November 21, 2009

Sachin Tentacles, Michael Apathy and scenes from Ahmedabad


Bob Willis (right): a thrilling prospect in store for those who eat all their vegetables during the South Africa-England series © Cricinfo Ltd

In a world of fast-food cricket, there is something just so about the menu for England’s tour of South Africa. First up was a serving of Twenty20 bites, a frivolous snack to pick at while everyone settled into the affair; then comes a modest portion or two of the 50-over stuff, followed by the main course: a big, fat, filling Test series with lashings of hot controversy and helpings of steamy tension, and the extended postprandials, including victory cigars, a selection of hard cheeses and bitter grapes and, if we are particularly blessed, a pungent slice or two of Bob Willis. Gosh, I am hungry! Excuse me while I pay a visit to the pantry.

Ah, that’s better. Sadly, I missed one of the Twenty20 appetizers as I was making my biannual pilgrimage to the WG Grace Memorial Rest Home in order to pay obeisance to my great aunt. She isn’t as up to date in matters cricket as she should be, a state of ignorance that can be partly ascribed to the fact that she is currently the only person on the planet legally constrained from taking out a satellite subscription, following a particularly belligerent letter to the Sky Studio. In her defence, I must say that David Lloyd’s slacks were distressingly beige and that a man who treads such a fine line sartorially must expect to receive a death threat or two during the course of his working day.

As ever, she was anxious to hear the latest news. I explained to her that the great Sachin Tendulkar was approaching 30,000 international runs. She absorbed this information with great solemnity, nodding several times.

“He reminds me of your grandfather,” she opined, definitively, taking a healthy gulp of her gin.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked, concerned that the oldest surviving member of the Hughes dynasty might be a legspinner short of a balanced attack.

“Oh yes. They could have been twins. Apart from the eye patch and the false leg, Sebastian was the spitting image of your Mr Tentacles.”

“Tendulkar,” I corrected her.

“Yes, that’s what I said. In any case, 30,000 isn’t all that many.”

“Well it sounds like an awful lot to me.”

“Nonsense. Your grandfather could have done that, if it weren’t for the Great War.”

“Grandfather was born in 1936.”

“Yes, but it upset him terribly when he read about it.”

The visit continued in a similar vein, though, as ever, I had to be careful not to mention anything relating to Twenty20, lest she suffered another of her turns. Unfortunately, against medical advice, she had been reading the Times, and inspired by an article by that nice young man, Michael Apathy, who had once been something or other with England, she had taken matters into her own hands. Her contention was that modern cricketers are lily-livered, weak-kneed invertebrates, and that any run scored before the invention of the athletic support was worth two of our modern runs. She had therefore taken her fountain pen to every one of her Wisdens, all of which now show one DG Bradman topping the Test averages with an impressive 199.89, a figure that I have to say is unlikely to be surpassed, even by the prolific Mr Tentacles.

I returned home in time to catch some of the first Test from Ahmedabad. The game had not yet died at that point and there were some memorable passages of play. I was particularly impressed by Ishant’s slower ball to Jayawardene a little while before tea on the third day. Time seemed to stand still as the ball followed its lazy, mesmeric trajectory, as though the laws of the universe had conspired to bring about a slow-motion effect. We caught our breath momentarily. Would Mahela spot it? Naturally he did, for at his best he is the kind of delicate, precise batsman who could probably carry out open-heart surgery with his blade.

These moments may occur in other forms of the game, of course, but they flit away from you. Test cricket invites reflection; it is the ultimate luxury sporting spectacle, displaying all the haphazard rhythms of real life. Unfortunately, as we all know, whilst real life can indeed have its heart-stopping seconds of passion, it also includes a certain amount of grocery shopping, toenail clipping and snoring. Lets hope that Kanpur next week offers us a few more thrills and a little less somnolence.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England