England's one-day masterplan
The latest upward surge in England’s wildly fluctuating 2009 has seen them give two outstanding and dominant performances in three days, including a new England record for sixes in a one-day international – 12 (twelve, honestly, twelve) (I saw them all with my own eyes) (albeit on television, so the possibility remains that the entire match was in fact a hoax).
Let’s put this in perspective. The dozen missiles launched by Shah, Morgan and Collingwood into the Centurion stratosphere on Sunday eclipsed England’s previous ODI record of 10 sixes in Napier two winters ago. Let’s put this in further perspective. England hit just eight sixes in the seven-game series against Australia just completed. And let’s now complete the perspective putting − Shah’s six bombs put him second equal on England’s all-time list for ODI aerial boundary blasts (as they will in due course become known to TV audiences); Morgan’s five place him fifth equal.
Once again, following their ultimately successful Ashes blueprint, England have shown that they are never more dangerous than when they have been playing like a bag of pumpkins (nor, worryingly for the rest of the tournament, are they more vulnerable than when they have been on fire). Expectations had been hovering between low and non-existent, even amongst those England fans who had noticed that the tournament was taking place. However, as in the Ashes, they deserve immense credit for rebounding from performances of rare ineptitude for which they were rightly slammed. What a thoroughly odd team.
England thus reach the semi-finals of an international one-day tournament for only the second time in ten attempts since the 1992 World Cup, whilst South Africa depart another event they had looked well-equipped to win, having conceded well over 300 twice in three rusty games.
For all the high-tech scientific methodologies of 21st-century cricket, England may be establishing a new blueprint for tournament success in the modern hyper-crowded international cricket calendar.
1. Ensure that you begin the tournament with your two most important players out injured.
2. Ensure that the remaining players are completely out of form, freshly demoralised after a massive drubbing.
3. Enter the competition with a batting order that habitually crawls along nervously, ineffectively and unexplosively.
4. Back this up with a bowling attack that has lacked penetration and control.
It will be interesting to see whether other teams have the courage to put this plan into practice with quite the same dedication as England.
It has been an interesting enough tournament so far, although lacking a classic match that has gone to the last over, and missing too many of the world’s leading one-day players through injury. With its simple, condensed format, almost every game has mattered, there is no obviously dominant team and even the pretend West Indies team has performed creditably. The entire tournament will take three fewer days than the England-Australia seven-match jeroboam of tedium. And more than a month less than the 2007 World Cup. If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, then (a) my career is in trouble, and (b) it is also the key ingredient in the recipe for interesting 50-over cricket tournaments.
A word too for Anderson and Collingwood. Anderson was expensive, largely ineffective and apparently exhausted in the Australia series, he has taken 6 for 62 from his 19.3 overs against Sri Lanka and South Africa. Collingwood, as generally happens when people start to prematurely question his value, has been at his decisive best.
Both players appear reinvigorated after being rested during the recent 6-1 clobbering. If any further proof were needed that the world cricket calendar is counter-productively, idiotically overloaded – and the case for the prosecution is already struggling to cram all the existing bits of proof into a giant skip to dump outside the courtroom – this is it. International cricketers should not need to be rested. Doing so devalues the concept of international cricket – how can it claim to be the best that nations can pit against each other, when some of the best are too knackered to crawl out of the pavilion?
The authorities responsible are clearly devotees of the foie-gras school of cricket scheduling – the more matches, series, travel and press conferences they can force-ram down the straining gullet of cricket, the tastier the end product will be. Sadly for them, cricketers are not French geese. This is a slippery slope, and there are few signs that the powers that be have any other intention than to shove cricket into a bobsled with no brakes, and kick it down that slope.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer