Opinion: When do the press corps eat humble pie?

Blog Opinion

Opinionated articles are great copy and can capture the mood of a cricket nation or a passage of time – but the default position of experts is to chew the cud, rather than eat humble pie, and still come out with the authoritative voice by moving the goalposts.

"Once I thought I was wrong but I was mistaken." Such a phrase could save many a pundit's pride after England's Titanic comeback from Southampton via Manchester to The Oval.

Some experienced scribes (and some amateur ones) could not see a way back for the maligned Alastair Cook as skipper, post-Lord's. Perhaps the egregious nature of England's demise blinded some to the latent problems with India's top order.

On the evidence that lay before professional cricket judges at the time (Gordon Lewis excepted) the captain was speeding towards the iceberg at the Rose Bowl. Kevin Pietersen had his say too on the morning of Cook's cricket resurrection. No doubt warming up for the big punch when his book is published, Pietersen used his new broadsheet column to suggest that Cook should quit captaincy and bat like Matthew Hayden.

Twenty-four hours later, Pietersen was tweeting: "Yowza…. Cook getting some today… Brilliant for Alastair the batsman." Only Michael Vaughan has had the temerity to say he was wrong in big bold words with the caveat that Cook needs a rest for the mad schedule ahead.

Vaughan has a tendency to speak out feverishly on his multiple media platforms as Test Match special broadcaster, Channel 5 commentator and Daily Telegraph columnist. Given his often left-field views, the ex-captain was bound to come unstuck. He is not a man of few words. It all goes out there, with many hits but a few misses.

So how does the press corps admit an error of judgement if they are not taking the worthy "I was wrong" Vaughan approach? Martin Johnson has made a career of pithy cricket writing, a high point being his oft-quoted "can't bat, can't bowl, can't field" comment on the capabilities of Mike Gatting's 1986 Ashes tourists. England won that series with a match to spare, but Johnson brilliantly turned his own theory on its head: "Right line, wrong team." It was up there with Alan Hansen's "You can't win anything with kids." Sometimes it's the resonance of the sentence that appeals rather than the truth within it.

Opinionated articles are great copy and can capture the mood of a cricket nation or a passage of time. It is the leaning and pressure to write dramatic judgements these days that lead to more overblown headlines, especially given the context of cricket collapses which are often the catalyst for calls to sack or change.

The unique punishing nature of Test cricket can break a losing side's collective will, and this is where unrelenting verdicts can be accelerated. Somebody had to suffer from 10 Test Ashes in a row and it was England. Wise after the event? Of course.

Yet, we live in a society that is full of judgement – judgement based on first impressions; judgement based on what we think we see; and judgement based on empirical facts. All are prone to failure in assessing the worth of an individual or a situation. Sam Robson has been written off already, his great chance at The Oval missed according to Jonathan Agnew and many others. Is it true or is it just the primal need to fill that negative void now that England are on the up? There always has be someone to pick at.

Anyone can negatively criticise. However, the skill is not to overdo the praise nor blame disproportionately. England have won two Test matches in well under three days. That deserves appreciation. On the other hand, we know that India just don't do English summers – apart from 2007 when Peter Moores was showing his inexperience amid the jelly beans. We know that no Australian or South African team would show such compliance. The urge to go overboard is withheld until England get in the ring with a real heavyweight. It's not damning with faint praise, but it is pretty close.

The default position of cricket experts is to chew the cud, rather than eat humble pie, and still come out with the authoritative voice by moving the goalposts (or stumps). England played well but India were pathetic is the Geoff Boycott-like summary. Sack Cook? No. Not now. But beware. He still hasn't scored a century for 31 innings. And he's no master tactician as Pietersen claimed.

Fans can be one-eyed but writers are not above some prejudice. Just as Gary Ballance can bemoan his shot selection, so the journalist may regret some opinions aired. We can't sit on the fence, but neither can we always reinforce our theories when events take a different turn.

As American writer Kathryn Schulz once said: "Our love of being right is best understood as our fear of being wrong."

<b>Tim Ellis</b>

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