During the World Cup (remember that?), Virat Kohli, the very model of a modern major cricketer, appealed to Indian fans not to boo the returned Australian players. It would be nice to think that Joe Root might call for something similar over the next few days from the increasingly egregious English supporters. Current boo-boy tactics haven’t worked particularly well so far. Part of the problem has been the sanctification of Edgbaston as if it was the cricketing equivalent of Notre Dame. Now the sight of a lot of pissed-up Brummies dressed as parrots and chanting ‘Championes, championes…’ seems to be England’s contribution to the summer game. Besides anything else, the swing into cricket of practically mind-dead football chanting is just depressing, no?
So squads of current and former English players smiling wryly and talking of ‘Fortress Edgbaston’ on the eve of the first Ashes Test seems to have had the opposite effect of that intended. This Edgbaston Test was momentous; but it was Steve Smith’s Test in all senses of the word. It was an extraordinary achievement by the disgraced former skipper, returning for his first Test in nearly a year and a half. He has emerged as an outstanding Test batsman — in his concentration and commitment, and the very seriousness with which he takes the game, steering his team from 122 for eight in the first innings to a thumping victory over England. He is now one of the all-time greats, the successor to Victor Trumper, Don Bradman and Steve Waugh. We should be celebrating the fact that we are able to watch such a master in action.
Smith’s treatment by Test Match Special, for sure a fine national institution, was bizarre. Rather than a serious assessment of his remarkable abilities, with the occasional lapidary phrase as we might have been treated to by John Arlott or Trevor Bailey, there was some inconsequential drivel cued by social media about how to get rid of him, as if he was an infectious disease. Stand at short leg and tell jokes or feed him a ‘dodgy breakfast’ was the solution. Honestly, what rubbish. Social media has a great deal to answer for.
On the final morning of the game, an epic period with England trying to save an historic Test match (and Jason Roy quite possibly his career), TMS seemed to want to discuss some long-forgotten game at Trent Bridge. Arlott called cricket ‘the great triviality’ but he understood its importance. He venerated the game, and could bring it to life. Momentarily it seemed our broadcasters were unable to find the language to recognise and describe this great encounter.
For sure Smith had clearly gone slightly bonkers at the beginning of last year, stuck in a win-at-all-costs culture when he allowed his team to take sandpaper on to the pitch in South Africa. He should also have coughed immediately, and he shouldn’t perhaps have wept so copiously on TV. But since then he has shown extreme contrition; he has served his time. And let us not forget that great and not-so-great players have since prelapsarian times been fiddling with the ball.
Any true English cricket lover has to acknowledge that Smith is a great hero; he has achieved something which all of us who admire the game should find incredibly moving. He has also, almost on his own, set up what could be a truly momentous Ashes series. As for England? Well this is tricky, especially without James Anderson and short of a spinner. But, as we have been banging on about for some time, why not recall Ben Foakes, a first-rate keeper and a very good batsman especially in the lower order where he has marshalled many a fightback for Surrey. And give poor Moeen Ali a break. He looks done in.
And stop the booing.