September 29, 2009

Champions Trophy

England's one-day masterplan

Andy Zaltzman


We are so exhausted that we will surely win the Champions Trophy © Getty Images
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Well, be honest. Did you see that coming from England? If you are claiming that you did, I want to see written proof, verified by an independent third party.

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.

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

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Posted by Jennylee on (June 24, 2011, 20:10 GMT)

Glad I've flinaly found something I agree with!

Posted by ted on (October 4, 2009, 11:06 GMT)

surely making sure you dont play australia in a tournment would be your best and easiest bet

Posted by maximum6 on (October 1, 2009, 23:44 GMT)

I like the Champions Trophy. It seems like a good thing compared to 7 match ODI series and the World Cup, the biggest waste of space in cricket since the excellent 1992 one, with its pointless exercise of minnows getting thrashed by the big teams-sorry Ireland,you are the least of offenders. The Champions Trophy is usually to the point and relevant.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (October 1, 2009, 14:40 GMT)

replying to UriGagarin, the first man in space,I stopped watching the game after ponting got out, thought it was a done deal, the pitch was terrible but australia would still stroll in, then I read the next day that pak took it down to the last ball, now the problem is I would rather have faced India than Oz in the final. In 99, we beat them and lost horribly in the final, I fear the same thing will happen again. I hope England will beat the Aussies and it will be 19992 all over again. Come on England! But what are SA doing with their pitches? They should be embarrased, I mean, I love bowling, but 205? What is this, 1982? If SA can't be bothered to host the Champions Trophy it should be held in India every time. They can't even sell out when their own team plays. Stick to football and forget about cricket, SA. Don't waste our time.

Posted by UriGagarin on (September 30, 2009, 22:44 GMT)

Re waterbuffalo : Well the PAK batsmen played like they didn't want to win and then the Ozzies came out to make sure the couldn't lose ,so it looked like it would be a dull quick victory but we actually ended up with a last ball thriller. Which was fantastic . I was wondering whether Pakistan would do something like that - after all NZ have been hit by injuries - actually extending Andy's formula by another number : make sure that any in form players you do have get injured during the course of the series.

Who would you rather face - a sick NZ or a mercurial England - given that coming second will be at the Wanderers. I'm sure there must have been some of those thoughts going on.

Posted by polonius948 on (September 30, 2009, 12:36 GMT)

"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". Prime Zaltzman.

Anyone who has a passing interest in world affairs and the satire thereof, but with a distinct cricket flavour to it, I can highly recommend The Bugle, Andy's Times Online podcast with John Oliver.

Posted by Richard S on (September 30, 2009, 12:12 GMT)

I called it, On Mike Holmans blog about the pointlessness of the Champions Trophy. I said I fancied the chances of England becuase the ball was swinging so much. Go and have a look

Posted by Dheeraj on (September 30, 2009, 8:56 GMT)

Very well written Andy. About your formula for success and teams trying it out, I think India did give it a go, but only overdid it. They left out not two but THREE of their key men (Sehwag, Yuvraj & Zaheer), came in with bowling attack that lacked penetration AND WILL, and a batting order that is best described as dominos inviting to be blown away let alone fall. Now I understand why India are in such a miserable position in the tournament. Thanx Andy for helping me solve this puzzle

Posted by waterbuffalo on (September 30, 2009, 7:14 GMT)

I'd like to start off by apologizing for being off-topic, but I figure this is the best blog to be off-topic. Here is how I see it, Andy, may I call you Andy? England losing to NZ complicates matters for India. If Pak wins, they play Eng in the semis, if they lose, NZ, which would you choose? Eng pounded 320 against SA, and they have a good bowling attack and they aren't even missing Prior. NZ are the walking wounded, Bond is great, but honestly, with spin alone Pak can beat NZ. Now, the enmity toward Australia can't be underestimated, even with a new team; it is one thing keeping India out of the semis, it is even better to keep Australia out. I tell you this, if Wasim was captain, I guarantee Pak will lose today, with Younis there is a 20% chance that he will try to actually win. You see the Pakistanis have not forgotten about the ICL/IPL debacle, and the way the BCCI has bullied the PCB for the better part of 4 years. That could work against the Indians, on the other hand, it's OZ.

Posted by Aby Mathew on (September 30, 2009, 4:46 GMT)

Oh Comeon, i did predict england could go , on to semifinal, they could even meet australia/pakistan and beet them as well and win the trophy as well. Pity u didnt publish my article last time around. Perhaps u didnt want anyone to contradict ur views. England arent the worst odi team , just have trouble crossing the final hurdle. ( perhaps they need to follow kirstens advice before the game).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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