Thank you for not muddying any of the clear blue water that is supposed to separate winners and losers. Thank you for putting up with some pretty rank bad manners at times this summer and taking everything that came your way, some of the good and all of the bad, with the unbroken gaze of a born competitor.
One way and another you took a hell of a pounding at The Oval, losing the toss for a fourth time in five on what you would describe as a distinctly ordinary strip, copping a Stuart Broad, such a pain in the rear-end at Headingley, who suddenly looked as though he had stepped out of the clouds of Greek mythology, having the ball driven into your face from extremely short distance, and then losing your wicket to a flaming arrow of a throw from Andrew Flintoff, of all local heroes, just when you looked perfectly set for your 39th Test century and, who knew, possibly the authorship of the greatest victory in the history of the old game.
All in all it was guaranteed to take the spring out of the stride of a baby kanger but if you weren’t happy, indeed if you were as disgruntled as you ever were in your turbulent youth, your behaviour was – as it has been throughout a most difficult summer – absolutely impeccable.
Apparently there are rumblings Down Under about your continued captaincy, a conclusion that you are not exactly in the all-conquering tradition of Allan Border and Steve Waugh and that losing the Ashes for a second time on English soil is surely terminal carelessness.
Personally, it is hard to see any value in your possible demise. You are still demonstrably one of the great batsmen and it is hard to imagine anyone better equipped to repeat your feat of 2006-07, when you could have only gained greater revenge for the loss in 2005 by having the heads of Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen placed on spikes and displayed on the heights of Sydney Bridge.
Your demeanour at the outset of that triumph was something to behold, even for someone who had seen the resolve of such warriors as Roberto Duran and Eddy Merckx before going about their work. They called Merckx “The Cannibal” and Duran was said to have hands of stone. Well, neither of them showed before battle a more icy determination than you did when you declared the ambition of regaining the Ashes before that first Test in Brisbane in which England were not so much beaten as engulfed.
Flintoff’s throw put an end to that and if you were aware of the savage irony, if you were conscious that a hero who had apparently run his course had damaged you, irreparably, with the last of his means, the look on your face reflected the feelings of so many in the old ground. An element of what might have been another superb twist of a compelling contest had been expunged.
Certainly there is nothing to say that can take away the sting of defeat felt by the great competitors. The greatest of them can merely remember the old Kipling line about the twin impostors, and be no more diminished by defeat than glorified by victory.
The most important point you have made this summer is the need to keep hold of your emotions and maintain a sound head while all the time fighting with every legitimate device at your disposal.
A lesser man might have bridled under the weight of evidence that the fates had taken one look in his direction and decided to leave town. All that could go wrong, mostly did, not least that after a summer of worry about the frailty of English batting the home selectors finally made an inspired choice in the pugnacious and accomplished Jonathan Trott.
You might have sneered that in the loss of Pietersen England had no choice but to turn to South Africa once again. Instead of which you took your licks and acknowledged that the best team, the one that ultimately had seized its chances most surely, deserved to come home as undisputed winners.
JAMES LAWTON, The Independent
Look, mate, I know this will probably carry about as much consolation as a warm beer beside a malodorous billabong but I just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you for reminding us that there is a way of losing that can pinpoint the glory of sport just as acutely as winning.