ICC World Twenty20 June 10, 2009

Ashes for England, history for Broad

Here are the Official Confectionery Stall Conclusions From Days 1 to 5 Of the World Twenty20

Here are the Official Confectionery Stall Conclusions From Days 1 to 5 Of the World Twenty20.

England will definitely win the Ashes

The perfect final over except those four missed chances © Associated Press

Australia were humiliatingly dumped out of the tournament from a group containing only Sri Lanka (a nation that failed to win a Test match between 1877 and 1985) and West Indies (who had played no discernible cricket in the previous two months).

England, by the starkest of contrasts, heroically stormed into the last eight despite being lumbered in The Group Of Death with the Netherlands (a team good enough to beat England, the founders of cricket, in their own head-quarters) and Pakistan (undisputed 1992 World Cup winners, and a team good enough to beat the team good enough to beat England).

The only possible conclusion from this is that the Ashes are all but in Andrew Strauss’s back pocket already.

Arguably, I might be reading too much into it. But for those looking for omens of an England victory (in the absence of overwhelming scientific evidence pointing that way), in 2005 the Australians suffered a Twenty20 humiliation, losing to England by 100 runs, and went on to lose the Ashes.

Therefore, an England win is surely written in the stars. Admittedly, there are innumerable stars in the sky, and, if you squint hard enough, you can convince yourself almost anything is written in them. Last week, a friend of mine told me that the words “if you ride your bicycle fast enough into a disused quarry you won’t get hurt” were written in the stars. His heavily bandaged head and knees bear painful testament to his need to invest in a higher-quality telescope.

Stuart Broad is a natural-born history-maker

Not content with being ceremoniously plonked for six sixes by Yuvraj in the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007, Broad became (it must be safe to assume) the first cricketer at any level of the game to miss four chances in a single over.

Three potential run-outs and a caught-and-bowled opportunity literally slipped through his fingers in a quite heroic display of near-missing in the last over of England’s defeat to the Dutch. That he managed to remain focused on his world record attempt whilst simultaneously bowling an almost perfect final over was still more impressive.

The momentousness of Broad’s achievement was somewhat lost in the frenzy of the match’s staggering climax and the hair-rending anguish / joyous celebrations / barely-suppressed sniggering that followed (delete one or more of the above according to whether you are from (a) England, (b) Netherlands, or (c) anywhere else in the cricketing world). Boys were expelled from my school for missing four chances in an entire season. To miss four in an over is the stuff of well-earned immortality.

On reflection, it was the quality of his bowling that gave him the four opportunities not to dismiss the batsmen. This was a two-tone jelly of top-level professionalism and village-green clangery, displaying international sport at its most compelling.

A lesser player would have been satisfied with his slice of history, wrapped it up in a hanky, and quietly faded into the background. Broad, however, responded with 3 for 17 against Pakistan. The lad clearly had tungsten-coated balls.

Momentum schmomentum

There is much talk of the importance of momentum in this competition (particularly in an effort to give meaning to the final three group matches, which have been rendered practically pointless due to the peculiar means of deciding who plays in which Super Eights group – if West Indies beat Sri Lanka and India beat Ireland in the final matches today, all four group winners will be in the same Super Eights section, thus rewarding teams for not showing off by winning their two group games).

However, it is the Confectionery Stall’s firm belief that the sultry temptress Momentum is one of cricket’s more deceitful goddesses.

Group B has proved this theory. England went in to their match against Netherlands surfing a wave of momentum after six consecutive wins in all forms of cricket. They fell off their surfboard. They not only lost, but also ticked more ineptitude boxes than Mike Gatting has had hot dinners, and took the kind of public battering usually reserved for an especially naughty politician or a particularly tasty-looking piece of haddock. They thus entered the game against Pakistan with no momentum. And won. Easily.

Pakistan, their already non-existent momentum shunted into reverse gear by this heavy defeat, then faced the Dutch, oozing momentum out of every pore after their landmark win against England. Pakistan duly clobbered the Dutch. On this evidence, teams should be looking to enter the Super Eights with the minimum possible momentum achievable without stalling completely. (Australia unluckily took this approach one step too far.)

Perhaps Netherlands had too much momentum, and overbalanced like an overfed rhino in a slalom skiing race. Or perhaps they had the wrong kind of momentum. Or pointed their momentum in the wrong direction.

Or perhaps it doesn’t necessarily matter that much in sport − and especially in an unpredictable sport like Twenty20, in which surprises are more likely and results more changeable than in longer forms of cricket, as they would be, for example, in one-set as opposed to five-set tennis matches, or one-egg egg-cooking competitions rather than a week-long best breakfast tournament.

This is, in my opinion, both a strength and a weakness of Twenty20, just as the shortness of the tournament is both an advantage and a drawback. Anyone could win it. But, by the same token, anyone could win it.

(As a footnote to this, it has been brought to my attention that in my previous blog I may not have analysed England’s alleged defeat to Netherlands with quite the rigour some would have expected. However, so excellent was the hosts’ performance in their second game that I have concluded that the opening match was a hoax. England, a well-funded professional side, did so many things wrong – silly selection, complacent underestimation of their opposition, batting like a bowl of porridge in the latter part of their innings, the list goes on and on and on and on – that the entire match must have been a media fabrication.)

I still quite like Twenty20

Before this tournament began, I quite liked Twenty20. I have watched much of this tournament. I still quite like Twenty20.

I’ve enjoyed some of the cricket, but have found some of it repetitive and formulaic. Watching Yuvraj and Gayle majestically demolish roofs of buildings is magnificent in any form of the game. Watching player after player haul his front leg out of the way and mow the ball over midwicket becomes decreasingly interesting. It has been good to see the stumping reclaim prominence in the scorebook, but I have started to hanker after slip fielders, textbook forward defensives, and lulls in the game.

If Twenty20 fever is sweeping the world, I think I might have developed immunity to it. I would love to contract a dose, as it seems inevitable that T20 will increasingly dominate global cricket. However, for all its several unarguable virtues, and the fervour and crowds it brings, it lacks too much of what I love most about cricket.

I am, however, more convinced than ever that, if the powers-that-claim-to-be in world cricket are genuinely serious about the primacy and importance of Test cricket, they must take action to preserve and nurture it, alongside its shorter, brasher, more accessible grandchild. Cricket is now competing against itself, and too much recent Test cricket has been featureless and predictable. If this is allowed to continue, the Twenty20 grandchild will pack its five-day granddad off to a nursing home, and probably forget to send him a birthday card.

Issue 2 of The Zaltzman Report World Twenty20 audio show will be available late on Thursday or early on Friday. Tune in (if tuning in is possible on a downloadable/streamable bit of audio) to hear me attempt to laugh off having lost my 10 pence bet on England to beat Netherlands at odds of 1-25.

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