January 12, 2010

Who gives a toss about anything but the toss?

Prepare for an edge-of-the-seat final in Dhaka and for a Pakistani win in Tasmania

The tri-series: an avant-garde celebration of the essential absurdity of human endeavour © Associated Press

Some have suggested that the Tri-Nations Tournament in Bangladesh is a less-than-gripping addition to the cricket calendar. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Triangular Extravaganza in Mirpur is an avant-garde celebration of the essential absurdity of human endeavour as seen through the medium of cricket.

Just as the abstractionists once stripped the figurative arts down to bare lines, so the Bangladesh Cricket Board has daringly done away with all that is superfluous in our sport. By insisting on playing the second half of every match in a paddy field, the 50-over game has been reduced to its essence: the toss.

So let’s have no more negative talk about this immensely significant, if ever so slightly damp, competition. I have enjoyed every minute of the Isosceles Cup and I have already planned my schedule for the final on Wednesday:

07:40 Secure my seat in front of the television 07:45 Cheer the arrival of the titles sequence 07:50 Whoop enthusiastically as the captains trudge out to the middle 07:52 Shout ‘Heads!’ or ‘Tails!’ as the mood takes me 07:52 Gaze open-mouthed in suspense as the coin hangs in the air 07:53 Listen intently as Dhoni (or it may be Sangakkara) utters those now familiar words, “I think we’ll have a bowl.” 07:54 Turn off television and go back to bed.

The Hypertridimensional Shield has, in addition to rendering overs 1-100 entirely superfluous, enabled me to watch some players I don’t see enough of. Amit Mishra is a case in point. Of the roughly 27 spinners employed by India during Sunday’s game, Mishra was the only one who caused the ball to rotate on its axis, and after a week of plucky tailenders hanging around forever, it made a pleasant change to see the batting duffers flail about like giraffes in a tar pit.

Skittling out the tail, of course, is part of the game that has gone out of fashion, like gentlemanly conduct or employing wicketkeepers who can catch. Which brings us to the curious case of Akmal, K. We learned this week that during the Sydney Test, the hapless keeper had been kept up nights trying to put his baby to sleep. But slow-motion footage obtained from the team hotel revealed some glaring flaws in his baby-rocking technique, described by Channel 9’s lullaby expert Ian Healy as "pretty ordinary". I’m afraid that the time has come for Mrs Akmal to seriously consider drafting in a replacement babysitter, at least for the remainder of the tour.

As for Kamran’s wicketkeeping, I don’t see what the problem is. I’m with the PCB on this. Five thousand dollars to teach someone to catch would have been an outrageous use of public money, money that could be better spent on desk stationery, name badges, executive trouser presses and the like. If absolutely necessary, I’m sure Ijaz Butt could be prevailed upon to give a demonstration. I mean, how hard can it be? Crouch like a frog, watch the ball, catch it if possible; it’s no big deal. And it’s not as if Kamran is getting the important stuff wrong. His chatter is some of the inanest and most annoying on the international circuit and that’s all you can ask for in a modern keeper.

Anyway, I hope the selectors see sense and retain him for the final Test, because he deserves to feature in the inevitable consolation victory. Yes, you read that correctly. By the strange laws of cricket physics currently affecting the game, it is blatantly obvious that Pakistan are going to triumph in Tasmania. I am as sure as if they were batting second in Dhaka. It’s their turn.

It is a lesson in the new cricket realities that the England management must absorb. I was somewhat dismayed at the weekend to see a twinkly-eyed Geoff Miller breathlessly extolling the virtues of his shiny new cricket team, with its multi-tooled bowling attack and devastating batsmen, reminding me of a 10-year-old boy telling all his friends what Santa had brought him. Long experience teaches us that Christmas Day’s glittery new toy is usually defunct by the time the snow begins to melt.

So delicately poised is the international balance of cricket power these days that for those who think they’ve reached the top, the taxi carrying nemesis is likely to be pulling in even before hubris has stepped onto the pavement. It would be far better, Geoff to describe your boys thus: "I believe England have the part-time batsmen to ensure that a likely defeat can be turned into a draw on a reasonably regular basis." Not sexy, I’ll grant you, but it might just satisfy the cricket gods and stave off the inevitable reversal in Johannesburg.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England