Incredible! Not only was the Twenty20 Final a fantastic game of cricket, but Middlesex won their first trophy since Mike Gatting was playing. And in a format which they have been useless at for the five previous years of the tournament.
But it was the semi-final which really showed up the injustice of the Man of the Match system. Tyron Henderson got it for his quickfire 59 but the real engineers of the win were, as usual, Murali Kartik and Shaun Udal, the two spinners who delivered overs 7-14 for a mere 36 runs. Throughout the tournament their typical combined figures have been 8-0-43-2, the equivalent of putting the opposition batsmen in a box and sitting on the lid for eight overs, or 40% of the innings, and it’s been the ‘Flash Harries’ who’ve got the 60 in 40 balls who walk off with the Man-of-the-Match awards.
The big difference in Middlesex this year is that they had found the missing piece of the machine. Whereas last year Kartik’s four overs of excellence got lost amid the dross, this year he has had Udal to back him up and they have been oppressive enough to ensure that the batsmen have rarely had to trouble 160. Middlesex’s rickety Twenty20 contraption which fell to bits as soon as it was pushed last year gained in Udal the cross-strut which made it into a stable and powerful engine.
“The Udal Story” ought to be a Frank Capra movie starring Jimmy Stewart. The young man gets his first job as a cricketer and does pretty well, then falls into bad company and loses his way. Running around with the feckless ne’er-do-wells who laughingly call themselves England’s one-day team rarely does anyone any good, but Udal sees the error of his ways pretty quickly and then settles down to a life of honest toil as a good county spinner. Years later, as he begins to coast to retirement, a stranger arrives from across the sea and reinvigorates him, and then by a strange set of accidents there’s a vacancy in the England side and he gets picked. Off they go to India, and in a dramatic vital match the new young pretender [Monty Panesar] loses his nerve and bowls rubbish while the old guy bowls his team to victory.
Thinking his career over, though at least he’s now got the tale of how he won the Test in Mumbai to tell his grandchildren, he decides to hang up his boots, but then John Emburey, coach to a bunch of kids who have failed over and over again, asks him to come and help them out. “Please, mister, will ya, please?” mew the little kittens, and Udal can’t disappoint them so he agrees.
And he and his new kids then go out and win every match (just about), go to the play-offs and win the grand final. How heartwarming can you get? You’d need a Capra not to make such a movie sickly.
We haven’t yet seen the closing scenes: we don’t know how this film will end. There’s going to be one in Antigua, and maybe another in India or somewhere, and then there’s the question of whether he will want to come back again next year. At the age of 39, Shaun Udal may not feel like a full County Championship, but Middlesex’s chances of retaining the Twenty20 Cup in 2009 will disappear entirely if he retires.
Maybe my naming him my Man of the Tournament will persuade him to at least be around for the Twenty20. If Shaun Pollock, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath can manage these four-over spells in their dotage, surely Shaun Udal can too.