LONDON — For the biggest cog in an erstwhile empire, England sure has managed to sprinkle the world with mirth. Just look at its generosity across time.
First, it invents a horde of sports that become popular and then it introduces those sports to its stunning array of colonies during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Then, come centuries No. 20 and 21, it proceeds to lose at the games it invented, sometimes even to the former colonies. As with Tuesday's ouster from the cricket World Cup in Barbados, England stands by, dejected, while a former underling exults. Your final four in this seven-week-long anti-Kentucky Derby is South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Australia.
That would be a country the British ruled from about 1806 until 1961, a country the British ruled from 1840 to 1907, a country ceded to the British in 1796 but independent under the name Ceylon come 1948, and a country the British once established as a penal colony before the colony grew up to have really studly athletes and a staggering tolerance for beer.
While those four play on -- it's South Africa versus Australia and New Zealand versus Sri Lanka -- England walked off Tuesday from a "mercy killing" -- that's Mike Dickson's terminology in the Daily Mail -- to booing, from its own traveling fans. England has lost again at one of its own inventions, and if that reminds Americans of another English-speaking nation that loses at basketball and baseball, remember that offspring often emulate their parents.
Despite perfecting soccer in the 16th century, England hasn't won the soccer World Cup in 40 years, and since nobody's having another one until 2010, won't have won it -- or reached a final -- in 44. Despite perfecting tennis during the 19th century, Englishmen haven't won Wimbledon in 71 years, with Englishwomen winless for 30. And despite inventing cricket probably sometime around the 13th century, England has won zero of the nine cricket World Cups since cricket intellectuals hatched the concept beginning in 1975.
Worse, it hasn't cracked the final four since 1992.
Still worse, Tuesday's nine-wicket obliteration, in an anticipated tussle with South Africa for the last semifinal slot, forced the BBC to drag out the word "ignominious."
The Sun went, "Sorry England Out of Cup." The Mirror had, "World's End." The Guardian offered the "Full, Sickening Scorecard." England had wilted at the bowling of South Africa's Andrew Hall, famed survivor of a gunshot wound from a Johannesburg mugging.
So there came the news conference, and England captain Michael Vaughan said, "It's a horrible feeling to walk off the pitch in Barbados and get booed by our own supporters.... I fully understand why they have given us that sort of reception.... Since 1992 England haven't produced any good one-day cricket. We need to know why."
Beneath the soccer ravings about Manchester United and Chelsea, you could almost hear cricket fans calling for the dismissal of Coach Duncan Fletcher, taking to the BBC with such postings as, "I can't believe I've just wasted an afternoon of my life watching 11 overrated men serve up such complete drivel on a cricket field," and, "I have run out of beer."