November 23, 2009

If the ICC organised a summer Olympics...


There's something eerie about England's confident start in South Africa © PA Photos

The Confectionery Stall is back. I’ve been tied up writing and recording a radio series for the past few weeks, a period which has probably been the longest I have ever endured without really thinking about cricket since I was in the womb.

And what dark, dark days they were (literally and metaphorically), throughout the summer of 1974, subconsciously willing my cricket-averse mother to allow her radio to stray onto the commentary of England’s series with India and Pakistan, before realising this was a futile quest, and resolving to ignore cricket until my birth, at the very earliest. Thereafter, I reasoned from my amniotic cocoon, I would at least be able to cry and scream incessantly until I was provided with regular updates on all major cricket matches.

Little did I know that these cries and screams would be so spectacularly misinterpreted as demands for sustenance or affection. Or fresh laundry. And I have taken extreme care not to repeat this misinterpretation with my own children, who are kept fully appraised of all the latest occurrences in ICC-ratified events as soon as their lips even start to quiver.

Hopefully my recent break will have done me good – after years on the treadmill of thinking too much about cricket, a few weeks of enforced break should have refreshed the thinking about cricket part of my brain (the left half, and the top 80% of the right), and I will be able to think about cricket more and better than I have ever thought about it before.

After a lengthy lay-off, however, there is always the nagging doubt that I might not be quite as good at thinking about cricket as I once was. If that transpires to be the case, I can only hope that my massive experience of thinking about cricket stands me in good stead, and counterbalances the loss of my youthful thinking-about-cricket vigour.

During my absence from the esteemed pages of Cricinfo, I appear to have missed a number of matters of considerable cricketing importance:

  • The announcement of the World Cup schedule. A 42-game 30-day marathon group stage to find out the eight best one-day cricket nations in the universe – I want you all to guess now who those eight nations will be, and if any of you gets more than one answer wrong, you will be severely reprimanded – followed by a three-round knock-out randomiser to pluck a winner from those lucky eight. I know the ICC prides itself on concocting stultifying World Cup schedules, wearing the needless tediums of its showpiece tournament as a badge of honour whenever international sporting organisations meet for a celebratory party (by my calculations, if the ICC organised a summer Olympics, comprising around 300 events in up to 30 different sports, the games would last for 531 years and two months. In fact, some archaeologists believe that the Roman Empire was in fact a cribbage tournament organised by the ICC that gradually spiralled out of control).

    In the ICC’s defence, this is probably a marginal improvement on the last World Cup. Albeit, a sufficiently small improvement to confirm that the ICC possess the learning capability of an old plastic dustpan and brush. And we must also credit the ICC with ensuring that bowlers avoid burn-out – the group-stage format will require them to hurl down an average of 12 balls a day over those four-and-a-bit fun-packed weeks, a workload which should prove manageable even to the laziest of trundlers.

  • England have begun their tour of South Africa with slightly alarming confidence. Traditionally, the build-up to the first Test of an England tour is marked with hilarious pratfalls on the pitch, losing matches to teams of zoo attendants and/or zoo animals, before often (well, sometimes) miraculously pulling together when the Tests begin. Yesterday, however, England put on one of their finest away limited-over performances of recent memory, Paul Collingwood and Jonathan Trott batting like the 8-year, 171-game veterans of international one-day cricket that they respectively are and are not.

    This followed an encouraging rain-out in the first ODI, refusing to allow South Africa the early momentum in the series, and a creditable drawn Twenty20 microseries, in which England won the first game by thrashing their hosts by about 0.04 of a run, as South Africa were vanquished again by their oldest, deadliest enemy − Duckworth-Lewis. Graeme Smith’s men then pinched a small measure of consolation by luckily smashing one out of every seven balls they faced for six in the second game. This should be an excellent contest over the next two months.

    It will make a pleasant change if England can buck their recent trend by following up a spectacular victory with something other than a spectacular defeat.

  • The first India-Sri Lanka Test began by promising to be a thrilling antidote to the soul-sappingly bat-dominated bowler-annihilating run-gluts that have proliferated in Test cricket recently. Then ended with a soul-sappingly bat-dominated bowler-annihilating run-glut. Four wickets fell in the first eight overs, then another 17 in the next 428, the kind of futile, passionless, uncontested cricket that seems to be part of the BCCI’s cunning plot to kill Test cricket within the next ten years, enabling a 364-day-a-year Twenty20 tournament of such unremitting excitement that the planet will inevitably start to spin faster and faster until days themselves are only 40 overs long (plus additional dancing time).

  • The MCC’s plans to develop Lord’s are impressive visually, and staggeringly breath-taking financially. If some of the figures quoted are accurate, a £400 million outlay will festoon the Home Of Cricket with an additional 7500 seats. So, even at £50 per ticket, it will take over 1000 days of cricket to pay the money back.

    To put the budget in further context, for that money, the MCC could buy Kevin Pietersen on a 260-year IPL-style contract, and then demand that he spends the six IPL weeks of the year making cucumber sandwiches for the staff in the Lord’s shop. Would Pietersen accept the deal? £400 million is a healthy sum, and 260-year contracts are rare in top-level sport these days. Who knows?

    It’s good to be at the Confectionery Stall. Between now and the end of the year, I will selecting highlights and lowlights from the international cricket decade, including various teams of the decade – any requests will be considered and put to the vote in my dining room (my two children and wife will each have one vote, and I will have four votes).

    I shall also shortly be starting a regular World Cricket Podcast for Cricinfo, which will tell you absolutely everything you need to know, or not to know, about the great game as it stumbles into a decade.

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

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