Paul Collingwood joins the England Cricket Revolution

OK, perhaps it’s not quite a revolution, but Andy Flower’s removal and Kevin Pietersen’s exclusion is something pretty close to it. Anyway, the turnover continues with England cricket as we hear that Paul Collingwood, former England Test all-rounder, will join the coaching staff for the forthcoming West Indies tour and ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.

Needless to say, he’s chuffed and tells us so via Twitter, naturally:

The King of Spain, if you didn’t quite know, is not Juan Carlos I; rather it’s Ashley Giles, England’s current head coach for the short versions of the game and candidate for the full coaching berth. They call him the King of Spain because he used to bowl spin (Spin/Spain, to clarify). But you knew that.

This appointment, one supposes, is a good move. Collingwood has played 68 Test matches, 197 one-day  and 35 Twenty20 internationals, so he has quite a bit of experience. And, perhaps of more interest to the ECB in making this appointment, he captained England to victory in the 2010 ICC World Twenty20 competition. His recent coaching exploits with Scotland, helping them reach these very same finals, will not have gone unnoticed either.

Others approve. Michael Vaughan might not have agreed with Pietersen’s dropping, but he seems to approve wholeheartedly with this appointment. And yes, we know that because of what he said on, you guessed it, Twitter:

Let’s hope, however, that Collingwood will not find it awkward coaching England in a possible game against Scotland so soon after coaching them. Is a meeting between these two sides possible?

But I don’t think anyone will worry too much about that. The ECB needs to do something to inject enthusiasm into the dressing room. They need new blood, something to mix things up a little and perhaps provide a more buoyant presence to the side now Graham Swann has retired. There was a feeling that things were getting a little heavy in the dressing room, so perhaps he can lighten some of the load. Though I still have my reservations over the ‘Sprinkler.’

This is only planned to be a short-term secondment from Durham, where he still plays and captains the side, but if it goes well he might stick around a little longer – or perhaps double-hat. Who knows? He captained Durham to last year’s County Championship, so perhaps he will want to keep hold of a good thing.

It’s strange, though. As a player, Paul Collingwood always had a faint cloud hanging over him: His batting lacked – how can one put it politely – refinement, and his bowling, while useful, was never devastating. In the field, however, he was as good as Jonty Rhodes, and there was always a feeling that he brought more to the team than was at first apparent.

Let’s hope that’s the case now he is there as a coach.


Three things English cricket might like to consider before next summer

Since England has lost the 2013/14 Ashes series 5-0, it is both tempting and easy to think English cricket is in a parlous state. Losing to Australia is never something to pep the old English spirit, but it is, as we of a minimum age are well aware, not the first time it has happened. It is also true that every lost series is soon followed by a new season and new opportunities to put things right. As it happens, the last whitewash at Aussie hands was the catalyst for three consecutive Ashes victories, so perhaps those weary disciples of English cricket presently having ‘doubts’ should think of Brian and look on the bright side.

There are, of course, one or two other reasons for pessimism: Andy Flower, the coaching architect of recent success, has gone; Kevin Pietersen, England’s most outrageously talented batsman in years, perhaps ever, has also departed; the English top order, with or without Pietersen, seems incapable of scoring runs; and the usual post-debacle vortex of speculation, recrimination and general unseemliness appears to be in full whirling motion.

But things are not so bad. Although Graham Swann’s departure leaves a difficult hole to fill, England’s bowlers are still highly capable; they were not the problem in Australia. And although Andy Flower has certainly been great for English cricket, the arrival of a new coaching regime with fresh ideas should give the team a welcome lift. It is not all cloud and rain over English cricket. Yet there is work to be done to ensure this loss, as emphatic as it was, is but a blip. In the spirit, then, of constructive criticism, here are three things the new hierarchy might like to consider for the future:

Find a new Geoffrey Boycott

This might seem like a strange suggestion, especially at the very moment the selectors and Paul Downton, the ECB’s new managing director, seem to be taking a stand against players who might be a little difficult to handle. But it is not Geoffey Boycott’s team-building skills to which England should look; it is to his stubborn refusal to give up his wicket without a fight.

Success in recent years – three Ashes wins in a row, don’t forget – was built on scoring runs up front. Counter-intuitively, this means batsmen prizing the defence of their wicket above the scoring or runs – up to a point. Stick around long enough and the runs will come, but lose early wickets and the middle order is exposed to the new ball.

Last summer Ian Bell’s brilliant middle-order batting obscured the top order’s failure to stick around and score runs. To have expected him to reproduce the same form in the return series in Australia was to expect too much. The English used to cite ‘scoreboard pressure’ as a key factor in their success, but it’s not been mentioned much recently. Perhaps the team’s lack of runs made such talk irrelevant, but perhaps they also thought the middle order would get them out of trouble again.

So the England selectors might like to begin the search for someone with the same belligerent, ‘wicket before runs’ attitude as Geoffrey Boycott and stick him somewhere in the top three. Nothing lifts opposition bowlers like a few early wickets, and nothing gives your own bowlers confidence like having 500-or-so runs to defend.

Solve the ‘four bowlers or five’ conundrum

Just as playing with five bowlers weakens the batting, playing with four bowlers weakens the bowling – unless, that is, a great all-rounder is available to balance the side. Not since the end of Andrew Flintoff’s test career in August 2009, having played a pivotal role in securing the Ashes, has England had a balanced side. A great all-rounder can make the difference, but a great all-rounder is a rare breed. Most teams have to manage without, and if they are successful it is usually because they have at least two outstanding bowlers who have the power of three: such as McGrath and Warne for Australia, and Anderson and Swann for England. Either that or the opposition is dire.

England came unstuck in 2012 when they last played South Africa in England, losing 2-0. Although they managed, with the assistance of playing a sixth batsman, the very workable totals of 385, 425 and 315 in each of their first innings, South Africa matched them, scoring a whopping 632 for 2 declared in the first test. England’s bowlers, capable as they were, simply ran out of steam. Bopara, Pietersen and Trott were not of the required standard to cover the absence of a genuine fifth bowler. Even Anderson and Swann were not enough, Swann actually being dropped for the second test. South Africa, needless to say, played Morkel, Philander, Steyn, Kallis and Tahir.

This was also, it should be said, the series Kevin Pietersen was dropped for disciplinary problems. But he was not the reason England lost: the South Africans were the better team, not only for the simple reason that they scored more runs and took more wickets, but because their team was balanced by the inclusion of a genuine fifth bowler. Not much needs to be said about Jacques Kallis, except that he is a batsman who has taken more test wickets (292) than many great bowlers, and a bowler who has scored more test runs (13,289) than many great batsmen – the perfect all-rounder.

Yet it is not as simple as just sticking in a fifth bowler and assuming everything will be fine. England played five in Australia and we know what happened. Ben Stokes did well, scoring his maiden test century and taking wickets; but the top five were not scoring runs, and even five bowlers could not defend the meagre totals they were given.

So England will probably have to decide whether Stokes is good enough to score runs and be that fifth bowler. If he is, England’s future looks promising, but if he is not, the coach and captain might be better served by playing six genuine run-getters in the hope of suffocating the opposition with sheer weight of runs.

Stop stockpiling young cricketers – or sort Steven Finn out

One of the most dispiriting images of this tour was Steven Finn struggling in the nets. He was, and remains, a great talent. Graham Swann predicted that he would be the best cricketer in the world by about this time, and he wasn’t joking. That it hasn’t happened; indeed, that Finn seems to be disintegrating at a shocking rate, poses serious questions for both coaches and selectors.

When he first appeared for England, in the 2010 series in Bangladesh, his arrival was much heralded. With tall delivery, lively pace and a mouth-watering ability to pitch the ball on the perfect line and length, he seemed like the bowler to emulate Glenn McGrath. For him, taking wickets would be like picking low-hanging fruit. But it hasn’t happened. England will hope his dip in form and confidence is temporary and that he is still finding his style and will come good. Yet some cricketers, for all their promise, fail to forge successful careers.

Finn might prove to be one of these cricketers, though we surely hope not. If he is, then so be it; but young cricketers need to ‘find their game’ by playing cricket. They cannot do that carrying drinks or working in the nets. They need to play games, in the middle, against real batsmen who are going to fight back. There is nothing so nonsensical as taking young cricketers on tours to learn how to tour. If they are not going to play in the test team, they should probably not be on the tour at all. There is also a very strong argument that all that spare time has had an adverse effect on Finn’s psyche, and that his efforts in the nets have been counter-productive: that he has, in fact, been over-coached.

So England might like to think about their youth policy. Young cricketers should be playing, if not with their counties, then with the Lions, or perhaps with a grade team in Australia; but they should not be carrying drinks at a stage in their careers when they are still developing and getting to know their game. Squad cover should be left to the older cricketers, to those who have already learnt what they can and cannot do on the field of play. Cricketers, perhaps, like Graham Onions.

How undesirable is Trenton Oldfield?

It seems Trenton Oldfield has successfully appealed against having his visa revoked. He is the Australian thirty-something who took it upon himself to disrupted the 2012 Boat Race in a supposed protest against elitism while failing to notice that Oxbridge is more meritocratic than elitist on account of its really hard exams.

He calls it protest, and still thinks he has the right to do what he did that day. But it was in fact a form of sabotage; it was an attempt, partially successful, to deny freedom to others while at the same time claiming to exercise his freedom to protest. It doesn’t work like that, Trenton, really it doesn’t. It falls into the same category as forcing your way into someone’s office or place of work and denying them the ability to do their work. You don’t exercise your freedom by denying freedom to others who are simply going about their lawful business.

The decision, right or wrong, is a kick in the teeth for Theresa May, the Home Secretary. But what should she do now? What should happen, supposing we agree with her that the narcissistic, selfish little man’s presence in the UK is indeed ‘undesirable?’

He clearly loves Britain. Well, he said he ‘fell in love with London within hours of arriving,’ so one supposes he loves Britain too. The reason, you see, or one of them at least, was that he got the impression ‘there was room for people like me.’ There was room in London for people interested in justice and fairness. Which is nice to hear. Though one can’t help concluding that what he really meant was that he has a special regard for justice and fairness that is otherwise lacking in Britain. But he’s here now, so all is well!

Is it possible, however, that his love for country and olympian self-regard could be used against him? Is it not about time we, Perfidious Albion, lived up to our hard-won reputation? We doubly know he loves Britain because he fought so hard to stay here, despite the country’s inherent and odious elitism. His struggle is all the more impressive because he tells us he wants to raise a family here, too. O what sacrifices he is prepared to make for his love of country!

No, that last bit doesn’t make much sense to me, either, unless he’s like all those other middle-class revolutionaries who love Britain so much they want to move here, live here, enjoy the peace and harmony our rotten people and unjust political system seem to have quite inexplicably produced, and turn us into some utopian fantasy – not unlike Karl Marx and his fellow-travellers, now I think about it.

Anyway, that love he has for our country. How do we make use of it? Well, here’s a suggestion. You may or may not know that our cricketers are finding it hard going in Australia. It’s not clear if this is because Trenton (Old Trenty, as I affectionately like to call him) is right when he says Australia is unnacceptibly racist and they are giving our Yorkies a particularly torrid time because of it, or because the Aussies are just playing better cricket than us at the moment. But it is clear that our cricketers are definitely not finding it easy. How about we tap into Old Trenty’s obvious love of country and call him up to play for England in the next test match?

It is true that he might not survive the experience, considering the reception the Aussie fast bowlers, revved up by Oldfield’s outrageous slander of their country, are likely to give him; or, for that matter, the Aussie public. But he’d be willing to risk it, I’m sure. We know he’s brave: he risked decapitation last year while fighting the Oxbridge elitists. If that’s a just war, then surely fighting the Aussie racists is equally just, even a duty. It is also true that convincing him to play for England might not be entirely straightforward: not because he doesn’t like England, we know he luuurves England, but because he might think selecting a cricketer to play for his country just because he’s the best is a bit elitist. But I’m sure his newfound regard for Blighty would win out.

So far, so good. Now comes the sneaky bit. When the Ashes are over (unfortunately not to English satisfaction, as is the most likely outcome at the time of writing: and now doubly-unfortunately confirmed.) and it is time for the cricketers to come home, Andy Flower mislays the man’s passport.

But don’t worry too much for Old Trenty; he won’t be too inconvenienced – he would already be home.

This is only one option, of course. Another might be to slip him on a different plane to Cooky and the lads: the one going to Syria, perhaps. He might then learn what genuine injustice and unfairness in society looks like.

Ho hum! If only things were that easy. The thing is, I think perhaps he should be allowed to stay. You see, he is in fact married to a British citizen. They have a child, but that’s immaterial. It’s her British citizenship that is key. They could go and live in Australia, despite his ridiculous argument against doing so, but British citizens do have rights – inalienable rights. Genuine spouses should have automatic residency rights in the country of their spouse. That’s basic. It’s a matter of individual liberty over arbitrary state power. If he breaks the law then the law should punish him, but his residency, on balance, and barring extreme misbehaviour, should not be affected. No matter how disagreeable he is. And Trenton – Old Trenty my lad – you are disagreeable.

How to follow test-match cricket

Question: What’s the best way to follow test cricket?

Answer: Team bus, then the pavilion, then at the wicket with your teammates.

Well, obviously! But the average cricket punter isn’t so fortunate as to play for England, and he is more than likely stuck at home. As such, cricket votaries must find another way to keep up with the latest developments 10,000 miles Down Under, even though things have not begun quite as England would have wished.

There’s television, radio, alternative-radio, newspapers, blogs, social media and your mate Dave who, to your immeasurable envy, has got an entrance ticket to the Gabba or the Melbourne Cricket Ground or wherever his unjust good-fortune has taken him, and from where he is sending you provocative texts and photos of the scene, knowing full well that it’s the middle of the night back home and freezing cold and you’ve got to go to work in the morning.

Mates, eh? But we live in modern times, do we not? And with great technology comes great… No, hang on, that’s something else… Here it is: With all this new media comes greater choice in how we might follow the cricket. So, just what is the best option?

Time gone by, when players wore facial hair for reasons other than Movember, you’d have waited for the papers, which in turn would have waited for the steamship. Or a decade or two later you might have gleaned the score at Sydney from the clipped and crepitating voice on the wireless in the corner. But today we have an abundance of media options. If you are yet undecided on how to follow the Ashes this winter, or are struggling to make sense of this babble of choice, then perhaps this will help:

Let’s begin the old fashioned way: with newspapers. Take your pick. Broadsheet, tabloid, Berliner—all of which publish full scorecards and ample comment. It’s comment, really, that most elevates the British press. We know traditional newspapers are struggling to make a profit right now, but their future viability is dependent on high quality articles, with greater depth and nuance, rather than the currency of their news, for which they cannot compete with electronic media.

The political environment is also somewhat hostile, but it’s difficult to see why either politicians or regulators might want to stop Derek Pringle and Mike Atherton venting their frustrations in black and white. Newspapers also tend to give a considered view. Cricket writers are able to spend the day percolating their literary conceits, and the reader gets to wallow in their joy or misery, whichever mood the players have roused in them.

But lack of immediacy is a genuine problem for newspapers. These days we like to have things 24/7, but we have to wait until the following day before reading about the exploits of Mitchell Johnson or Ryan Harris; and as play doesn’t usually finish until the sun is shining on Greenwich, reports miss the final hours of play. By the time the newspaper story gets to the reader, he already knows what has happened. Editors need to offer something more.

Which brings us to television: the Rolls Royce of cricket-following options. If you’ve got High Definition, all the better. Ball by ball, and to the very second, you can follow the action the other side of the world. TV — that most modern and culture-shifting of devices — allows the viewer to see, in full florescence and at various speeds, each snorting wicket, scintillating catch and glorious shot, all with expert analysis on hand to explain the action. And if we’re lucky, we might catch one or two fruity sledges. The commentator’s words are less important in this medium, mostly because we can see the action perfectly well for ourselves, but this is one instance when less really is more.

Yet there is a problem with television coverage: not everyone can get it. Each cricket devotee will have their reasons for not subscribing, but the most prevalent is, no doubt, cost. The coverage maybe good, but it isn’t cheap. So millions of cricketers are orphaned from the game, like waifs bereft of the thing that sustains them. Other options are required.

Up steps radio. Aficionados like to claim this is the ‘high art’ of the form, which may or may not be the case; but the real reason for the success of radio (or voice broadcast, as is more pertinent a description since we can now listen through the internet) is that it doesn’t cost a penny (apart from internet connections and computers and smartphones; but apart from that, it’s free).

With radio broadcast, the bucolic tones of an Agnew or a Blofeld, or the late Johnston and Arlott, sing through the air and we are transported to the field of play in a way that engages the imagination more effectively than the clearest of television pictures. Because we have to make an effort to imagine ourselves there, the rewards are so much greater than sitting passively in front of the TV. Some viewers are even known to turn the TV commentary down and the radio up — No offence, you guys!

If it can be said — and I don’t see why not — that artists prefer the visual medium of television, then poets probably prefer radio; and the comedy poets have emerged on the scene in recent years. In 2009, Andy Zaltzman, self-confessed comedian, presented a radio programme: Yes, It’s The Ashes, a humorous take on the oldest cricketing rivalry. But Test Match Sofa, recently acquired by The Cricketer Magazine, now carries the mantle of ‘alternative’ commentary. Taking a more matey and irreverent approach to live cricket-chat than BBC’s Test Match Special, it broadcasts every test match played by England.

Yet perhaps you feel you cannot devote all the hours of the night — the ones normally spent sleeping — to the cricket, while at the same time remaining either employed or married. It’s a moot point as to which is the more desperate creature: the cricket widow or the cricket widower; but spending twenty-five winter nights with men from Down Under whispering sweet sorrows and elations into your ear is probably not the healthiest of pastimes.

You might, then, try a podcast, to which you can listen at your convenience. Test Match Special unleashes Geoffrey Boycott for a good twenty minutes at the close of play each day. And Cricinfo offers a less frequent but no less interesting podcast. Or you could listen to the day’s radio commentary on the iPlayer while at work. Who’d know?

This is where technology begins to bamboozle us with choices. Choice is a good thing, of course, but the options seem to expand exponentially. Perhaps the most democratic medium — in that anyone and everyone can broadcast their opinion — is Twitter. There are other forms of social media, but we’ve all heard of Twitter. With the help of the BBC’s cricket correspondent or current and ex-cricketers or celebrities or your mate Dave, you can keep up with the action. The only limitation is the number of people we choose to follow. Though sometimes someone will tweet ‘THAT’S OUT’ two minutes after everyone else has done the same, thus inducing mild coronary because we think yet another batsman has fallen to the national malaise.

The thing about social media is that it allows us mortals to join in — up to a point. In earlier times the cricket devotee listened passively to someone else telling the story, occassionally profaning at the television or the radio if suitably inspired, but now he can offer his own wisdoms and witticisms — lot’s of them. Perhaps he has coaching expertise to impart to some batsman who’s just been castled or a bowler who’s just thrown down a long hop and been hoiked for six? They’d appreciate that, I’m sure.

It’s probably the invention and gifting to the world of Internet technology, by Tim Berners-Lee, that is most responsible for this proliferation. It’s not possible to survey all of the web pages so far made, but a brief internet search of the term ‘cricket’ reveals 497,000,000 results. Happy reading! There’s no end to the stuff. Much of it is drivel, and much is out of date, but there’s certainly something there to satisfy most people.

Journalists, as already mentioned, are having a tough time of it at the moment, and cricket writers are no different. But the Internet has released all sorts of new voices. There are many writers out there, some professional, some unprofessional (meaning unpaid rather than incompetent, though they might be that too), who offer interesting commentary. Cricket truly is the sport of poets. Perhaps more than any other sport, it has provoked great writing, and while much of it ends up in books, a lot is also written on the web. Allan and Alex Massie, father and son, frequently venture their views on the game (go on, internet them); and there are plenty of other blogs from which to choose. They might not all offer the scores, but they offer thought.

And that’s what the game of cricket is really about: thought, and the mind. It would be inconceivable to play any game for five days solid and expect to rely on brawn alone to achieve the ends. Skill, of course, is also required, but it is brains and mental fortitude that makes the difference.

Indeed, perhaps it is the meandering paths of intellectual intrigue, from selections to field placements to line and length to declarations and much more, that bewitches cricket lovers so much: to the extent that the love of it becomes a sort of pathology.

There: ‘Cricket as Pathology, Discuss.’

And perhaps this is why devotees enjoy seeking out so many complicated and obscure ways to keep up with the day’s play, especially when the series in question is the Ashes. But as it happens, there is no best way to follow test cricket. Just follow any way you can.

There’s a good time and a bad time to win your first sporting cap

Seeing new players emerge onto the sporting scene is one of the great delights of competitive sport. It’s almost as pleasing as watching seasoned professionals performing at the peak of their powers (which reputedly occurs at around the age of twenty-six); or hanging on beyond their pensionable age through sheer brilliance, force of will and managerial loyalty.

Sometimes the arrival of new players is the consequence of panic. Managers, coaches and selectors, fearing the sack or the harsh side of their supporters’ tongues, look for solutions in new faces. The trouble is, this approach doesn’t usually work unless it is part of a wider, more-considered strategy. Fergie’s kids may have been kids, but they were the product of a carefully-considered youth strategy.

I remember the dread days of English cricket in the 1990s. New faces seemed to appear as often as they did on that eponymous show of the 1970s; and if they failed, they would get the same cruel treatment from those infinite legions of judges ready to cut them down. A player (or a comedian) might achieve fame for their allotted fifteen minutes, then be cast back into their obscurity and only reappear, if unlucky, a couple of decades later in a game of Trivial Pursuit (this also applies to the comedian).

There were reasons enough to panic in those days: not least the West Indian executioners masquerading as bowlers; though it’s probably more accurate to call it fear. The real panic was with the selectors. They struggled to find an eleven with which they were happy, and only later realised that a debutant was as likely to fail as succeed. Though that was the era, was it not? And the lack of team continuity – and confidence in selection – perhaps contributed to a poorer win-loss ratio.

It’s a statement of the obvious that young, inexperienced players are more likely to succeed if they debut in a settled side. Andrew Strauss’ first test match perhaps illustrates the point: a century at Lords against New Zealand in 2004. He might have got off to this flying start anyway (and average just over sixty in his first year), but the settled nature of the team helped. Trescothick, Vaughan, Flintoff, Hoggard and Harmison formed the backbone of a side on the up; and a year later they won the Ashes in that great summer, of which I remember escaping from the office into the sun and watching the drama unfold in the nearest establishment possessing a television, and then later on the day of celebration at Trafalgar Square to witness the intoxicated victors falling out of their bus.

We forgive winners, I’ve noticed that. Six years after the 2005 Ashes, the English rugby team got up to their own mischief during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand. But there was one key difference. They didn’t play well. Vaughan and Flintoff won, while Tindall and Tuilagi lost – simple.

Between getting knocked out of the 1999 World Cup and winning the competition in 2003, the England rugby team possessed a winning culture. Against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, they won ten out of twelve games, which is no easy task. At that time, players emerged into a team imbued with confidence and true ability, each adding something new rather than merely trying to arrest the decline. Okay, so a review of the debut list shows quite a few forgettable names; but each player who broke into the side for a permanent run, rather than so Clive Woodward (not yet knighted) could ‘take a look,’ were genuine talents. Ben Cohen, Mike Tindall, Iain Balshaw (what could have been had injury not blighted him!), Jason Robinson and Steve Thompson all made the team better for their inclusion.

Sporting fortunes rise and fall: Always. After 2003 and 2005, the rugby players and cricketers alike fell off quite drastically. But the cricketers were soon back, even reaching number one in the ICC rankings and winning the two most recent Ashes series. There is a buoyancy to the side, and the expectation is that each new player will succeed rather than fail as they did in earlier eras. Take Anderson, Broad, Swann, Cook and Trott: they all improved the side and they all succeeded almost immediately. One might mention Anderson’s pre-2005 Ashes debut, but he was only kept out of the side by the great quartet of Flintoff, Hoggard, Harmison and Jones. That’s no insult.

We are currently in the throes of the Autumn Internationals. England has already played Australia and Argentina, winning both quite comfortably, and there is a sense that a player will now only force their way into the side if they are going to improve things, rather than because there is no other option. That’s where we want to be, and it doesn’t really matter what happens against New Zealand at the weekend.

I don’t expect England to win the game, although they might, and despite last year’s unexpected triumph; the All Blacks won’t have forgotten that one, and they’ve not lost a single game since. No, the mood is buoyant and the supporters can tell Lancaster and this crop of players might be onto something. Which makes it all the more exciting to see new players pulling on the shirt for the first time: because to get into this side, they really do have to be pretty good.

The English/British national anthem problem

The sporting calendar never ends; it’s like the very seasons; round and round it goes. No sooner is the whistle blown on one fixture, then along comes another, whistles blowing forever – except cricket, of course, when a bell is preferred. Perhaps it’s the opportunity for redemption next time – defeat into victory – that keeps the whole thing going? We are now into the autumn rugby internationals, and redemption for one team or the other is in the air. Everyone with even the remotest interest in the game is excited by the drama.

But one aspect of the game sits uncomfortably, with me at least: the anthems. It’s not that I don’t like them; they’re fine, and although some are little more than a dirge, others are magnificent and stirring. It’s just that no sooner do the English start singing God Save The Queen at an English sporting event, then someone says they really ought to sing something else, something applicable to only England.

The problem seems to be that England is not the same thing as Britain, and singing the national anthem merely antagonises the Welsh and the Scots. Well, that’s obvious; but what about the history of this state of affairs? Just why do the English sing the British national anthem while the Welsh and Scottish bellow Land of My Fathers and Flower of Scotland at anyone and everyone?

There must be a reason. Think about it and it just doesn’t make sense. I suppose the explanation we most readily grasp is the stereotypical arrogance and bloody-mindedness of the English; they’ll take any excuse to lord it over their ‘dominions’ in the rest of the British Isles, the English will. After all, we know full well that Britain is really the English Empire, don’t we?

This is a logical assumption, even I would admit. I’m English, I’m British, and I’m conservative-minded and patriotic in the old, disreputable sense of thinking nationality is not something of which we should be ashamed; I also happen to think nationality and nationhood are vitally important if peace and the rule of law are to endure in these islands, but that’s another discussion.

As such, it is perfectly acceptable to sing God Save The Queen. Yet it has often occurred to me that, by singing the British national anthem at English events while the Welsh and the Scots sing something else, we live up to the stereotype a little too readily and a little too belligerently. Wouldn’t it be better, all round, if we sang a song or a hymn that distinguishes England from Britain? That way, the national anthem might regain its rightful place in the affection of all Britons.

This was my thinking, anyway; not unlike the thinking of many other Englishmen, I’m sure. Until, that is, I discovered a typically excellent piece by Allan Massie, the great Anglo-Scottish man of letters, in which he recounted a bit of the history of national anthems at sporting events, specifically those of rugby.

At about the time the author was, himself, running around in short trousers, only one anthem was played at rugby internationals involving England, Wales and Scotland, and that was God Save The Queen. Moreover, it was played ‘not to inspire the troops, but as a mark of respect to the monarch.’ Indeed, this was the way of it back then; the national anthem was also played in theatres and cinemas.

But not now. We are above such things. We have, on the whole, rejected petty nationalism and freed ourselves from subservience to ancient traditions; these things only survive where the basest of our race gather: such as sporting events and the Last Night of the Proms. To my bemusement, Scottish nationalism is in a very different and much more acceptable category to British or English nationalism – a point I’ve yet to work through fully.

So, what happened? Why and how did things change? Why did two sizeable chunks of Our Island reject the anthem that represents us all?

Mr. Massie writes that ‘the Welsh were the first to break ranks when they decided that kicking off with Land of My Fathers would have their players’ hearts swelling with patriotic fervour.’ Trust the Welsh to bash the English first! Still, I suppose this attitude has historical pedigree. It’s Owen Glendower all over again.

Surprisingly the Scots were slower to follow suit, perhaps because Mr. Massie is correct in thinking they are at heart ‘sternly conservative,’ and perhaps because the problem Scots have with big-C Conservatism is its association with the English rather than anything intrinsic to its political and cultural outlook. While the average Englishman might not immediately recognise this picture, he will more readily appreciate the growth of Scottish nationalism in the seventies and anti-Thatcher sentiment in the eighties, both of which led to the booing of the national anthem at Murrayfield. Many Scots resented the then-Conservative Prime Minister, as we know, but booing the national anthem must have upset a good many other Scots quite happy with being Scottish, British and Monarchist.

The real history, therefore, suggests something a little different to the perception of that history. The convention, with which all Home Nations seemed happy, was for the British to sing God Save The Queen as a mark of respect for their Sovereign and because they were British, albeit Welsh, Scottish and English variants thereof. The problem was caused not by something active done by the English, but by their passive response to the Welsh and the Scots deciding to break with convention without taking the English with them.

Would it have been so hard to gather round a table, preferably in some wood-panelled pub in a glen or a valley over a pint or a dram, and decide on adopting individual Home-Nation anthems simultaneously? Would that have been so difficult? We might have avoided the resentment some now feel at perceived ‘English arrogance’ and the perceived belief that ‘there is no distinction [in the eyes of the English, we presume] to be made between England and the United kingdom.’

But we are where we are, and the present situation is certainly untidy, and people will continue to call for the English to stop singing God Save The Queen when they have their exclusively English hats on. And you know what: I think I might be one of them. The English may not have caused the predicament (despite the folk-view being that they did, because, well, the English…), but the predicament exists; and it seems that if the anthems are no longer sung as a mark of respect for our Sovereign, but as a means to get our competitive juices flowing before the game, then perhaps we really should have an English anthem.

I know it’s not relevant during the autumn internationals, but if we do go down this route, singing Home-Nation anthems before kick off, would it be outrageous to suggest that, at the end of each game between Wales, Scotland and England during their next encounters, we sing God Save The Queen? Perhaps it might even usher in a new era of mutual respect, while at the same time reminding ourselves that we are all still British and we all still share the same Monarch. With the Scottish referendum soon upon us, we might just need it.