October 10, 2009

Spaghetti Bolognaise with a side of moral quandary

 
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Andrew Strauss played the good cop in recalling Angelo Mathews after a mid-pitch collision led to a run-out © Getty Images
 

In the all-you-can-stomach fashion of modern cricket, no sooner has one major (or, more appropriately, quite major) tournament been whisked off your plate, than another is slopped onto it. The Champions Trophy left the customer neither wanting more, nor regretting his meal choice. It was an adequate spaghetti Bolognese of a tournament, befitting the current adequacy of international cricket. The fleeting hope of England fluking a major one-day trophy was snuffed out like the cheap imitation candle it was. Australia were excellent – the divots in their scalps from the head scratching they must have endured over how they lost the Ashes must be reaching close to skull level.

The absence of so many top players from all or some of the competition left it appearing a little mundane, and the fact that a new-look Australia won their semi-final and final so easily raised questions about the overall standard and depth of the world game. This year’s ICC World XIs are not exactly replete with must-see legends of the sport. A generation of modern greats has been gradually leaving the game in recent years – the new as-yet-unspectacular generation of cricketers understandably feels a little pedestrian by comparison.

For Mitchell Johnson to be named cricketer of the year, having flunked his biggest exam, shows that that the cupboard of cricketing greatness is largely bare. Paul Harris is rated the seventh best bowler on the planet in the ICC Test rankings. Yes, he is a steady performer, underrated by much of the cricket media, unfairly lampooned by English commentators in 2008. But the seventh best in the world? If Harris was playing an impromptu game in the street outside your house, would you watch? You might take a peek through the window, but you probably wouldn’t actually go outside.

Ten years ago the top eight bowlers in the rankings were, in order, Donald, Pollock, McGrath, Ambrose, Murali, Walsh, Kumble and Akram. All greats of the game, all bar Kumble averaging in the mid-to-low 20s, all bowlers who made batsmen pick nervously at their lucky omelette on the first morning of a Test.

This week, the top eight are: Steyn, Murali, Johnson, Ntini, Harbhajan, Clark, Harris and Zaheer. All good bowlers, but today’s batsmen wolf their omelettes down with relative confidence.

The batting (perhaps understandably) is in better shape, but to illustrate the lack of invigorating young blood being transfused into cricket, only one of the top 30-ranked Test batsmen is under the age of 25 (number 27, Alistair Cook, another who is not the kind of player to cause turnstiles sleepless nights). Perhaps more revealingly, only nine of the top 30 are under the age of 30, and just five have made their debuts since the start of 2005.

At some point, if time, work and wife permit, I will see how this compares with previous points in cricketing history – perhaps this is not unusual, perhaps it is just a slight quirk, but it seems to me that cricket urgently needs some new world stars to emerge in the threatened Test arena. For now, I challenge you to list 10 players currently under the age of 25 who will be welcomed to the wicket in their final Test with a guard of honour in recognition of their immortal services to the game. Anyone who correctly predicts all 10 will win a papier-mache macquette of Lalit Modi counting a colossal pile of Twenty20 cash in his garden shed. Results to be confirmed in the year 2029.

The Champions League Twenty20 has instantly replaced the Champions Trophy. To be honest with you, I had forgotten about this tournament. To be fair to the CLT20, however, I have forgotten many things in my life, including:

− almost everything I learnt at school and university − almost everything I have ever learnt that is neither a sporting statistic nor the name of one of my children (the latter being an impressive feat, bearing in mind that I have not had them tattooed on me, so have to rely purely on my capacity for mental recall) − where I left my keys this morning − my own birthday − why aeroplanes work, and − who ultimately admitted to being afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

As a neutral with no particular allegiance to any of the teams involved, and insufficient space in my diary and brain to invite another cricketing tournament to roost, my interest in the tournament is largely restricted to any evidence it may offer regarding whether Test cricket is doomed, and if it is, how soon that doom may loom.

For me, the highlights of the Champions Trophy were the complex moral and philosophical quandaries Andrew Strauss had to confront. Strauss played good cop in recalling Angelo Mathews after a mid-pitch collision led to a run-out, but bad cop in refusing Graeme Smith a runner after the poor big lambkin pulled up lame after a long day outdoors running around a bit. I think he was right on both counts, although I would have liked to see the England captain demand that Smith find a runner of near-identical build. Or that AB de Villiers be forced to put on extra clothing until he reached the same weight and girth as Smith. This in turn could have led to highly entertaining disputes about exactly how chunky the South African skipper currently is, with umpires having to measure with calipers the exact span of Smith’s tummy.

Cricket has always been a moral maze – should you walk when you snick one to the keeper? Should the fielder appeal for a catch when he knows that the ball bounced three times before it reached him? Should the umpire give a leg-before-wicket decision against a batsman who he thinks might be sleeping with his wife, even when he knows: (a) that the ball pitched marginally outside leg stump; (b) that his wife’s infidelity is the direct result of his own obsession with umpiring, leaving her feeling unwanted, unloved and used (how many evenings a week can a husband reasonably expect a wife to stand with pads on putting her legs in front of moving objects?); and (c) that the alleged Lothario batsman was at the non-striker’s end?

Over the weekend I will concoct some hypothetical scenarios to test your cricketing morality, including whether or not you should tell an opposition bowler that he is about to be eaten by a bear.

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

  • crick on October 24, 2009, 18:39 GMT

    @cricktedmad

    fyi Yusuf Pathan is a batsman,Kumar swings the ball both ways & has got some wickets.Taibu has done well but his temperament is in question,while he has done a lot for zimbamwian cricket,that itself should get himself some recognition.

  • dj on October 24, 2009, 18:34 GMT

    Umar Akmal Umar Gul Mohammad Aamer AB de Villiers JP Duminy Ross taylor Stuart Broad Wayne Parnell would be somewhere close to that status

    Shakib al Hasan is doubtful because of number of tests bangladesh play

    Mohammad Ashraful temperament is the issue

    being a sri lankan i would advise you to keep an eye out for Dinesh Chandimal Angelo Perera Kusal Perera

  • Shafiq on October 15, 2009, 10:00 GMT

    @Avinash Lolz. I meant the same like you abt AB De Vel--- And Rohit Sharma.

  • cricketmad on October 14, 2009, 11:29 GMT

    Indeed, some of the commentors' choices have left me in splits: Tatenda Taibu: Are you crazy? Dinesh Kartik: I'll die laughing

    Ok, now let me add my own madcap flavor to this: Yusuf Pathan: One of the few spinners who cant spin the ball Praveen Kumar: The slowest fast bowler on the planet, true descendant of super-slomo Venky Prasad Dilhara Fernando: Somehow, he always looks like he'll shatter all the stumps, but never manages to etc.etc.

  • Skidadled on October 14, 2009, 9:49 GMT

    Hilarious article...

  • Rory on October 13, 2009, 9:40 GMT

    De Viliiers and Duminy. Nuff said.

  • Zeeshan on October 12, 2009, 19:19 GMT

    I would go with Aamer Duminy Mendis Parnell de villiers Sharma (proabably going to be one of those unfulfilled promises) Akmal

    you are right, it is difficult to name 10 at this point of time.

  • Sporting Chameleon on October 12, 2009, 15:45 GMT

    Great article as always Andy.

    Already worrying about the demise of test cricket and its future replacement by T20, now you've got me fearing that all the cricketers will be rubbish soon.

    In response to Me who said: "Surely Johnson's big test was against the 1st/2nd best test side in teh wold at that time Soth Africa, rather thanagainst the 4th/5th? Did he not pass that?"

    He did pass that test, but ask the Australian team or any Australian for that matter if they would rather win the Ashes or beat South Africa and there is only one winner.

  • Moemz on October 12, 2009, 12:34 GMT

    What about JP Duminy?

  • Ashok Sridharan on October 12, 2009, 8:30 GMT

    Interesting article. Looking at the Top-8, I suddenly realised how far the quality of bowling has declined- 'though in all fairness, a part could also be attributed to the poor quality of pitches today (do I hear 'dead as a dodo' somewhere)?

    Incidentally, I seriously doubt (as an Indian supporter) whether Rohit Sharma has it in him to make it to the land of the greats. He has the class no doubt, but the temperament is where he's left more questions hanging than the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

  • crick on October 24, 2009, 18:39 GMT

    @cricktedmad

    fyi Yusuf Pathan is a batsman,Kumar swings the ball both ways & has got some wickets.Taibu has done well but his temperament is in question,while he has done a lot for zimbamwian cricket,that itself should get himself some recognition.

  • dj on October 24, 2009, 18:34 GMT

    Umar Akmal Umar Gul Mohammad Aamer AB de Villiers JP Duminy Ross taylor Stuart Broad Wayne Parnell would be somewhere close to that status

    Shakib al Hasan is doubtful because of number of tests bangladesh play

    Mohammad Ashraful temperament is the issue

    being a sri lankan i would advise you to keep an eye out for Dinesh Chandimal Angelo Perera Kusal Perera

  • Shafiq on October 15, 2009, 10:00 GMT

    @Avinash Lolz. I meant the same like you abt AB De Vel--- And Rohit Sharma.

  • cricketmad on October 14, 2009, 11:29 GMT

    Indeed, some of the commentors' choices have left me in splits: Tatenda Taibu: Are you crazy? Dinesh Kartik: I'll die laughing

    Ok, now let me add my own madcap flavor to this: Yusuf Pathan: One of the few spinners who cant spin the ball Praveen Kumar: The slowest fast bowler on the planet, true descendant of super-slomo Venky Prasad Dilhara Fernando: Somehow, he always looks like he'll shatter all the stumps, but never manages to etc.etc.

  • Skidadled on October 14, 2009, 9:49 GMT

    Hilarious article...

  • Rory on October 13, 2009, 9:40 GMT

    De Viliiers and Duminy. Nuff said.

  • Zeeshan on October 12, 2009, 19:19 GMT

    I would go with Aamer Duminy Mendis Parnell de villiers Sharma (proabably going to be one of those unfulfilled promises) Akmal

    you are right, it is difficult to name 10 at this point of time.

  • Sporting Chameleon on October 12, 2009, 15:45 GMT

    Great article as always Andy.

    Already worrying about the demise of test cricket and its future replacement by T20, now you've got me fearing that all the cricketers will be rubbish soon.

    In response to Me who said: "Surely Johnson's big test was against the 1st/2nd best test side in teh wold at that time Soth Africa, rather thanagainst the 4th/5th? Did he not pass that?"

    He did pass that test, but ask the Australian team or any Australian for that matter if they would rather win the Ashes or beat South Africa and there is only one winner.

  • Moemz on October 12, 2009, 12:34 GMT

    What about JP Duminy?

  • Ashok Sridharan on October 12, 2009, 8:30 GMT

    Interesting article. Looking at the Top-8, I suddenly realised how far the quality of bowling has declined- 'though in all fairness, a part could also be attributed to the poor quality of pitches today (do I hear 'dead as a dodo' somewhere)?

    Incidentally, I seriously doubt (as an Indian supporter) whether Rohit Sharma has it in him to make it to the land of the greats. He has the class no doubt, but the temperament is where he's left more questions hanging than the Nobel Peace Prize Committee.

  • Squishy on October 12, 2009, 5:47 GMT

    I'll take up the challenge too. Under 25 is difficult, due to their lack of exposure, but let's see, shall we?

    Aus: Phil Hughes Moises Henriques Tim Paine Steven Smith (there's a punt for you!)

    England: Stuart Broad

    Bangladesh: Shakib al Hasan Mushfiqur Rahim Tamim Iqbal

    Pakistan: Mohammad Aamer

    That's 9 out of 10. If we extend to anybody born in 1984 or later:

    AB de Villiers JP Duminy Ross Taylor Jesse Ryder Mohammad Ashraful Umar Gul

    Tatenda Taibu (the world's truest all-rounder) is 26, not exactly old-man material. The only reason he may not be given a guard of honour in his final Test is because Zimbabwe are unlikely to see another Test in his career lifetime.

    There is still a lot of young talent in the world. It might not be as obvious, due to the amount of cricket being played, and the ridiculous demands being made of players to have a separate playing style for each type of game, but the world's not in that bad shape.

  • Squishy on October 12, 2009, 5:20 GMT

    I'll take up the challenge too. Under 25 is difficult, due to their lack of exposure, but let's see, shall we? (NB: AB de Villiers has been left out, since he's not under 25)

    Aus: Phil Hughes Moises Henriques

    England: Stuart Broad

    Bangladesh: Shakib al Hasan

  • Neil on October 12, 2009, 3:24 GMT

    Regarding Smith, surely Kallis could pass for a body double? We could have had an interesting scenario involving a see-saw to determine which of these "burly" chaps is indeed the burliest.

  • Graham on October 12, 2009, 2:35 GMT

    I accept your challenge Master Zaltzman.

    I'm including players who turn/ed 25 this year in this list: Ishant Sharma (India) Phil Jacques (Australia) J.P. Duminy (South Africa) A.B. De Villiers (South Africa) Dinesh Karthik (India) Ross Taylor (New Zealand) Ajantha Mendis (Sri Lanka) Peter Siddle (Australia)

    And a couple out of the box: Tim Paine (Australia) Moises Henriques (Australia)

    I look forward to using Modi as a pinata.

  • terry.fez on October 11, 2009, 15:16 GMT

    As always, very funny.

  • Aubs on October 11, 2009, 0:43 GMT

    Couldn't agree more about the current lack of superstars in the game at the moment. Once Murali & Ponting retire there will be no 'greats' left in the game, just a lot of teams with average to good players. I guess some players may go on to be greats, like Steyn, Johnson, de Villiers, Mendis, Sharma, Dhoni, Ghambir, Asif. And there are a few who are just tetering on the edge of being great, e.g. Pieterson, Sangakarra, Clarke, Jaywardene, Younis, Chanderpaul. But no one who is truly a great of the game, that makes you genuinely excited to watch them perform, is in the game at the moment.

  • jalps on October 10, 2009, 19:23 GMT

    How can you ask for 10 players, surely that should be 11? On the assumption that this is a mere aberration on your part I give you my under 25 'Future Greats' XI, it's only a little bowler and English heavy:

    Fawad Alam Phillip Hughes Alastair Cook* Callum Ferguson Craig Kieswetter Adil Rashid Shakib Al Hasan Stuart Broad Wayne Parnell Ishant Sharma Ajantha Mendis

    *for captaining the England side to a record 5th Ashes victory

  • sara on October 10, 2009, 18:39 GMT

    you forgot to mention ab de villiers who is ranked number 13 in the test rankings and he is 25

  • Sam on October 10, 2009, 15:11 GMT

    Challenge accepted: Bopara (fingers crossed), Broad (hopefully), Cook, Parnell, Mohammad Aamer, Sharma (probably), Mendis (surely), Shakib Al Hasan, Raina and Siddle. If you'd asked 5 days ago I could have gone for M Morkel as well.

  • Me on October 10, 2009, 13:28 GMT

    Surely Johnson's big test was against the 1st/2nd best test side in teh wold at that time Soth Africa, rather thanagainst the 4th/5th? Did he not pass that? cheers

  • avinash on October 10, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    i am not sure who does Shafiq mean by 'develliors' but i would go with: AB de Villiers Phil Jacques Mendis and umm thats it. ya you are right the future of cricket looks to be going to the dogs.

  • Eddie on October 10, 2009, 10:04 GMT

    Fantastic article, I really enjoyed it but I would just like to point out one thing regarding the test bowling rankings. When you speak about how great the top ten of ten years ago was you have the advantage of hindsight for all you know Steyn or even Harris could become a legend of the game. Your article still had me in hysterics but I did find it unfair to make that judgment when these bowlers still have large chunks of their careers left.

  • surya on October 10, 2009, 6:39 GMT

    i have always been a big fan of your writing and your ability to combine pure unadulterated humour with cricket.but having said that,i find even you giving in to the common stereotypes of an english journalist..Be it the obsession towards abstract aesthetics or the notion that no other series deserves to exist save the ashes,u seem to be nearing the characteristics of a typical englishmen as i said..i completely empathise with your fear of the extinction of test cricket which looks rather possible but as your fan i found it necessary to point out a couple of things very MINUTE, to you..yes,bowlers no longer are comparable to the 90's men but their committment cant be questioned generally

  • Shafiq on October 10, 2009, 6:15 GMT

    I can see these guys having a stylish good bye test....I feel proud to have few pakistani names in the list...

    Muhammad Aamir Umer Akmal Mendis Mathews Warner Develliors Roit Sharma

    I am sure i am missing few Aussies, SA, WI and Indians...

    Plz also keep an eye on Fawad Alam & Umer Amin from Pakistan

  • rahul on October 10, 2009, 5:50 GMT

    1st comment and nice article

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  • rahul on October 10, 2009, 5:50 GMT

    1st comment and nice article

  • Shafiq on October 10, 2009, 6:15 GMT

    I can see these guys having a stylish good bye test....I feel proud to have few pakistani names in the list...

    Muhammad Aamir Umer Akmal Mendis Mathews Warner Develliors Roit Sharma

    I am sure i am missing few Aussies, SA, WI and Indians...

    Plz also keep an eye on Fawad Alam & Umer Amin from Pakistan

  • surya on October 10, 2009, 6:39 GMT

    i have always been a big fan of your writing and your ability to combine pure unadulterated humour with cricket.but having said that,i find even you giving in to the common stereotypes of an english journalist..Be it the obsession towards abstract aesthetics or the notion that no other series deserves to exist save the ashes,u seem to be nearing the characteristics of a typical englishmen as i said..i completely empathise with your fear of the extinction of test cricket which looks rather possible but as your fan i found it necessary to point out a couple of things very MINUTE, to you..yes,bowlers no longer are comparable to the 90's men but their committment cant be questioned generally

  • Eddie on October 10, 2009, 10:04 GMT

    Fantastic article, I really enjoyed it but I would just like to point out one thing regarding the test bowling rankings. When you speak about how great the top ten of ten years ago was you have the advantage of hindsight for all you know Steyn or even Harris could become a legend of the game. Your article still had me in hysterics but I did find it unfair to make that judgment when these bowlers still have large chunks of their careers left.

  • avinash on October 10, 2009, 10:30 GMT

    i am not sure who does Shafiq mean by 'develliors' but i would go with: AB de Villiers Phil Jacques Mendis and umm thats it. ya you are right the future of cricket looks to be going to the dogs.

  • Me on October 10, 2009, 13:28 GMT

    Surely Johnson's big test was against the 1st/2nd best test side in teh wold at that time Soth Africa, rather thanagainst the 4th/5th? Did he not pass that? cheers

  • Sam on October 10, 2009, 15:11 GMT

    Challenge accepted: Bopara (fingers crossed), Broad (hopefully), Cook, Parnell, Mohammad Aamer, Sharma (probably), Mendis (surely), Shakib Al Hasan, Raina and Siddle. If you'd asked 5 days ago I could have gone for M Morkel as well.

  • sara on October 10, 2009, 18:39 GMT

    you forgot to mention ab de villiers who is ranked number 13 in the test rankings and he is 25

  • jalps on October 10, 2009, 19:23 GMT

    How can you ask for 10 players, surely that should be 11? On the assumption that this is a mere aberration on your part I give you my under 25 'Future Greats' XI, it's only a little bowler and English heavy:

    Fawad Alam Phillip Hughes Alastair Cook* Callum Ferguson Craig Kieswetter Adil Rashid Shakib Al Hasan Stuart Broad Wayne Parnell Ishant Sharma Ajantha Mendis

    *for captaining the England side to a record 5th Ashes victory

  • Aubs on October 11, 2009, 0:43 GMT

    Couldn't agree more about the current lack of superstars in the game at the moment. Once Murali & Ponting retire there will be no 'greats' left in the game, just a lot of teams with average to good players. I guess some players may go on to be greats, like Steyn, Johnson, de Villiers, Mendis, Sharma, Dhoni, Ghambir, Asif. And there are a few who are just tetering on the edge of being great, e.g. Pieterson, Sangakarra, Clarke, Jaywardene, Younis, Chanderpaul. But no one who is truly a great of the game, that makes you genuinely excited to watch them perform, is in the game at the moment.