Sunday 8 February 2009

Dirty secrets, unappealing habits

One of the key sections of Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby's book on obsession and football, is about an Arsenal centre-back named Gus Caesar, a player so inept he became a cult hero to the Highbury regulars.

'To get where he did,' Hornby wrote, 'Gus clearly had more talent than nearly everyone of his generation and it still wasn't quite enough. Gus must have known he was good, just like every pop band who has ever played the Marquee know that they are destined for Madison Square Garden, and just as any writer who has sent off a completed manuscript to Faber and Faber knows that he is two years away from the Booker. You trust that feeling with your life, you feel the strength and determination it gives you coursing through your veins like heroin... and it doesn't mean anything at all'.

Hornby was writing about the point at which talent maxes out and goes no further, the place at which it meets its match. 

Everyone who played for England in Jamaica has ridden that curve further than nearly all of their generation. They've made it into that famous, insulating 'bubble' where they can imagine that their position is almost unique, explainable only to the others who play with them. 

It takes an extra kind of toughness to separate yourself from the others in the bubble, to become a Warne or a Tendulkar or a Waugh or a Boycott or a Richards or a Botham or a Border or a Lara.

A tiny, tiny few of them simply do have more talent; even playing against the best in the world cannot take them to the end of it. But more just seem to have a streak of individualism that sets them apart. From the list above, you could put Boycott and Border and Waugh in that category. 

You can bet there are some dirty little secrets in the back of their minds, secrets that pulled them through. One that is universal, I think, is to be able to draw strength and freedom from the failures of others. 

It's an unappealing habit, to be up the other end from a teammate who's just been bowled and to know, that in some strange way, it makes you feel better, but every batsman knows it. 

It's also the mentality that can enable you to stop a collapse like England's. It's the opposite of the herd reaction. It's one of cricket's great paradoxes that it flourishes as a team game because of the complex needs of the individual. 

As England reconfigure their team, they'll be looking to the great individualists to lead the way, as they always have. 


Kartikeya Date said...

Isn't it ironic that their current situation (with Strauss at the helm) is due to an effort to cut the great individualist in their midst down to size? That it is the triumph of the system over the individual?

Anonymous said...

A triumph for the system.

The system that encourages batsmen to strive for a cheeky 2 after being bowled.

Well done Freddy though; guiding the side through the tricky 30s and 40s.

I trust he went out for a ride to celebrate?

Timmy Trundle said...

I wonder if this is the kick up the backside they so desperately needed. Will the most insular, over protected dressing room in the history of cricket finally get the message?

The players have brought this upon themselves, with their Premiership style posing, grossly oversized backroom team of yes men and the desire to keep anyone 'out of the group' out of the changing room.

Someone at the ECB has to stand up, draw a line under this group of players and end the jobs for the boys regime that is making us a laughing stock


Jon Hotten said...

Kartikeya, LB, you both said it. KP had a vision and a credo, and we can't have that, can we... Ah England.

Timmy, life in the bubble, bang on... exactly how it is. Have bunged you on my blogroll - thanks for adding me.