Clash of the titans
I took out time yesterday to go to the SSC and watch cricket. Well that’s what I'm on tour for, right?
But this wasn’t an international. This was Ten Sports Thunder versus Sri Lankan journalists, and it was like something out of Marcus Berkmann’s Zimmer Men.
The teams have arranged to play on the proper SSC pitch. This isn’t a practice ground. It’s the real deal. There are first-class umpires in proper attire. Players from both sides, in various shapes and sizes, are practicing their batting, bowling and fielding. You can immediately tell who’s played to a certain level and who hasn’t.
As I enter the dressing room, the mood is positively upbeat. The room is strewn with cricket gear. There’s music playing from a docking speaker system. The Ten Sports team is yakking away in clusters, a mile a minute. Some are discussing tactics, other cursing the heat. Danny Morrison, sitting with Hamish, a cameraman, is having a laugh. Gavin is waiting for the arrival of a set of T-shirts. The Mobitel mascot, a rather sad looking excuse for a bunny, is being suited up. Ranil Abeynaike is talking to a few production crew members. Mike Haysman is nowhere to be seen. Tony Greig is scheduled to be here for the post-match formalities. Kumar Dharmasena was supposed to umpire but he's not here.
The Sri Lankan journalists across in the other room look decidedly confident. Chaminda and Manoj, from Cricinfo’s local office, are discussing the batting order. Chaminda says he’ll go at No. 5, with Manoj just ahead. Word on the street is that the journalists have drafted in a few young club players. Hemant, who just landed from Ten’s base in Dubai yesterday, isn’t worried: “They’ve got club players, we’ve got Test players.”
The T-shirts arrive. Immediately, players start dipping in to the pile. Not all of them get the right size. Some are a tight squeeze. Morrison and Hamish keep talking and laughing. Nothing fits Ian Bishop, not even XL, so he decides to stick to what he turned up in. While the others warm-up, stretch, have a knock, listen to music and Morrison’s attempts at singing alongside his favourite song, The Foo Fighters' The Best of You, Bishop sits by himself on the balcony. He’ll much rather be putting on the green.
The two captains return from the toss. “What’re we doing, skip?” yells Hamish, now out on the balcony while Morrison drops his pants and gets into gear. Gavin makes a bowling action with his right arm. “Oh, no” says Bishop, rolling his eyes.
The match, originally slated for 35 overs, has been reduced to 30. A couple players mutter that 20 should be more like it in this heat. The game begins. A mixture of English, Hindi and Reggae music resounds from the stands. The fielders pretty much stand where they feel. Abeynaike stands at slip. Morrison runs in from a few paces and delivers the ball. It’s short of a length outside off stump and cut away for runs. He keeps a pretty tidy line all over. A Sri Lankan kept on stand-by for the Ten Sports team, chatting on his cell phone, turns to Hemant sitting next to me and asks: “What’s the bowler’s name, please?” Classic.
The fielding is a mixed bag, as expected with a side of non-professionals. Sluggish fielders are cheered by their team-mates and colleagues in the stands. Hard-hit interceptions are applauded. The wicketkeeping is pretty good, bar one dropped catch.
Morrison gets a wicket and while his team-mates rush to congratulate him, he stands, arms on knees, looking out of breath. Bishop swings his arms, in a golf-shot motion, time and again. I ask him if he’s going to bowl first change and he shakes his head. “I’m just making up the numbers,” comes his reply. Then he gets down and does some push-ups. Morrison gets another wicket, and his stoop straightens. There’s a spruce in his steps now.
There’s something I read Steve Waugh say about Bishop that I’ve never forgotten. Asked once about the toughest bowlers he faced, Waugh mentioned Bishop. He said that Bishop was capable of bowling six different deliveries in an over, each one in creasing in pace, and if he’d played five deliveries in a row consistently, Bishop would come up with a corker on the sixth.
One firm shot goes down the ground between Morrison at long-on and Bishop at long-off. Four runs. “Cricket in slow motion,” says Mohandas Menon, the statistician. Manoj slashes his second ball, off Morrison, square on the off side for four. “There’s a shot!” says Hemant, clicking away on his camera. Morrison gets another wicket. He bowls very accurately – “tidier than when he played for New Zealand” someone quips. Hemant asks if he wants some water. “Got a Heineken?” is the reply.
The Mobitel bunny takes off his mask and sits down in the stands. It’s hot, can’t blame him. He doesn’t look too thrilled to be here. Methinks some cheerleaders would help. Bishop is coaxed into having a bowl and he gets a wicket almost immediately. His Ten Sports team-mates are all too thrilled with his effort. Bishop can hardly contain his excitement. I’m kidding about that one.
After his over, Bishop slowly walks back to his place at long-off, still looking like he’d rather be driving on the green, and goes back to practicing his golf swing.
I ask Manoj about facing Bishop. “Didn’t run in, machan, just took few steps but when the ball hit the ground it came very fast. Still got some pace. One ball I pressed forward and the ball came off the wicket, zzzzuup, and beat me.”
I hear a voice calling my name and turn around to see Ranjit Fernando. He’s pretty fit for 65 but says it’s been a while since he played. We talk cricket for a while, wicketkeeping in particular, and then walk over to the boundary rope where Morrison is coming off after his spell, looking rather flushed. “I’ve been fresher,” he says and joins us in the dressing room. Back on goes the docking system. I hear shouts outside the pavilion. Another wicket has gone down. Ten Sports aren’t doing too bad at all.
Revived by his mid-day siesta, Morrison goes on to play a key role with the bat as Ten Sports chase down 207 with three wickets in hand. Morrison, promoted as a pinch-hitting opener, clubs 46 in four overs, including four sixes off the opening bowlers. And as each ball is being delivered to him Morrison yells out “Giggedy Gig” (from The Family Guy) before slogging. The Mobitel bunny gathers some steam with a female counterpart. With Gavin providing the anchor’s role with an important unbeaten 60, and Bishop’s 30 steadying the side after they slipped to 130 for 6, Ten Sports complete a very satisfying win after struggling to win matches in Dambulla earlier, during their long stay in Sri Lanka.
Spare a thought for Hamish, though, who drops four catches and makes a silver duck too. Fernando and Trevor Chesterfield hand out the awards after the match, with Morrison fittingly named Man of the Match and Gavin named Best Batsman. Bishop considers making himself available for the West Indies F team that will be going to the Champions Trophy soon.
A rematch is promised next year. I can see Bishop still practicing his golf swing at long-off.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo