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Johnson column: Defeat is only the start of a ritual torture

Losing a game of cricket is never nice, but for the modern day Test captain it’s a lot more painful than it used to be. HDG Leveson-Gower, for example, was able to lose a series in South Africa in 1909-10 without having to face the kind of inquisition demanded of a different Gower in 1989, otherwise he too might have walked out of a Press conference claiming he was late for the theatre, or responded to a daft question with a Basil Fawlty-style head-butt to a trestle table.

And, as we saw in Barbados, things have now got even worse for the bloke in charge. Not only does he have to explain himself to the scribblers, he is also obliged to turn up for a public grilling at one of these excruciating closing ceremonies, where the torture includes having to listen to an MC thanking everyone from the sponsors, right down from the managing director to the tea boy.

I’m not entirely sure when this format first sprung up, but it’s everywhere now. Winning a tennis match at the Australian Open in Melbourne, for example, carries with it the penalty of being interviewed immediately afterwards by John McEnroe, or even worse Jim Courier, who once began an interview with Roger Federer with the toe-curling introduction: “Tell me. What makes the Fed so great?”

It’s always a former player who’s put in charge of these things, and in the case of Joe Root in the immediate aftermath of the Barbados debacle, he was thrust on stage to answer questions from the former West Indian Test player Darren Ganga, who wasn’t much cop as a batsman (48 Tests, with an average of 25.7) and is no Jeremy Paxman as an interviewer, either.

As Root hung around like a schoolboy waiting outside the headmaster’s study, Ganga’s first job was to make sure that everyone had managed to work out the result, firstly by congratulating the West Indies for going one up in the series, then commiserating with England for going one down in the series. After which, it was, “let’s hear it for the
sponsors time”.

When Darren finally got through the list, we were aware that there is an official water supplier to West Indies cricket, an official team kit provider, an official team helmet provider, an official betting partner of Cricket West Indies, and a long list of (presumably) unofficial benefactors – including an airline, two brands of beer, a Cola, and a ‘sports’ drink.

Finally, Root – commendably still awake – was called forward to face the music, possibly sponsored by Bridgetown’s best known conch manufacturer. And Darren was in no mood to give him a gentle loosener off the mark. Going straight for the jugular, he said: “Tough luck today. You must be disappointed with the result.”

Joe might have paused at this point, wondering whether to give such a ridiculous question the answer it deserved. “Disappointed? What makes you think that? We’ve just held a team ranked only just above Bangladesh to a mere 381-run margin, and of all our 20 wickets to fall, only about 12 were the result of totally hare-brained shots. So I couldn’t be more delighted.”

If Joe had succumbed to what must have been an overpowering urge to remove the microphone from Darren’s hands and relocate it to a different part of his anatomy, no-one could have blamed him. But the old pro in him kicked in, and he played out the verbal equivalent of a quiet maiden over. Not good enough, need to bounce back quickly, and the old cliché about not becoming a bad team overnight.

Eventually, Root was allowed to return to the dressing room to run through the list of official expletives to the England cricket team, whereupon Jason Holder was summoned onto the stage to discover that when it came to the closing ceremony, it was just as excruciating being the winning captain.

Darren asked Jason to talk him through the emotions when he got to his double century, and when the West Indies skipper revealed that these were “difficult to explain”, Darren beamed and nodded as though Jason had just delivered the world exclusive scoop of the century.

This was followed by: “Your family was here on the ground when you scored your double century. How special was it for you as a cricketer?”

Jason pondered briefly, perhaps wondering whether it was more special for him as a cricketer than, say, as a peanut vendor or a gateman, and said: “Extremely.”

Darren managed to prise out these verbal nuggets with a technique of prefacing a question with a shameless dollop of flattery, as in: “You have shown you have a mature head on your shoulders. Are there still areas of the game that you still want to improve?”

As with Root, Holder might have had some fun with this kind of inanity. “No. We’re so brilliant I can’t think of a single area we need to improve. Especially against a team as hopeless as England.” But, like Root, he played the game. Long way to go, plenty to work on, no complacency, etc etc.

However, if a captain spends long enough in the job then introducing a jocular note or two may eventually be the only way of getting through these things.

Even Graham Gooch succumbed to moments of levity as on one memorable occasion at a Press conference towards the end of a series when England kept interchanging their slip fielders.

“Have you,” inquired the man from the Evening Standard before the start of a Test, “given any thought about where you might put your slips?”

To which Gooch replied: “Yes John. I thought I might put them next to the wicketkeeper.”

However, what we really need to prevent the viewer from slipping into a deep coma during these closing ceremonies is to sharpen up the interviewing techniques.

As in the 1989 Ashes series, when England had gone down to their third defeat in four Tests at Trent Bridge, and one of the Aussie reporters delivered the opening question to Micky Stewart. “Tell me Micky,” he said. “Why are the Poms
so crap?”

MARTIN JOHNSON

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