LONDON: To be born English is to win first prize in the Lottery of life, someone undoubtedly born between the North Sea and the Atlantic once said and we all know, don’t we, that the English are a superior race, devoted to explaining our one-upmanship to all and sundry even when we lose.
Not for us, as for the Yanks, The President of the United States of America. Rather we like to say The Queen, The Open golf, The Houses of Parliament; confident The can only be interpreted as meaning British.
Of course sometimes, as this weekend, we have to bend the knee to a better set of sportsmen: the Indian cricketers, the French Rugby team and Tiger Woods, but there is always an excuse.
Take the cricketers who, the last time I looked, were less likely to avoid a 2-0 series defeat than to eat the sticky sweeties they carry everywhere.
Just to make the Indians feel welcome England have gone into the last two Tests without three formidable fast bowlers, with a wicketkeeper apparently either won in a raffle or chosen by some formula based on numerology or astrology; and several middle order batsmen who must have been ordered to attack when the coaching manuals say defence is the prime consideration. We are hospitable like that.
We know we are better than any Australian even though it has recently taken us 16 years to win back the Ashes for a few months before plunging to defeat by the biggest margin possible. We talk about winning the football World Cup in 1966 as if it were yesterday and every four years we kid ourselves that we will return from the Olympics with too many gold medals to carry away in a large suitcase. We usually come home with a paper bag that rattles.
At times we treat our visitors with less respect than we might. On the second day of this Test a badged and blazered Surrey official entered the press box where half a dozen Indian reporters were working hard and required them to leave. It was less than 90 minutes after the end of play and they had deadlines to meet. What did he think we were doing? asked one senior journalist. Holding a party?
We English prefer the glory of the retreat from Dunkirk or the close-run victory at Waterloo to the triumphs against the Spanish Armada or Field Marshal Montgomerys crushing victories in North Africa but that is because we detest immodesty. Heaven forbid an Englishman should celebrate victory too loudly. That would be too much of a shock like Michael Vaughan bowling Monty Panesar in the first 20 overs. Better to lose 2-0 at home in a three-Test series.