, they bleed.
And with a bit of luck we’ll be spared any more guff about a ‘wonderful Wisconsin welcome’, as the US fans booed the Europeans and cheered their missed putts. There’s a difference between partisanship and loutishness and this resembled a QAnon convention. God knows what Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson would have made of it.