Death in an Afternoon

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Although it was only the third morning of a five day Test match, Australia were in no mood to drag out the affair and decided that thecoup de grace should be delivered with due dispatch, batting as if it was Carnival, as well as Jane McGrath Day.

Perhaps Darren Lehmann had been reading Ernest Hemmingway: “The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which he cannot depend on to charge…”

Bullfighting is a foul activity, a dehumanising one in its selfish, barbaric cruelty, but who could argue that Hemingway’s words point to the root of the condition of the England cricket team on the final day of the 2013/14 Ashes series.

Not a single person at the ground or anywhere in the world watching or listening could disagree that the England bull was not to be depended upon to charge. Such was their total mental paralysis and capitulation.

Motivation and de-motivation are opaque concepts, but a theory favoured by Third Man is that they arise from the sub-conscious.  They are some direct expression of truth, or of a true state of mind.

What spectators and viewers have seen is a traumatic stress reaction to domination and powerlessness.  No means of fighting back. No succour in their own camp.

Michael Vaughan, almost alone within the paid world of cricketainment, has lifted the veil and has writing, “You can see the team are completely scared to death of Andy.”

This climate of fear has eventually produced a collective psychosis.  England communicated in the only way open to them: subconsciously they struck: bat down, ball tossed, catch dropped.

Players have been selected and pushed into the fray who were not fit and not adequately prepared, often technically, sometimes psychologically, for the task. In one case very great damage may have been done to a particularly vulnerable person.

This has coincided with the rise in video, Hawk Eye and statistical analysis that makes such difficulties even greater vulnerabilities.

Lehmann has praised his players for their ability to ‘read’ the game, respond, change, adapt and execute more appropriate strategies. Like Churchill hiding the existence of his code-breakers, and the Enigma machine, Lehmann may have been coy about the extent of the preparations that his team has been put through.

This has probably been one of the most evidence-based series in the history of the game. Yet it is only a beginning.

England will have tried to do something similar, so what has gone wrong? Why couldn’t they execute their plans? To borrow the wisdom of that great cricket coach, Miranda Hart , ‘England is all structure and no fun. Australia is fun within a structure’. The Australian side has license to get it wrong … once .. even twice … before Lehmann gets upset.  He wants cricketers who learn, not ones who never err.

From England’s camp the players and staff can be heard whispering to themselves, “My responsibility to get myself fit, my responsibility to sort out this techinical issue, my responsibility to see this physical problem, my responsibility to see the psychological frailty in that player. Best keep quiet.”

This is the culture that has to change.

+ In case it needs saying, the above ph0tograph of Graeme Swan, on his haunches, calls to mind an image of the tormented torro moments before the coup de grace.

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