Ashes September 11, 2009

'Stalled' from doing the Ashes review

A few might even go so far as to argue that these games, along with the 13 ODIs England will play next summer are a cheeky, underhand scheme to discredit further the already-maligned 50-over format by boring the English cricket watching public into

Hello again Confectionery Stallers, and welcome back to the blog after a slightly-earlier-and-longer-than-expected holiday. I signed off the last blog in a flurry of post-Ashes statistical frenzy confidently predicting that I would post the Official Confectionery Stall Ashes Review. I can only apologise for not having done so. A number of things cropped up that prevented me doing so.

1. My wife discovered me having a candlelit dinner in a French restaurant with Statsguru. I tried to convince her that it was perfectly innocent, that I just wanted to thank Statsguru for all the help it has selflessly given me through the summer, but only time will tell whether she swallowed it. If she had heard me giggling coyly at all of Statsguru’s jokes, I would have been in big trouble.

Anyway, on our family holiday, I was not permitted to take even so much as a copy of Wisden with me. I tried to argue that if she was allowed to take two children with her, I was entitled to take two boxes of Wisdens with me. My wife, being a lawyer, won the argument convincingly. Even my offer to read her the match reports of England’s series in India in 1981-82 to help her get to sleep was rejected.

2. An unscheduled cricketing comeback. Having not played for three years, I strapped on what was left of my cricket kit for the first time since I became a father and took the field for the mighty Penshurst Park in a colossal local derby against Chiddingstone in the Kent Village League. Cricket simply does not come any more intense than that.

And what a return for Zaltzman, 34, striding to the wicket with eight overs remaining and Penshurst in need of quick runs, like Odysseus returning from his 20-year war-then-gap-decade extravaganza, surviving the easiest documented missed stumping opportunity on 3, spanking a six over long on that flabbergasted me, my wife, my bat, the ball and those of my team-mates who had seen me bat before, then creaming a cut straight to backward point, deciding the purity of the shot merited at least a single, and being run out by between 12 and 14 yards as the non-striking batsman stared in stationary amazement from comfortably and immovably within his crease.

Thus I was out for 17 mesmeric runs following a dazzling display of strokeplay all round the wicket that brought to mind a young Frank Woolley in his pomp, that proved what Mark Ramprakash might have achieved if given the chance at The Oval, that demonstrated once and for all that, while form is temporary, class (or, in this case, an absence of class) is permanent. Chiddingstone luckily fluked the match by seven wickets with about six overs to spare.

3. I have been unable to sit still for long enough to type more than three words at a time due to the febrile, adrenaline-surging excitement that rampaged through my body whenever I thought about the forthcoming seven-match one-day series.

The Ashes were a tasty if uneven appetite-whetting hors d’oeuvre, but now for the real main-course cricket – a Titanic three-week contest to define once and for all which of the two ancient rivals is the greater cricketing nation. There’s probably a trophy for it as well, although no-one is quite sure. And it might affect the ICC rankings too, although no-one knows how they work or what they mean. And there are crucial psychological points to be scored in the build-up to the 2010-11 and 2013 Ashes. And personal cricketing immortality awaits for any player who can send down ten tidy overs or smack a crucial 30 off 20 balls. England against Australia – cricket at its unquenchable greatest.

As I write, three matches in, the series has yet to fully explode into the shimmering majesty the world had expected.

Some may argue that waiting for this series to erupt is like sitting on top of a small hill in Gloucestershire wearing a heat-proof bodysuit while muttering: “Now for a spot of volcano surfing.” Others may suggest that these seven games represent that crassest example of scheduling in cricketing memory, further proof that those who run the game have no discernible soul. A few might even go so far as to argue that these games, along with the 13 (thirteen) (yes, thirteen) (I’m not joking, thirteen) one-day internationals England will play next summer are a cheeky, underhand scheme to discredit further the already-maligned 50-over format by boring the English cricket watching public into going to watch some crown-green bowling.

But for now, let us cast such cynics aside, and luxuriate in the mellifluous rhythms and majestic drama of England struggling to hit the ball off the square and Australia playing adequately enough to win easily.

4. The Ashes defied analysis. On reflection, there was nothing much to it. There was no great masterplan cunningly executed, no merciless exploitation of opposition weakness. Both sides played two good matches, and two bad ones. Australia failed to capitalise on one of their two good ones, but probably would have done but for rain.

England showed considerable mental resilience to rebound from their staggering ineptitude at Leeds and play an excellent match at The Oval, but only after showing considerable mental frailty to plumb those depths in the first place and necessitate a subsequent display of mental resilience. Having previously displayed similar frailty at Cardiff and similar resilience at Lord’s.

The pattern of the series suggested that if there had been a sixth Test, Australia would have waltzed it. And if there had then been a seventh, England would have trounced their old enemy and regained the Ashes in a blaze of unexpected glory.

If both sides had played well simultaneously, we could have seen a great Test. If both sides had played badly simultaneously, we could have seen one of the all-time classics.

5. I lost my pen.

6. I’ve been working out some stats about how regularly teams score centuries and half-centuries in one-day internationals. And how regularly they concede them. Don’t tell the missus. Please. More on this later, when she’s out of the house. Okay, since you insist, here’s a little taster: since the 2007 series with India, England have amassed three hundreds in 37 games, comfortably the fewest of any major Test nations (and one per 105 innings played by their batsmen − excluding Pietersen, the rest have scored one century, by Strauss, in 288 innings).

However, England’s bowlers have only conceded five in that time – only South Africa (a measly one) have conceded fewer. So while England might not know how to play entertaining 50-over cricket themselves, but they also know how to stop their opponents doing so. Which possibly explains why that Gloucestershire volcano remains resolutely dormant.

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