England’s Exciting New Era Takes Off in Mannofield Park

The phoney war is finally over. After five months of soul-searching, regrouping and meticulous planning for the future, the most ruthless cull in sporting history is over. The big cheeses at headquarters have made some brave, tough calls. You can’t buy that kind of integrity. That’s why they are paid the big bucks. The final pieces are now in place and the rebuilding process is complete. We all knew the ECB would be turning to youth, but when Paul Downton’s new model army assembled at Loughborough earlier this week, no one could have guessed just how bold the changes would be.

After two days of repeated drills and PowerPoint presentations designed to instil in the lads a desire to express themselves with freedom and spontaneity, Cook’s cadets crossed the Antonine Wall on their perilous march north to face the fierce and terrifying forces of the formidable Scots. With these English saps untested after a succession of humiliating defeats for their disgraced predecessors, the battle-scarred Scots had but one thought in their heads – to send the Sassenachs homeward tae think again.

The English were adopting a high-risk strategy, blooding their young tyros against a band of campaign veterans. The coach and his team of greenhorns had everything to lose in the clash. They did not know the terrain, were far from home, and faced the worst weather since the New Orleans Zephyrs played through Hurricane Katrina. These were conditions that suited the semi-aquatic Scots but were wholly alien to the sun-bleached boys brought up on the hard, dry wickets of an English early summer. But England could never claim to be moving forward unless they could win against the very best, so this match was a necessary but gutsy addition to the schedule.

Of most concern to the top brass, nervously pacing the war room at Lords, was how far the supply lines would stretch with only four Waitrose stores in the whole of Scotland. Most worrying of all, would the young captain, Alastair Cook, in the heat of battle with 10 rookies depending on him, remember to endorse the magnificent fruit available in the food halls of the commercial partner?

Peter Moores has returned to the England fold, after years in the wilderness, to lead his team of fresh-faced charges in the country’s hour of need. A grateful nation thanks you, sir. Command can be a lonely place for a maverick leader like Moores, but not when you have a courageous captain of Cook’s calibre standing four square beside you. The callow Cook, new to command himself, with barely more experience than his brigade of boys, showed himself to be a natural leader and tactical genius. His young colts, plucked from the academies and fringes of county cricket, may have been unknown to us before yesterday’s match, but after their fight to hell and back, you will feel you’ve known them all your life.

Batting first on a wicket under four inches of water, runs were hard to come by for the captain as he struggled to move his feet in the clinging mud. His young lieutenant, Ian Bell, displaying the confidence of youth, went aerial, keeping the ball away from the rising waters with a series of audacious and brilliant sixes. We have never seen the like. There are thrilling times ahead for this young man. Bell. Remember that name – you heard it here first.

Cook was happy for the howitzers to come from the shallow end, while he dug in at the deep end. Such wonderful maturity for a young skipper selflessly going about his work, blocking out everything one of the best bowling attacks north of Berwick could throw at him. It was a damn close run thing. But the boys held firm, showing the kind of fortitude never before seen in the traditional English colours of pale cyan.

The English roll of honour is long, but a special mention must go to the 14-year-old Joe Root, known as Joey for his extreme youth, and to Ravi Bopara, who so easily could have batted through to the end. Instead the big-hearted fella, in a perfectly judged act of comradeship, handed that honour to Jordan, who rather let the side down by managing only one scoring shot. His time will come. Watching Bopara for the first time, it is obvious that the lad possesses an intense and resolute determination that will see him steer England over the line for many years ahead.

Speaking after the match, an impressively articulate Cook pointed out that the game could so easily have been a banana-skin. What a professional. After an ordeal that might have broken lesser men, he even remembered to plug the fruit.

The few journalists here, we happy few, who never doubted the men from Lords nor Cook and his new band of brothers, can now gleefully tell all the doubters and naysayers – we told you so! You should feel yourselves accursed you were not here to see the golden dawn of England’s brave new world.

The normally calm figure of Peter Moores, architect of this remarkable renaissance, captured the mood of the jubilant dressing room as he screamed at a shell-shocked Scottish crowd, “Rabbie Burns, Dr Finlay, Rob Roy, Jimmy Krankie, William Wallace, Ronald McDonald, Alex Salmond – can you hear me Alex Salmond! Your boys took one hell of a beating!”

Giles Clarke, looking dapper in a double-breasted Saltire, made a rare public appearance telling Sky that he did not see the match but hoped soon to announce a new sponsorship deal with a major Scottish distillery.  While the latest corporate partner cannot be identified yet, sources close to the ECB tell me that the clincher brings in to play a novel form of product placement that will involve the newly discovered English opener changing his name to Ian Bells. Giles gave assurances that the deal will have no influence on selection policy and denied reports it was a condition that the player would have to play in all three forms of the game.

And if I can just add a personal word – a magnificent tea was provided by my wonderful clients at Waitrose, probably the best supermarket in the world. Kerching!

Tregaskis, 11 May 2014

A shorter version of this article first appeared as a BTL post in the Guardian yesterday.



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