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The excuses have begun

FOUR days into the first Test against england, Sri Lanka seem to be edging close to victory. England have eight wickets left and a day to survive; they are still 99 runs in arrears and the wicket is slowly breaking up. And thus, rather predictably, the gutter press in Britain, the Sun foremost, have started offering the customary excuses.

Why offer excuses? Why not simply accept the fact that beating Sri Lanka at home is a tough proposition? Let's remember that after England defeated the West Indies, the jingoistic tabloids suddenly started seeing qualities in their team which they had been unable to spot for a long, long time. So high did optimism run that for a while, there was talk of there being a serious chance of regaining the Ashes during the English summer. When the Poms managed to defeat Pakistan in Pakistan, the shouting grew even more shrill.

The moment England had to follow on, a lot of umpiring decisions were questioned. This man never got a touch and was caught behind. The other bloke was rapped on the pads by a ball that was miles outside the leg-stump. A third chap was caught off his shirt sleeve and give out. The umpires are to blame for this catastrophe. And if defeat comes, then, why, this kind of yellow journalism can be even tilted to make it out to be a conspiracy.

Mind you, there is every chance that England will avoid defeat in this Test. Even if defeat comes, there are two more Tests and they could well level or even win the series. But that is immaterial here. These scab sheets are devoted to one overriding factor - jingoism. If defeat comes, then it is due to external factors. Having prepared the public and the entire country for a tilt at the Ashes, how can one countenance defeat to a country which until recently was never accorded more than a single Test at one go?

There are bad decisions in every series. There are times when a team is vastly superior to its opposition and is undone by bad decisions - the West Indies faced this when they toured New Zealand in 1980. That kind of series is rare these days as umpires now come from two countries, there is a third umpire and also a match referee. The point is, professional cricketers have to accept bad decisions as part and parcel of the game. They have to pick themselves up and carry on.