If only Jimmy Anderson could duck it. Then we wouldn’t have to talk about Duckett.
I make no apologies for the awful joke. This whole tour is rapidly becoming a bad joke. And I’m not referring to the behaviour of the England players – which seems pretty much in line with behaviour on previous tours – I’m referring to the ridiculous overreaction of the ECB every time an England player farts too loudly.
We all know about the Ben Stokes situation. It was bad and everyone knows it. But since England arrived in Australia there have been no problems whatsoever – the Jonny Bairstow ‘incident’ barely qualified as an incident, and now Ben Duckett has been hung, drawn and quartered for an incident Trevor Bayliss described as ‘trivial’.
Just think about that for a second. Trevor Bayliss, who doesn’t exactly suffer fools lightly, calls a late night incident ‘fairly trivial’, yet the ECB responds by releasing this blunt and somewhat hysterical statement:
Following a disciplinary hearing with England Lions player Ben Duckett, ECB can confirm the following measures have been placed on the player.– Fined the maximum allowable amount for an England Lions player.– Suspended from playing for the rest of the current Lions Australian training camp.– Issued with a final written warning in respect of his conduct as an England player.Duckett will remain with the England Lions party in Australia and will return to England at the end of the camp on 17 December.The ECB will not make any further comment.
Given this no-nonsense reaction, no doubt plenty of people will impulsively give Duckett a good kicking. “These bloody entitled prima donnas, they get paid a fortune, have the privilege of playing sport for their country, and yet they disgrace the nation every time … feed them to Ramsey Bolton’s dogs!”. But before you condemn him, and praise Strauss’s draconian approach, please consider the following …
For starters lets look at the facts. There was no police involvement, the bar staff saw nothing to concern them, and it was after midnight in late night bar. Just about everyone agrees with Bayliss that the incident was trivial – even the usual sources that routinely defend the ECB – yet Duckett has been publically fined and suspended all the same because of ‘the current climate’.
Well I’m sorry for bursting anyone’s bubble, but who exactly is to blame for creating (or at the very least exacerbating) the current climate? You guessed it, it’s Andrew Strauss and the ECB for overreacting every time an England player’s behaviour deviates from standards even nuns in The Sound of Music would struggle to sustain. And in the process, Strauss has become England’s very own Captain Von Trapp: cold, humourless, and completely lacking in empathy.
The truth is that nobody has done more to perpetuate the myth that the current England team are incontrollable rogues than Andrew Von Trapp. He’s been played by the Aussie media good and proper. When it comes to ‘team culture’ and implementing a ‘one-size-fits all’ philosophy that punishes anyone that isn’t a goodie two-shoes, nobody does it better than the head boy himself.
Apologies for this attack on our much loved Director, but the way he’s handling these disciplinary issues is really winding me up. When news of Jonny Bairstow’s ‘head butt’ broke, England should have laughed it off as a non-story and emphasised that the squad – which contains a number of mild mannered characters like Moeen Ali, Alastair Cook and Chris Woakes – are generally a harmless lot. Instead he poured fuel on the fire by publically warning the England players about their behaviour and thus gave the Aussie press more ammunition. They must have been rolling in the aisles over at the Brisbane Courier Mail. I bet they couldn’t believe Strauss’s naivety.
And now Strauss has made exactly the same mistake with Duckett. Instead of having a quiet word, making him shake hands with Anderson, and perhaps giving him a private warning, the ECB have reacted like he’s punched an old woman in the face or called The Pope a tosser. What’s more, The Times, is reporting that many players were involved in the drink throwing (not just Duckett) and it was all good natured fun rather than something more sinister like an argument or public confrontation.
I’ve heard people argue that Strauss and / or Andy Flower acted quickly to pre-empt the media but I simply can’t agree. I mean, what exactly is the story here? ‘Fringe England player (that nobody in Australia has ever heard of) pours drink over mate at 1am’. It’s hardly a headline writer’s dream, is it?! I’ve spoken to a few ex-players about parties and late nights out on England tours and this Duckett story is completely innocuous by comparison.
Unfortunately, by reacting the way he has Strauss has made the incident seem a lot worse. Plus he’s also set a precedent that he’ll probably struggle to maintain. What’s he going to do next time a senior test player is accused of swearing or something quite common? He’ll be obliged to feed him to the dogs too – no matter whether the so called incident is exaggerated or even completely made up by some Australian shit-stirrer.
Every time England make a big deal of an incident the Australian press are going to make an even bigger deal out of it. Andrew Strauss is a man of many qualities, but I doubt he’ll be hired by a PR agency any time soon. He’s made a rod for his own back now (an iron rod?) and he’s set unrealistic standards that I doubt any group of young men (who are, let’s not forget, away from home for 3 months and under the most extreme pressure) could live up to.
The thing that really frustrates me, however, is that these so called disciplinary issues are completely distracting attention away from the real reasons England are getting hammered: the ECB’s preoccupation with white ball cricket and setting up the new city-based franchise plan, the neglection of the county championship, poor selection, a complete lack of succession planning, and a four-year cycle that’s been completely and utterly botched. The media should be taking about these key issues that will affect the future of English cricket for years to come – not some non-story that everyone (including ‘the ‘victim’) will have forgotten next week.
Before this tour began, many of us speculated as to who the scapegoat would be if England got thrashed again. With Kevin Pietersen no longer around, we wondered if the coach, the selectors, or another unfortunate player might be blamed this time. After all, the ECB would need someone to deflect attention away from the abysmal way they’ve managed our sport.
Unfortunately I sense we’re now getting our answer. The press and the management aren’t going to blame someone; they’re going to blame something. Poor discipline. And you can bet that these disciplinary problems aren’t going to be their fault either. They’ll be attributed to social factors or the inability of young people to handle fame and fortune – even though England’s cricketers aren’t footballers, most of them aren’t millionaires (the average county wage is pretty modest), and they’re not particularly famous because cricket isn’t on TV anymore.
In fact, the cynics out there probably think the ECB are exaggerating these disciplinary issues quite deliberately because they can see the writing on the wall, fully anticipate another 0-5 whitewash, and are getting their post-tour excuses in early. Perhaps Strauss isn’t as useless at PR as we all though?