Champions Trophy September 23, 2009

Getting the choke out of the way

I have spent the last 48 hours locked inside a darkened scorebox in my garden attempting to envisage scenarios in which England win the Champions Trophy
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If England win the Champions Trophy, and it is an ‘if’ so big that it can be seen with the naked eye from space, it will be one of the biggest surprises in world history. © Associated Press
 

The short-awaited Champions Trophy is underway, and, ominously for the other seven teams involved, South Africa have started as if they mean business. The Proteas have suffered serial disappointments in recent tournaments, often pulling defeat from the jaws of victory like an enthusiastically sadistic medieval dentist (sometimes even having to stretch beyond the jaws, and wrench defeat from victory’s duodenum with special forceps).

Graeme Smith and his men have therefore unleashed a new tactic which is almost guaranteed to win them the tournament – getting their traditional choke out of the way early enough that it doesn’t matter. South Africa’s performance in being hammered by the excellent Sri Lankans suggests that they are hell-bent on ultimate glory, and are rightly unwilling to risk starting the tournament looking like potential winners. They even went so far as to enter the event underprepared and rusty, to minimise their chances of peaking fatally early.

I am mildly excited about the tournament. It is of a size and length that should preclude the possibility of losing interest in all cricket, as often happens during World Cups, and features the six strongest teams in ODI cricket, plus West Indies and England representing the world’s up-and-coming limited-overs nations, and hoping to spring a surprise or two as Ireland did in the last World Cup.

England’s 2009-10 season begins on Friday against Sri Lanka, a pathetic five days after their end of their 2009 season (which in turn had begun just over a month after their 2008-09 ended – it would seem fairer and more honest if the relevant cricketing authorities simply lined up the world’s bowlers on a bench and then walked along it, smacking each one in the kneecaps with a baseball bat).

If England win the Champions Trophy, and it is an ‘if’ so big that it can be seen with the naked eye from space, it will be one of the biggest surprises in world history. I have spent the last 48 hours locked inside a darkened scorebox in my garden attempting to envisage scenarios in which England win the Champions Trophy. I have failed. The closest I came was imagining the earth being destroyed by an asteroid strike on Thursday, leading to the tournament winner being decided by a series of coin tosses by the astronauts on the International Space Station. England lost to India in the semi-final.

After the recently-completed one-day series with Australia, I think most England fans would willingly accept such an eventuality. It should also be pointed out that, contrary to press reports, England actually won the series − their victory in game seven on Sunday gave them the whatever-it’s-called trophy under the ICC’s new ‘Winner Stays On’ rule. This was harsh on Australia, who had played well enough and put on a heroically good show of looking like they found the process stimulating and challenging.

England’s preparation for the Champions Trophy seems to have been based on engendering dangerous levels of complacency in their opponents. I know that professional sportsmen these days are repeatedly indoctrinated with the mantra that you must never underestimate your opposition, but England − entering the tournament with their two most important players absent through injury, and with many of the rest mentally and/or physically knackered after a summer that seemed destined never to end − will surely test the underestimation-avoidance capacity of the other teams in their group like it has never been tested before.

Arguably, slowly building up deep-lying complacency through 15 years of almost unbroken limited-over mediocrity might have been taking this modern-day Trojan Horse tactic a little too far, but such plans need to be adhered to with tenacity and persistence. It is clear that, in the aftermath of England’s excellent but ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign in 1992, those in charge of English cricket clandestinely decided that never again would the national team suffer the heartache of failing so close to World Cup glory. To date, they have been spectacularly successful in achieving that goal.

A few final thoughts on the England v Australia one-day series recently consigned to the dustbin of history like the half-eaten rat pastie that it was:

First, and most overwhelmingly: Thank goodness that’s over.

Second: The people running cricket are either idiots, or deliberately concocting the schedules of idiots. In England, not content with scarring this summer’s final weeks with a tortuously anticlimactic monotony masquerading as international cricket, they have penned in similarly uninteresting one-day series for next summer around a ludicrously compressed four-Test series with Pakistan.

I have no doubt that scheduling an international cricket season is tricky – I have trouble enough timetabling occasional showers into my weekly routine. However, if you were served the unappetising mess that passes for an English cricketing summer in a restaurant, you would send (or more likely throw) it straight back to the kitchen with a message advising the chef to look for another job better suited to his skill set.

Third: England should not be judged too harshly on this series, missing as they were key players such as Pietersen, Flintoff, Gough, Tendulkar, Warne and Henry VIII. With the first two fit and firing, they could easily have escaped with a 5-2 mauling instead of a 6-1 annihilation.

Fourth: International cricket is seldom seen at its best when it is a contractual obligation rather than the summit of the game.

Fifth: Some stats...

In one-day internationals between the eight major Test playing nations this decade, England’s batsmen:

• have the lowest batting average; • have the fifth best batting strike rate; • have blasted the equal fewest centuries; • have nurdled the second fewest innings of fifty or more; • have smote the second fewest fours; and • have thwacked the second fewest sixes.

England’s bowlers cannot lay claim to such a broad smorgasbord of ineptitude, but can boast the third highest bowling average and third worst economy rate over the same period.

England’s batsmen have now racked up three centuries in the 41 ODIs they have attempted to play in the last two years. Among the current Test playing nations, the next least prolific century makers in that time span are New Zealand and Bangladesh with seven tons each. England have also nudged their way to only 37 half-centuries in those 41 games, giving them an average of less than one 50-plus score per match. Oh dear!

All in all, these numbers suggest that England (a) are not very good at one-day cricket, (b) haven’t been very good at it for a very long time, and (c) are unlikely to get much better at it in the foreseeable future. Never mind. It’s only a game. And we won the Ashes. And Australia lost the Ashes. Those are two beacons of hope to cling to in the dark winter months ahead.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Lotta on June 24, 2011, 6:11 GMT

    Way to go on this essay, hpeled a ton.

  • Pat on September 30, 2009, 2:48 GMT

    Despite my best attempts, I smiled while reading this.

  • Zealot on September 29, 2009, 12:55 GMT

    Yes Waterbuffalo... they just might.

  • waterbuffalo on September 26, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    Well the green pitch at the Wanderers certainly helped England-they reduced SL to 17-4 and Pakistan had the Windies on the rack at 47-7, so I think it is a little bit of a false dawn. Any team that bats first at the Wanderers is going to suffer, it's down to the toss, really, but Pakistan lost to Ireland in the WC on a green pitch, too, so I suppose bowlers should have some fun also, not just batsmen. Great to see Bopara dropped and Onions picked, anybody called Sausage in England? Or how about a Green? You need a proper partner to go with Onions, like a Garlic or a Pepper. Go on and beat South Africa now, and you might have a parade down Trafalgar in a couple of weeks.

  • R.Narayan on September 26, 2009, 6:45 GMT

    I think you're harsh. Strauss is pretty good with a coin!

  • Tubtin on September 26, 2009, 4:16 GMT

    Henri VIII.... OMG Zaltman you *dies laughing* *is revived* rock

  • jogesh99 on September 25, 2009, 3:08 GMT

    Andy, its going to be an England-SA final, befitting the stature of this tournament. The SAs will, as always, try to bore their opponents into the veld, while the brits, cussed little blighters that they are, will counter-attack by surviving the power plays without hitting a single boundary. And we shall all mourn the passing of this great form of the game, amen.

  • cricpundit on September 25, 2009, 1:58 GMT

    As always you are really funny and hilarious. great work. Keep it up and spread the humour to cheer up the cricketing world

    Do write something about Ponting & his team-I can imagine it will be great, particularly Ponting's ashen face when beaten, Clarke's fake smile and Johnson's embarassing plods etc. look forward to it.

  • maxinquaye on September 24, 2009, 20:02 GMT

    what a poorly written, unfunny piece of crap that was.

    (not really, but we can't have Andy getting complacent now, can we?)

  • Tim Price on September 24, 2009, 10:38 GMT

    Great article Andy, bang on about the sorry state of our ODI team, and no-one is surprised in England about the outcome of the ODI series against the Aussies. No-one will be surprised when the team comes home next wednesday with 3 defeats. The only surprise will be if we socre more than 150 on Friday against Sri Lanka's 3 M's. Anyway come on England!!! ;-p

  • Lotta on June 24, 2011, 6:11 GMT

    Way to go on this essay, hpeled a ton.

  • Pat on September 30, 2009, 2:48 GMT

    Despite my best attempts, I smiled while reading this.

  • Zealot on September 29, 2009, 12:55 GMT

    Yes Waterbuffalo... they just might.

  • waterbuffalo on September 26, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    Well the green pitch at the Wanderers certainly helped England-they reduced SL to 17-4 and Pakistan had the Windies on the rack at 47-7, so I think it is a little bit of a false dawn. Any team that bats first at the Wanderers is going to suffer, it's down to the toss, really, but Pakistan lost to Ireland in the WC on a green pitch, too, so I suppose bowlers should have some fun also, not just batsmen. Great to see Bopara dropped and Onions picked, anybody called Sausage in England? Or how about a Green? You need a proper partner to go with Onions, like a Garlic or a Pepper. Go on and beat South Africa now, and you might have a parade down Trafalgar in a couple of weeks.

  • R.Narayan on September 26, 2009, 6:45 GMT

    I think you're harsh. Strauss is pretty good with a coin!

  • Tubtin on September 26, 2009, 4:16 GMT

    Henri VIII.... OMG Zaltman you *dies laughing* *is revived* rock

  • jogesh99 on September 25, 2009, 3:08 GMT

    Andy, its going to be an England-SA final, befitting the stature of this tournament. The SAs will, as always, try to bore their opponents into the veld, while the brits, cussed little blighters that they are, will counter-attack by surviving the power plays without hitting a single boundary. And we shall all mourn the passing of this great form of the game, amen.

  • cricpundit on September 25, 2009, 1:58 GMT

    As always you are really funny and hilarious. great work. Keep it up and spread the humour to cheer up the cricketing world

    Do write something about Ponting & his team-I can imagine it will be great, particularly Ponting's ashen face when beaten, Clarke's fake smile and Johnson's embarassing plods etc. look forward to it.

  • maxinquaye on September 24, 2009, 20:02 GMT

    what a poorly written, unfunny piece of crap that was.

    (not really, but we can't have Andy getting complacent now, can we?)

  • Tim Price on September 24, 2009, 10:38 GMT

    Great article Andy, bang on about the sorry state of our ODI team, and no-one is surprised in England about the outcome of the ODI series against the Aussies. No-one will be surprised when the team comes home next wednesday with 3 defeats. The only surprise will be if we socre more than 150 on Friday against Sri Lanka's 3 M's. Anyway come on England!!! ;-p

  • Infomaniac on September 24, 2009, 6:17 GMT

    Hilarious post! your sabbatical has denied me much amusement the past month or so...

    It's been said before but I'll say it again- Ashes glory alone does not make up for mediocrity in other tournaments...or even just being good at test cricket...If oyu look at the top sides in the world, you will find that they lead the race in both tests and ODIs. Only if England better their ODI performances can they hope to allow their ashes or test ability to mean anything...

  • Infomaniac on September 24, 2009, 6:16 GMT

    Hilarious post! your sabbatical has denied me much amusement the past month or so...

    It's been said before but I'll say it again- Ashes glory alone does not make up for mediocrity in other tournaments...or even just being good at test cricket...If oyu look at the top sides in the world, you will find that they lead the race in both tests and ODIs. Only if England better their ODI performances can they hope to allow their ashes or test ability to mean anything...

  • yusuf Zahirsha on September 24, 2009, 3:56 GMT

    u gotta b kidding me!! i love the stats part!!lol.. good luck poms!!

  • Henwelder on September 23, 2009, 19:53 GMT

    Awesome, simply wonderful as always you are without doubt one of the finest masters of satire around. I'm praying that with all the expectancy of England crashing and burning that we might just pull something off. But somehow i really doubt this.

  • Uday on September 23, 2009, 19:33 GMT

    As always andy, your blog is the best thing about Englih cricket. I hope england always play insipid riket to give you material for your blog.

  • N. Naganathan on September 23, 2009, 16:14 GMT

    ya, hilarious.....but hitting below the belt....yes, I guffawed several times reading the article with the resultant knotty muscles below my belt...it is both a thunderbolt and thought-provoking.....it is a lightning-strike on the England team, and a laughter-streak to the rest of the world....i wont say keep it up, 'cause u have done it umpteen times...i would say may your tribe multiply....thanks

  • sekar on September 23, 2009, 15:16 GMT

    Andy, first time reading you & now suffering from stomach ache! Why don't you take-up television commentary? That would be much more entertaining than the cricket matches.

  • Anuradha de Silva on September 23, 2009, 14:32 GMT

    What a nice article. enjoyed it immensely.

  • Taha on September 23, 2009, 13:53 GMT

    ROFl I cant stop laughing!!!

  • Mahesh on September 23, 2009, 13:42 GMT

    Great article as always, Andy. About South Africa, who knows, you may be right about their "peaking" plan after all!!!!

  • Romantha De Silva on September 23, 2009, 13:15 GMT

    Completely unique piece of articulate satire. As refreshing as a rush of cold water cleansing my dreary and boring day of usual droll articles.

    You got yourself another avid reader.

  • Ranjit on September 23, 2009, 12:21 GMT

    Brilliant... Absolutely Brilliant

  • Optimistix on September 23, 2009, 12:17 GMT

    Great stuff - really on a roll here! :-)

  • Nemo on September 23, 2009, 12:12 GMT

    Hilarious mate!

  • Mohan on September 23, 2009, 12:03 GMT

    Brilliant! Amazing! This is Douglas Adams level humour. Keep it up.

  • abhishek pba on September 23, 2009, 11:45 GMT

    it is good

  • Kmv on September 23, 2009, 11:29 GMT

    Just amazing! Eyes glued to it till the last word!! :)

  • sanjeeva abeyasekera on September 23, 2009, 11:27 GMT

    hilarious but very insightful and thought provoking.

  • Tishan on September 23, 2009, 11:27 GMT

    Andy you are the frickin best cricket writer eva!

  • Jeevan on September 23, 2009, 11:04 GMT

    What a brilliant piece of writing! Looking forward for more!

  • ans on September 23, 2009, 10:55 GMT

    hahahahahah ... awesome ... especially " leading to the tournament winner being decided by a series of coin tosses by the astronauts on the International Space Station. England lost to India in the semi-final."

  • Rohantha on September 23, 2009, 10:43 GMT

    Andy, a great read as usual - humour with depth! I for one will not underestimate England. They have traditionally done well on South African pitches, and their chances of making the semis are way better than a toss of a coin somewhere outer space!!

  • bilal on September 23, 2009, 10:05 GMT

    ROTFL !!! :)

  • Varun on September 23, 2009, 9:30 GMT

    First!

    Nice read once again.

    Keep it up Andy.

  • Varun on September 23, 2009, 9:29 GMT

    First!

    Once again...nice read.

    Keep it up Andy.

  • Jurie Schoeman on September 23, 2009, 9:05 GMT

    Thanks Andy, entertaining as ever. Tough to decide what was funnier, your article our my team's performance last night, ouch.

    At this rate Eng vs SA will be a cracker of a game as both sides try desperately not to win!

    Sri Lanka looked great, but I see no mention of Graeme Smith's complete lack of intelligence in winning the toss and fielding first (was Hansie's ghost whispering in his ear)?

    Cheers

  • Wasim Abbas on September 23, 2009, 9:02 GMT

    really nice one

  • bajlooka on September 23, 2009, 9:01 GMT

    very nice article. i loved it. I agree with your views

  • Craig on September 23, 2009, 8:55 GMT

    Awesome, your first 2 paragraphs . . . my sentiments exactly, it's what I've been telling everyone the whole morning. Great article as always!!!

  • RamliMohamed on September 23, 2009, 8:54 GMT

    enjoyed it immensely,:)

  • Sid on September 23, 2009, 8:39 GMT

    how did the astronauts know when the coin had fallen?

  • Rahul on September 23, 2009, 8:30 GMT

    Just one word andy..brilliant! On the topic of england being so misearable at oneday cricket, with all its history of cricket and its county structure and 1st class facilities one will wonder why are they so poor. As you pointed out after 1992 world cup they have hardly being compatative at highest level in ODIs. I guess it all stems from attitude. What matters to most of the english cricket fans is ashes..they want to see an ashes contest every 2 years and if they manage to win it then it doesnt matter to them that they loose to ausies or bangladesh 7-0. Its all this bring on the ashes..attitude that is responsible for the sorry state of cricket. People are forgeting that ashes is a cricket game so does world cup, champions trophy and T20 wolrd cups too. And it is your country that is wining or loosing these tournamments. But it seems nobody is going to care till next ashes when a wounded ponting is gonna come after the poms..5-0 aussies anyone?

  • Sayan on September 23, 2009, 8:22 GMT

    Ha ha ha ha!! Hilarious! But what I seriously don't get is why do England continue to play ODIs, given their stepmotherly treatment towards this format!!

  • Sundeep Khanna on September 23, 2009, 8:04 GMT

    "...smacking each one in the kneecaps with a baseball bat...", Andy you are a riot act. I am in serious danger of dying laughing. But there's always the BCCI to send flowers to those whose kneecaps are being smashed.

  • Saffiullah Naik on September 23, 2009, 8:02 GMT

    Couldn't have said it in a better way Andy, well done!

  • Thuran on September 23, 2009, 7:57 GMT

    Brilliant post Andy!

  • Ronodeb Ray on September 23, 2009, 7:46 GMT

    Supebly penned Write-Up with a smattering sense of Humour!!!!

  • Shahid on September 23, 2009, 7:41 GMT

    One of the best satires on cricket. I enjoyed it and will read it once more when I come back from office. But If I was the english coach, I had printed it in 15 copies and delivered it to my players in late hours of match night. Might have worked wonders!!

  • Praveen on September 23, 2009, 7:40 GMT

    Good article Andy! Keep them coming!

  • Elektra on September 23, 2009, 7:37 GMT

    Hilarious, Andy! But this is a very good point RE South Africa. Were the Proteas a Melbourne Cup-aspiring racehorse not a cricket team, they would be still in their winter coat, looking to gain condition and make sure they peak in the main race while making sure they still qualify for it. Very clever new coaching tactic, I say!

  • Saumik on September 23, 2009, 7:32 GMT

    Great article.. in the hindsight i think england can pull off some surprises. so don't lose heart Andy...

  • Theena on September 23, 2009, 7:03 GMT

    I giggled all the way through reading this. As always, Mr Zaltzman, your work is a treat to read.

  • amit on September 23, 2009, 6:53 GMT

    awesome article andy! Guess its really spot on, well researched and littered with rib-tickling analogies :)

  • C R on September 23, 2009, 6:32 GMT

    Amazing, hilarious bit of prose!

  • murtaza on September 23, 2009, 6:31 GMT

    Great and fun article. I have to point out that you forgot to mention that the England players probably spend more time doing their hair and figuring out what designer suits to wear than in the nets. Everyone in the team has great hair! Maybe the Sri Lankan team needs to get a few pointers from them.

    I totally agree with you that England is concocting a long term plan on how to take over the cricketing world for a couple of decades now. Remember they were not called the Empire where the sun never set for nothing if you catch my drift!

  • C R on September 23, 2009, 6:26 GMT

    Amazing, hilarious bit of prose!

  • Debojit Dam on September 23, 2009, 6:04 GMT

    Come on now Andy, Dont be so harsh on your team... you never know what all they might be reading, and if they come across such a beautifully compiled list of facts (and I take your facts are backed by humongous amounts of stats from the GURU), you have a very good chance of the team committing hara-kiri, and then there will be no team left for you to write about

  • Shane Bokhari on September 23, 2009, 6:03 GMT

    Dude, you're an amazing writer!

  • Thushar on September 23, 2009, 5:56 GMT

    As always, extremely entertaining blog ! Love it !

  • Rahil Khan on September 23, 2009, 5:30 GMT

    ROFLMAO

    Hilarious piece, as usual!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Rahil Khan on September 23, 2009, 5:30 GMT

    ROFLMAO

    Hilarious piece, as usual!

  • Thushar on September 23, 2009, 5:56 GMT

    As always, extremely entertaining blog ! Love it !

  • Shane Bokhari on September 23, 2009, 6:03 GMT

    Dude, you're an amazing writer!

  • Debojit Dam on September 23, 2009, 6:04 GMT

    Come on now Andy, Dont be so harsh on your team... you never know what all they might be reading, and if they come across such a beautifully compiled list of facts (and I take your facts are backed by humongous amounts of stats from the GURU), you have a very good chance of the team committing hara-kiri, and then there will be no team left for you to write about

  • C R on September 23, 2009, 6:26 GMT

    Amazing, hilarious bit of prose!

  • murtaza on September 23, 2009, 6:31 GMT

    Great and fun article. I have to point out that you forgot to mention that the England players probably spend more time doing their hair and figuring out what designer suits to wear than in the nets. Everyone in the team has great hair! Maybe the Sri Lankan team needs to get a few pointers from them.

    I totally agree with you that England is concocting a long term plan on how to take over the cricketing world for a couple of decades now. Remember they were not called the Empire where the sun never set for nothing if you catch my drift!

  • C R on September 23, 2009, 6:32 GMT

    Amazing, hilarious bit of prose!

  • amit on September 23, 2009, 6:53 GMT

    awesome article andy! Guess its really spot on, well researched and littered with rib-tickling analogies :)

  • Theena on September 23, 2009, 7:03 GMT

    I giggled all the way through reading this. As always, Mr Zaltzman, your work is a treat to read.

  • Saumik on September 23, 2009, 7:32 GMT

    Great article.. in the hindsight i think england can pull off some surprises. so don't lose heart Andy...