The sportsfan’s eternal dilemma

Sometimes when you sit down to write a blog, you have no clear idea in your mind what you want to say and how you want to say it. Sometimes you know the preamble, and the ultimate point that you want to make, and sometimes you just need to write and see what comes out.

Sport has a curious way of throwing up the unexpected; in hindsight, such unexpected instances are actually blindingly obvious. This week there have been two such instances by England sporting teams (and in this case I am ignoring the two spineless displays by England’s 2nd XI football team). Instead, I want to focus on rugby and cricket.

On Saturday, the England team lost narrowly to the All Blacks, and most aspects of their performance were rightly lauded. However, anyone with any nous at all could have predicted how the match would go; that England, undermined by nerves and lack of international experience would be steamrollered early on; that the All Blacks would have a period of calm at which point England had to drag themselves back into the game; but ultimately the All Blacks would find another gear. The fact is, England were good enough to get back into the game, but any team sportsman will tell you that it is easier chasing down a score than leading, and that you are actually most vulnerable when you think you have done all the hard work. This happened with England; they took the lead, switched off momentarily, conceded a penalty and never looked like scoring again.

Anyone who watched the summer’s Ashes would actually have viewed this winter’s contest with trepidation. In the first couple of games, Australia were hopeless, but in reality, England were not much better. As the series wore on, it became a much more even contest, and you could even claim that the weather helped England in two out of the last three matches. The reason England won is that they seized the key moments, and this was primarily down to the bowlers. Ian Bell was, by common consent, the outstanding player on either side, and deservedly won the Man of the Series Award. Yet he didn’t win a single Man of the Match award, despite rescuing England on four occasions. The three Man of the Match awards in England’s winning games went to Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Joe Root, who all produced a single moment of brilliance, rather than the sustained excellence that Bell displayed.

And so it has proved again. After two days of the first test, Australia have proved that they can’t bat and England have just proved that neither can they. The bowling, on both sides, however, is different. Mark my words, there won’t be any draws in this series, assuming the weather doesn’t intervene, nor would I be particularly confident of play on the fifth day of any of the matches. But it will be compelling, even if it will be in the way that we all used to watch Dr Who – from behind the sofa.

The point of all this? I suppose it is a question of whether you would rather have sustained excellence, or flashes of brilliance? Football throws up countless examples of players who “on their day” were breathtaking. Every club supporter could name at least one who has graced the books of their team, and who they would recall with much more fondness than the poor manager who has to try and work out how best to play them in a team (think Frank Worthington through to Mario Balotelli). But the players who have delivered sustained success to clubs have been those whose work ethic is strong, who have shown loyalty and commanded respect. Is it any surprise that the sustained success of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United was based around Patrick Veiera, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes, giving licence to Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Ruud van Nistlerooy?

I would always choose sustained excellence and long term track record over occasional flashes of brilliance. It might not be the most exciting way to prosper, but it does mean that you will find them on the same telephone number the next time you need to recruit………..

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