England’s muscular rise as a dominant one-day team is a manifestation of its shedding the puritanical streak that had for long defined its cricket. The very essence of cricket, that the colonial masters taught its subjects through public schools in the countries it ruled, was that the game reflects fair-play, purity and there is no scope of foul play in it. Mike Marqusee’s book, Anyone But England, brilliantly analyses this and concludes that the British aristocracy wanted the world to believe that since they invented and played the game, it reflected their own set of pristine values where there was no room for any “immoral” act.
Cricket thus became a morality play, where good behavior was rewarded and cheating punished, making people forget that it was a game after all, and subject to the same behavior pattern from the players, as happens in any other sport. The tag of gentleman’s game is a colonial legacy that has no real link with the reality of cricket history, as Marqusee so lucidly details in his book.
One of the major fall-outs of this belief was that English cricketers were guardians of cricket’s technical virtues and anyone not playing straight, not following its coaching manuals, was a bad player. Players like Vivian Richards, who never thought twice while playing across the line, were initially accepted with great reluctance.
England, the home of Test cricket and even of both the short formats of the game – one-day and T-20 – has never won a World Cup and of late, were struggling in the shorter format, though having made the final thrice in 1979, 87 and 92.
That it resisted any change, even in the behavior of the crowds, became apparent to me when in a Test match at the Lord’s in 1996, England’s most venerated umpire Dicky Bird, stopped a passage of play against India, because the crowd was playing drums, making a Mexican wave and creating a deafening noise. This very feature of crowds in the sub-continent was something which Bird found so disturbing that he himself gesticulated to the crowd to maintain silence and decorum.
Since the shorter formats demand innovation, a new approach to batting and bowling, where the traditional, orthodox technique can become a severe limitation, England languished behind others.
Playing straight in today’s context is no longer a virtue. Not even in Test cricket, where players like Virender Sehwag and David Warner, have through their unorthodox aggression, broken a few myths.
The advent of T-20 has further mutilated the very basic foundations of batting’s grammar and England’s poor performance in the 2015 World Cup in Australia, perhaps made England realize that cricket’s traditions have no place in the modern world.
The new England, populated with the likes of Jason Roy, Alex Hales, Jose Butler and Eoin Morgan, are as formidable strikers of the ball as any in contemporary cricket. Gone is the timidity that the pressure of playing correct and orthodox cricket imposed on them. Instead, we have new brave, fearless cricketers who know how to live and even die by the sword.
The rise of this new England team, that now sees 50-over cricket as an extension of T-20 cricket and not as a short form of Test cricket, as Ian Morgan put it, has given rise to a new World Record score of 444 and pushed one day cricket into a new age.