Team England has a strong sense of identity. It has been built that way by Andy Flower and by Duncan Fletcher before him.
The expience of the last year and especially of the last 38 excruciating days begs the question as to whether this identity is not just the wrong one, but whether the construction of any such strong group identity can itself be the worst kind of organisation for nurturing the best kind of cricket.
Each year a thousand flowers bloom on the cricket grounds of England. Too few survive the long season of their potential. And too often the best are ground into the dust.
The Gang operating in Cricket England for at least twenty years has been free (and even encouraged) to act this way by weak and ill-judged leadership at the very top of the game.
The booty that the Gang delivered for its community, even though this retrospectively for a fairly short period, further reduced the oversight and intervention of that leadership and gave the gang masters further scope to strengthen their grip.
The continuing power of gangs and cliques rests upon an artificial definition of the group’s culture (Right Stuff) and makes the culture inflexible in the face of change and impenetrable to new or non-compliant talent.
The pretensions of Gang England, like the Jets and Sharks of West Side Story (and therefore the weakness of those charged with oversight and leadership) has been cruelly exposed in the last five weeks since the second day at Brisbane.
The England Cricket Team and Wags Christmas Party 2013
Here are some details of the consequences. Readers may wish to add to these:
A leadership that has given unprecedented power to the manager/coach.
A coach whose management style is hierarchical who, unchallenged and unquestioned, has produced a compliant clique or gang culture.
A comfortable, secure, unchallenged ‘in crowd’ and a reduced view of the ‘outside’ talent pool resulting from this clique affirming perspective.
An off-field support team/system that indoctrinates and cossets the ‘chosen’ insiders while excluding, rejecting and distancing outsiders.
An inexperienced and compliant captain who has aided by omission rather than challenged this culture.
Ineffective deputies in virtually all roles on and off the field, preserving the power structure.
Inflexible tactics unable to respond to change.
A string of specific selection issues stemming from this cultural malaise:
Only one spinner that the captain/management trusted but who the regime failed to see was unfit, following surgery.
One talented young spinner recklessly exposed to psychologically damage last summer.
One batsman with psychological issues (known) that the regime believed could be ‘managed’.
One young batsman with technical issues limiting ability to play up the order, exposed to this pressure by the return home of the player above.
One new and untried opening batsman with the Gang’s interpretation of ‘right stuff’ but with technical issues whose flare has been extinguished.
One tried and tested opening batsman with the ‘wrong stuff’ left at home.
Only one full-time wicket keeper (insider) with serious and evident issues over batting form.
Second (deputy) non-Test standard ‘keeper with serious issues batting against pace and bounce.
One fast bowler with serious form/technical issues (copying with law change).
Two untried, untested fast bowlers.
A major batting asset who consciously and unconsciously is a challenge to the regime’s style and whose true potential is being wasted.
What to do? It has taken 20 years to produce the present culture of Team England. Reform and renewal is a slow process, but as in West Side Story, the prime problem is not Riff, but Lieutenant Schrank. It’s City Hall. It’s the Mayor.