England shows team spirit

Sri Lanka had too many who had been there, done it all, worn the tee-shirt. England had a bunch of bonny kids, some barely able to find the dressing room in away games, but all of whom were ready to follow their leader to the last fence and make sure he could climb it too, writes Ted Corbett.

Colly’s bonny bunch of one-day scrappers ought to have gone home in triumph after putting Sri Lanka to flight but they were not even allowed to celebrate properly before their achievement was put into its proper place.

“Well done lads,” they heard repeatedly on their way out of Heathrow Airport 48 hours after their 3-2 victory. “But you must have been pleased for the lads who reached the final of the Rugby World Cup.”

England’s Rugby players were in their second successive World Cup final — a feat that the cricketers achieved in 1987 and 1992 only to lose both times — but until Paul Collingwood can repeat that result there will be no ticker tape parade, no trip to Buckingham Palace to have tea with the Queen and no sign of medals like those handed out after the Ashes victory two years ago.

In other words it was a bonny victory — bonny is a word that the people of the North East where Collingwood lives apply to everything from a baby to an unexpected piece of good luck — but we must keep it in proportion. So I am told.

For one thing it will not have the Aussies trembling although they are wise enough to realise that it marks a considerable step forward for a nation not always in love with one-day cricket.

It also redefines the team motto. It was Andrew Flintoff who first produced the word at a press conference in Australia as his side headed for that 5-0 thrashing. “All we can do is to keep on scrappin’” he said but by the end of the second Test all their scrappin’ instincts had died in the face of the Australian onslaught.

You may remember that one man kept on scrappin’. Paul Collingwood not only made a double hundred in the first innings at Adelaide but top- scored in the wretched second effort when, for the first time, it was clear that he was not just the lad who got a lucky OBE after one Test but a batsman who would be around for a while.

I met him at the end of the Dambulla section of the five-match series and congratulated him on the victory in the third match.

“Aye,” he said. His soft Geordie accent was much in evidence. “That was a scrap!” Such finishes bring a special light to his eyes; here is a man who does not count easy wins for much but rather the tight endings when a cricketer with courage will succeed and those with a wish to be home will be found out.

That was the difference between the two sides. Sri Lanka had too many who had been there, done it all, worn the tee-shirt. England had a bunch of bonny kids, some barely able to find the dressing room in away games, but all of whom were ready to follow their leader to the last fence and make sure he could climb it too.

Thus Stuart Broad, who had to relearn his bowling technique and come to terms with the six sixes in an over by Yuvraj Singh, showed what iron was in his soul. So did Ryan Sidebottom, like Broad the son of a cricketing family, hardened by years of county bowling and the disappointment of an apparently unsuccessful career, and Phil Mustard, fifth choice as wicket-keeper, a poisoned chalice if ever there was one and Alastair Cook, no-one’s first pick as an opening batsman.

Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell could be called failures by their own standards, and Ravi Bopara — a young cricketer so concerned to be accepted as English rather than Indian that he rang round the newspapers and begged them to call him Ravi not Ravinder — did not fill the Flintoff boots and Owais Shah was a fitful performer.

But they all scrapped and that fitted the Collingwood mould so perfectly I guess he will put up another fight soon, to keep the team together, especially now that Flintoff is not going to be fit for the spring tour of New Zealand.

Will that be possible? Soon after the fifth match I got a lift home with Dougie Brown, of Warwickshire and Scotland and now of the BBC Test Match Special, who once played in a similar team in Sharjah in December 1997. “We won, we had a great bunch of bits and pieces players like me and a fine team spirit.

“We all went to West Indies later but the selectors decided that there had to be specialist batsmen and bowlers, that we could not win a big tournament on team spirit alone, and they dismantled the side. I worry that it could happen to this side too.”

Oddly, the Sri Lankan side needs a complete overhaul but politics, fear of change, the recent success that took them to the final of the World Cup in the Caribbean, all mitigate against big changes.

“We will make changes,” said one of the selectors ahead of the fifth match. What happened? Upul Tharanga was dropped and, er, that was it. Hardly the big reconstruction job that was necessary. Perhaps a good hiding in Australia may concentrate Sri Lankan minds. The scalpel is needed for severe amputations not to cut a finger nail or two.

So it will be interesting to see what shape these two sides have a year from now.

I suspect that within a few months this result will be forgotten, that England will recall Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior and Flintoff and perhaps even Michael Vaughan whose off-breaks might be useful. The logic will be that the young England scrappers did not have to face Muttiah Muralitharan and that there is always a place for experienced men.

It happens in every branch of show business.

A long time ago I met an aide to the singer Joe E Brown who told me his boss hated requests for old favourites and tried to cram as many new songs as possible into his shows. “Then the other night he said I should get tickets for a concert by Alvin Stardust and added ‘I love him and I do hope he sings his old stuff.’ I said ‘Yes, boss and I bet if he came to one of your concerts he would hope you sang your old songs too.’”

Back home those sports lovers who are not talking about England in the final of the Rugby World Cup are backing a recall for Mark Ramprakash, aged 38, and a massive county run-scorer since he last played for England. In Sri Lanka there is talk of a continuing career for Marvan Atapattu.

The old songs are best, don’t you know, and although it is nice sometimes to see a bunch of young scrappers emerge under the guidance of the bonniest fighter of them all we must not forget the classic ways of cricket will always be successful.

I can hear the selectors replaying those sentiments now even though it is months before they need put together another squad to try to rival one of the most successful England teams abroad since one-day cricket began.