India (and Scotland) a shoo-in for the finals
Exciting update: Andy's audio preview is here.
In less than three weeks’ time, we will know once and for all which country is currently the greatest nation in the world. Admittedly, this conclusion is dependent on whether your sole criterion for adjudicating the greatness of nations is their ability to win Twenty20 tournaments (and, also admittedly, this is not currently on the United Nations’ official list of ratified country-quality measures).
Nevertheless, the excitement is building ahead of what should be an exciting and enjoyable tournament, even for those who, like myself, are not particularly enthusiastic devotees of the short-form game. The tournament has the kind of intense schedule that enhances tension, rather than the elongated monotony of partial action that has scarred recent world cups. The grounds will be full, the teams have identity, most of the world’s best players will be playing, new heroes will carve their names into immortality with valuable 25-run cameos or match-turning spells of 1 for 16, and, in this melodramatic brand of cricket, upsets are almost guaranteed.
A case can be made for any one of the twelve teams to win – and I will make those cases in the first Zaltzman Report, my weekly World Twenty20 audio show (which should be available late on Thursday or early on Friday). Suffice it to write for now that Ireland will buoyed by the incontrovertible truth that the World Twenty20 has always previously been won by a team beginning with the letter I.
So, will the World Twenty20 capture the broader British public’s easily distractable imagination? Possibly. It feels like the cricketing summer is finally about to begin – those who complained that there should be no international cricket in May effectively got their wish, such was the irredeemable pointlessness of the West Indian ‘tour’.
At the very least, it will give the nation something to take its mind off whether members of parliament have submitted an expenses claim for a rogue £1.99 for a novelty Queen Mother pencil sharpener when it is well documented that they only ever write with their lucky Henry VIII commemorative ball-pen.
However, without live free-to-air television coverage, the home team will need to put up an uncharacteristically competent challenge, in defiance of recent history and an overall Twenty20 record that might charitably be described as “easily improvable”.
At most recent international tournaments, they have played with the confidence and know-how of a sausage in a crocodile pit. In all sporting competitions, there can be a danger of peaking too early – at least, since their 1992 World Cup near miss, England’s cricketers have become indisputable grand masters at avoiding this particular pitfall. Arguably, they have taken their devotion to not peaking too early some way beyond what is desirable or effective.
However, England should begin with confidence high after a succession of wins in all forms of the game. They concluded their preparations with another convincing win against West Indies on Wednesday, although, on their opponents’ current form, managing to contrive anything other than a convincing win against them would have taken a superhuman effort of targeted ineptitude.
Whether this confidence sustains them through the tougher tests in this tournament and the Ashes beyond remains to be seen – there must have been plenty of gladiators in ancient Roman times who discovered that having successfully swatted ten flies in a row counted for little when they came up against a peckish lion.
England will again have to cope without Flintoff, and whilst they would be significantly better with him, he has not played enough of late for them actually to miss him. From an Ashes perspective, his absence is unquestionably good news for England fans, as his current injury significantly reduces the amount of cricket in which he can injure himself before the Test series begins.
On a personal note, the last time there was an international tournament on these shores – the mendaciously-named ICC Champions Trophy of 2004 – England accidentally reached the final, and I deliberately got married on the middle Saturday of the tournament.
The former is marginally more likely to recur than the latter. If England’s success is to be repeated, they will need to overcome the joint force of their recent record and relative lack of experience at this form of the game. If my personal success is to be repeated, I will have to (a) work fast and with devastatingly alluring charm; (b) break the law; and (c) thoroughly annoy my current wife of nearly 5 years. Since I have no desire to do either (b) or (c), my historic inability to do (a) is rendered thankfully irrelevant.
The Official Confectionery Stall Tournament Predicted Winner: India. Or Scotland.
Too close to call. Probably Scotland though. The stormy exit of John Blain is exactly the kind of ruction that often pulls squads together and propels them towards their ultimate triumph before being made into a blockbusting Hollywood movie with some contrived love interest – probably Reece Witherspoon as a female umpire, who after triggering the Scottish captain (Keanu Reeves as Gavin Hamilton) with a terrible lbw decision in a group-stage match ends up giving the same player not out bowled off the penultimate ball of the final before Reeves/Hamilton belts a tournament-winning walk-off home-run off the final pitch, and the happy couple lift the trophy together on the Lord’s balcony before flying off in a helicopter to a secret meeting at ICC headquarters in Los Angeles. Also starring Will Smith as ex-ICC chief Malcolm Speed, and Al Pacino as Billy Bowden. Based on a true story.
Look out for the regular Confectionery Stall postings during the tournament (hopefully daily, although some days may last 48 hours), and the weekly Zaltzman report audio bulletin. Here's the first one
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer