Ten years ago a bunch of spoilt brats bearing the name of the England under-19 team arrived in Australia. They brought with them sponsored kit, fat contracts and an air of self-satisfaction. Unfortunately they were not much good. Almost all of them had already played for counties. None of their Australian opponents had played first-class cricket. Only Damien Martyn was in his state squad. By rights it should have been a massacre.
England played dull cricket and the teams arrived in Perth for the last "Test" with the series deadlocked. The tourists batted first on a fast, fair pitch and were skittled for 71. Australia secured a big lead and though it rallied, England were beaten in two days. Ten minutes later, the hosts sat quietly in their dressing room and were astonished to hear their opponents singing in the showers.
"We looked at each other and shook our heads," one of the Australians later recalled."We didn't want to be like that."
Despite attempts to improve cricketing culture in England, the game still tolerates second-rate attitudes. Every year youngsters arrive to play for clubs in Melbourne and Sydney. Flattered by contracts with desperate and overfunded counties, they have ideas above their cricketing station. Most fall flat on their faces. Many do not train and practise properly, sink to the lower grades and imagine it is someone else's fault. Some omit to pay their bills and thank their hosts. Astonishingly, their employers fail to call them to account. Most of them are a waste of time, money and space.
England has plenty of committed youngsters. There is nothing wrong with this or any other generation. They were not spoilt at birth. Rather they have been allowed to squander their gifts and do not realise there is any other way till, too late, they arrive in Australia or Africa. Everyone complains about Mr. Williams but his daughters can play tennis and fight and they look happy enough.
Even current England players were given too much license in their younger days. John Crawley and Andrew Flintoff arrived for overseas tours with bulging stomachs, suggesting that beer and curry had been on the menu. Owais Shah used to fool around in the field for Middlesex, amusing himself with his boon companion, Jamie Hewitt. Their immaturity held them back yet remained unchecked, though as fine a man as Angus Fraser was a team-mate. Presumably, Ian Blackwell is no longer quite so fond of chips, though his footwork remains sluggish.
English cricket is full of nonsense. Not long ago a private school was nominated as a "school of excellence" though it has not produced a cricketer in 25 years and its coaches are incompetent. More recently an academy coach complained that the professionals were hogging the nets yet rejected the suggestion that his charges rise earlier to start at 7 a.m. Abysmal thinking is hurting the game in England. No wonder committees keep hiring foreign captains and cricket directors. Attitude is everything.
Now England's latest under-19 team has returned for another tour Down Under. Apparently, these boys are being paid umpteen thousand dollars apiece for this experience. Their opponents are given thirty dollars a day, like it or lump it. Of course, most of these tourists have been signed by counties and are well-paid in the northern summer. If the English cricket authorities have any sense they will stop spoiling these juveniles and start reducing staffs, including all those fellows running around with files, and pay only genuine cricketers and give the remaining funds to youngsters in Zimbabwe unable to feed themselves, let alone afford such luxuries as gloves and bats.
Perhaps, this new lot is different. Time will tell. The first "Test" was a ripper and, by all accounts, England showed some gumption. Certainly the captain, a fine batsman of Asian extraction, has some ability. Indeed, he scored a century and was man of the match. Doubtless, he has been properly raised. His name slips from mind. Youthful deeds and reputations are not worth tuppence and little notice should be taken of them. The deeds of boots amongst boys are of minor interest. It is merely an apprenticeship.
A generation of English cricketers have fallen between the promise and the deed. Those songs in the showers tell the tale. The miracle is that Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan found their way through, though it took both longer than necessary. Pushed along by foreign coaches, this latest crop of teenagers might mature but English cricket will not improve till locals dare to be demanding.