June 12, 2013

The magic Champions Trophy coin, and a defence for Ramdin

And more information on earthworms than you could ever find useful

The final Champions Trophy has, thus far, proceeded exactly as predicted. To an almost eerie degree. By this, I do not mean to state the obvious fact that Pakistan's batting metastasising from an Achilles Heel to a full-blown Achilles Both-Legs-And-Torso was not an unexpected development, as surprising as finding a yolk in an egg. Nor do I mean to confirm that the cricketing universe is not exactly gobsmacked at the revelations that West Indies are mostly underwhelming but still potentially lethal, that England's bowlers are more than useful, or that South Africa are as over-reliant on Amla and de Villiers as a racehorse is on its hind legs (particularly when both of its front legs are injured). And in any compilation of Least Eyebrow-Raising Sentences Of 2013, "India's fielding has been improved by an influx of youth", "Australia are not as good as they were when Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, Warne and McGrath were in the team", and "New Zealand and Sri Lanka could both beat and lose to anyone" would be lively contenders.

What I do mean is that the Champions Trophy Predictive Coin Toss Tournament I wrote about in the previous Confectionery Stall has correctly predicted all six results so far.

I reported, after the first match, that the one-pence piece used was under police protection. It is now being investigated by the ICC, the ACU, the UN, Interpol and the Royal Mint in London, which suspects that it may be a magic coin, one of just a few that contains a molecule from the Queen's actual face buried underneath the relief portrait of her that adorns British money so monarchically.

If I had gambled that one pence on the first match, then re-gambled my original stake plus winnings on the five games since then - assuming I had been offered odds of evens on all the matches, which I probably would not have been - I would currently be sitting on a 64-pence goldmine. And assuming the holy proclamations of the omniscient copper remain true for the rest of the tournament, which they unquestionably will, then, in two weeks' time, I will be driving around London in a brand new limousine, bought for £327.67 (my winnings from the tournament, minus the original one pence, my numismatic golden goose, which I will guard with my life). (I am a bit out of the loop regarding the price of a limousine. The only catalogue I could find was from 1907.)

Of course, if the self-proclaimed Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, had punted the UK's education budget on my divine coin's prognostications, he would, by the end of the tournament, be able to afford to send every British child to one or both of Eton and Harrow, and pay for rockets to blast all the children in the rest of the world into space, thus ensuring British economic dominance of the world for all eternity. Osborne did not do this, for whatever politically dogmatic reason, and will be rightly vilified for his indecision by the right-wing and left-wing media alike.

Whilst the results may have been guessable even by a coin, there has been much excellent cricket - plus healthy dollops of striking ineptitude - with the two low-scoring nail-biters in the first round of matches, and India's sumptuous batting, being the highlights so far.

Pakistan were knocked out yesterday by India's cruising victory over West Indies. Whilst cricketing tradition suggests that you can never rule out Pakistan, they are up against it. But if any team can bounce back from being eliminated to win a tournament, that team is Pakistan.

Their efforts with the bat have been almost heroically useless. With the exceptions of Misbah (96 and 55) and Jamshed (50 and 42), the other ten players used by Pakistan collectively anti-amassed 73 runs in 18 innings at an average of 4.3. When Wahab Riaz is your third top scorer after two matches, your team probably has problems. When Wahab Riaz is your third top scorer after two matches with a grand total of 19 runs, your team has an imminent flight home.

The standout single moment of the tournament to date has been Denesh Ramdin's spectacularly insouciant toss of the ball to the square-leg umpire, after his "catch" of a Misbah inside edge. Ramdin was widely criticised, and officially banned, for his alleged misdemeanour, in which he appeared, according to the highly subjective visual proof of TV pictures, to have spilled the ball from his gloves, then picked it off the turf, nonchalantly tossed it to the square-leg umpire, and jogged to join in the team's celebrations, all with the carefree insouciance of Neil Armstrong blagging his way onto Apollo 11 by pretending to be a courier with a delivery of space cheese for Buzz Aldrin, then pressing the "launch" button and shouting "Bagsy be first man on the moon."

However, the Confectionery Stall is of the firm belief that Ramdin is the victim of a cruel miscarriage of justice. There are numerous explanations that exonerate the Caribbean gloveman:

1. Ramdin knew it was not out - in fact, in his defence, he did not even appeal but threw the ball to the umpire and ran to join his team-mates because he thought he heard an old World War Two air-raid siren going off (he has had problems with his hearing ever since his last conversation with Viv Richards, some time after brandishing his "Yea Viv Talk Nah" slogan at the Edgbaston Test last year). "Probably a false alarm," he must have thought, "but if it is a nuclear strike, I reckon we'll be lucky to get any more play in today."

2. Ramdin assumed Misbah had been given out obstructing the field. After all, the Pakistan skipper's inside edge had clearly interfered with the flight of the ball as it went past him, diverting it in a very unfair way, thus preventing Ramdin from taking the ball cleanly behind the stumps.

3. Ramdin wanted Misbah to stay in. He just loves watching Misbah bat, and was running up to his team-mates to tell them to watch and learn from the patient manner in which the belatedly flowering lynchpin of the Pakistan batting line-up constructs his innings.

4. Ramdin had forgotten the arcane sub-clause in the sacred laws of cricket about how, if the ball touches the ground, the batsman cannot be out caught.

5. The ball did not actually touch the ground. Ramdin is famous for taking two pet earthworms with him onto the field - his currently favoured two on-field wormpanions are his recent purchase, Enid-Geoffrey, aged one, and five-year-old veteran Belinda-Nigel. He leaves one behind the stumps at each end, telling them to burrow down when the bowling is from their end, to avoid being squidged by an errant paceman's boot.

When the incident in question occurred, viewers watching in superlatively slow-motion on an UHD (unnecessarily high-definition) TV will have seen the smiling face of Enid-Geoff balancing the ball on the end of her/his wormnose in a choreographed celebration straight from the training ground. Thus, the ball was never actually in contact with terra firma, as Enid-Geoff then flicked it up, pirouetted, and wormtailed the ball back into the doting Ramdin's gloves, with a celebratory wormwhoop (picked up by Snicko, it should be added).

Experts claim that the West Indian wicketkeepster finds that conversing with his worms between deliveries helps him maintain his focus. Wormologist and no-times-capped former England Test player Flagstone Eaglebutt, Emeritus Professor Of Entomology and Squiggly Studies at the University Of Nantwich, explained: "Ramdin's recently improved form must be attributable to his more relaxed frame of mind since he invested in his wormnagerie."

Professor Eaglebutt added: "Despite the sad death of his beloved Philippa-Bernardinho, who was tragically eaten by a pigeon when left unattended during a drinks break in the Sabina Park Test match against New Zealand last year, Ramdin has averaged 72 in his last seven Tests, and been undismissable in almost a year of ODIs. Admittedly he has only batted twice in that year, but the point stands."

The ICC has yet to rule on whether any wormcasts generated by Ramdin's hermaphroditic associates would incur a five-run penalty when struck by the ball. Some anti-worm activists have claimed they should carry the same status as spare helmets and Inzamam's wicker chair. There have also been murmurings of discontent from within the West Indies dressing room, with one unnamed team-mate describing the worms as "nothing more than unusually adventurous spaghetti", whilst signing for an online supermarket delivery of ready-made Bolognese sauce.

Some quick Champions Trophy stats:

● New Zealand, in their one-wicket win over Sri Lanka, became the first team ever to win an ODI despite having five batsmen given out leg before wicket. Of the previous 19 teams to have five or more batsmen dismissed lbw in an ODI, 18 lost, and one was saved by rain after being skittled for 106, gaining a no-result.

● New Zealand's win was also only the fifth ODI in which a team has triumphed despite its top seven batsmen all being out for 25 or fewer.

● Shikhar Dhawan's first six international innings (an ODI in October 2010, then a T20I and four more ODIs in June 2011): 0, 5, 51, 3, 4, 11. Effectively, 74 for 6 off 22.2 overs. With a six and four fours. His next three international innings (his Test debut, and his two innings in this tournament): 187, 114 and 102 not out. Effectively, 403 for 2 off 62.3 overs. With four sixes and 55 fours. He has learnt quickly, and learnt well.

● This has been a vintage tournament for No. 8 batsmen. In the first six matches No. 8s have averaged 60, at a strike rate of 103 - the highest numbers in both categories. Sammy's mightily stonked 56 was the third half-century by a No. 8 in just 11 innings (after McLaren and Faulkner also hit unbeaten fifties). In all ODIs before this tournament, No. 8s had averaged just under 17, at a strike rate of 75, and had scored on average one half-century every 43 innings.

So far, No. 2s in this Champions Trophy have averaged 55, but no other number has averaged over 30. In fact, numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 have collectively averaged a pitiful 22.7.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer