Let's hope England have started today’s second Test match against New Zealand at Edgbaston with more spirit and skill than they showed at Lord’s. To reject a fair challenge of 273 runs to win at less than four an over in the fourth innings was deeply shaming, and also immensely boring the spectators and TV audience allowed to watch it (or in my case switch it off).
There were two main reasons for captain Joe Root’s lily-livered attitude: his lack of faith in his young batsmen to help him score such a manageable total at average speed (Sibley, Crawley, Pope and Lawrence). Had Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, or even Johnny Bairstow, been in the side, he might have taken the gamble.
Even without them, they should have had a go at it. Even if wickets fell, they could always bring in Dom Sibley (60 runs in 70 overs) to put up the shutters. We may be sure that the gutsy New Zealanders would have picked up the challenge had it been offered to them.
The other reason Root chickened out is that his head was befogged with the fall-out over the teenage tweets of Olly Robinson, the new fast bowler whose encouraging start to his Test career has been overshadowed by the fear that it might be his last.
That may sound far-fetched and would certainly be an unjust and wildly disproportionate punishment for childish misdemeanours, but as Macauley pointed out, “We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British in one of their periodical fits of morality.”
At the time Robinson posted his unpleasant tweets, there were no non-white umpires in English cricket and hardly any non-white coaches. Are the ECB going to apologise for that – in public, as Robinson was forced to do. And when will a President of MCC stand up and decry the blatant racism it showed over the non-selection of Basil D’Oliveira to tour South Africa during the apartheid era?
The ECB should realise that Olly Robinson is not Tommy Robinson, the far right political agitator, and that the kind of comments for which Eoin Morgan and Jimmy Anderson are being interrogated were simply jokes in bad taste that were common at the time
One would like to think the significant fact that one of them is England’s greatest ever bowler and that the other has led his country to victory in the World Cup – and that both of them have otherwise blameless records - might be taken into account.
But when old codgers are blundering around in a world of woke they barely understand, one cannot be sure of that, just as those calling for Nelson’s statue to be removed from Trafalgar Square because some of his family had benefited from slavery failed to make any allowance for the fact that his naval exploits saved England from invasion by the French.
The show trial of Olly Robinson is a disgrace. The ECB care nothing for anti-racism, All they care about is their own image.
A sensible governing body would let the players get on with the cricket, which is what they are paid for and what the public pays to see, rather than be deflected by off-field accusations that are likely to be, at the most, childish follies, and in some cases inflated, minor or false.
Life with the Lions
Everyone in the world of rugby will be delighted that prop Kyle Sinkler has finally been added to the squad for the British Lions tour of South Africa (except perhaps poor Andrew Porter, of Ireland, whose injury has made it possible.)
Sinckler’s obvious distress at failing to be an original selection was an indication of how much being a British Lion matters to the players. It also matters profoundly to the rugby public, hundreds of whom follow the tours, and to the millions more who watch their matches on TV. Sadly, it seems to matter less to the clubs who own the players and allow them less preparation time than they need.
As it happens, I am engaged in the very pleasant task of writing about some of the greatest Lions of all time: Gareth Edwards, Barry John, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and Bobby Windsor.
They were amateurs, of course, and were treated meanly, given a spending allowance of ten shillings a day and had to provide some of their own kit. Many of them had to give up their jobs to travel with the Lions. Barry John, perhaps the greatest of all fly-halves, had to sign on for the dole when he returned from a tour to South Africa with a broken collar bone.
The referees in New Zealand and South Africa were all biased in favour of their home teams: Barry John remembers one of them clapping a drop goal by the All Blacks. In the days before TV replays the referees turned a blind eye to the most outrageous physical attacks.
Bobby Windsor, who was to live in Mallorca for a time, was so hard up on a tour of South Africa that he became renowned for collecting up any spare food or cigarettes that were left behind at official receptions. He also used to steal into the manager’s hotel room to use the telephone to call his wife in Wales.
When the manager saw the size of his bill, he called the team together and asked if anyone recognised a particular Welsh telephone number. Before anyone could say anything, Bobby stood up and demanded in apparent high dudgeon: “Which of you bastards has been ringing my wife?” The resulting laughter defused the problem entirely.
Now let’s be honest with ourselves. When the story came out this week that a member of the pubic had given the French President, Emmanuel Macron, a slap across the face, how many of us gave a tiny, inward smile of pleasure, Come on, admit it.