January 19, 2010

Uncomfortably close

Collingwood, Bollinger, Siddle and Co, so in your face you can see their pores

Bollinger: named for a sparkling wine, but a butcher by comportment © Getty Images

I recently went through one of those significant changes, a milestone in anyone’s life that can alter forever the way you look at the world around you. Last week I had a new television delivered. Three Ashes series, a World Cup, two World Twenty20s, Bhajjigates I and II: Old Faithful and I have been through them together. But there’s no room for sentiment in the modern game. He’s spending some time in the garage now, a call-up looking about as likely as a Monty Panesar comeback.

A bigger television requires a different watching technique. The altered proportions can catch you off guard. On Thursday morning, the multi-tiered Bull Ring loomed ominously. As did David Gower’s head - a disconcerting prospect to a man still easing himself into breakfast. A day or two spent wrestling with a multi-lingual manual has also left me with an insight into Daryl Harper’s little difficulties. Those volume controls are slippery blighters. Throw in the issues of contrast, sharpness, brightness and colour temperature and its no wonder the poor old boy was confused.

On Sunday morning I felt uncomfortably close to the action, as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel proceeded to trap and beat up the pale, defeated tourists like a couple of angry bears cornering some hapless picnickers. In heartfelt sympathy, I mouthed Paul Collingwood’s anguished “Or Nu!” as he snicked a short one through the air. Reruns caught not just his forlorn cry but also the open-mouthed expressions of the phalanx of South African catchers, eyes fixed skywards on the tantalising arc of the ball as though it were a Faberge egg with wings, fluttering just out of reach.

In the end, England comfortably won the race of the defeated, collapsing softly inwards like a meringue left out in the rain, whilst over in Tasmania, Mohammed Yousuf’s men at least managed to last until the final day. On a pitch that appeared to be part potato patch, the batsmen offered their angled blades like plucky villagers defending their homes with garden spades and pitchforks. Johnson, Bollinger and Siddle fired in shooters from ever more acute angles, trying to dig them out.

They’re a couple of meaty customers, Bollinger and Siddle. Vicious rocks to the crease, rolling a little from side to side as he gets his steam up, reminiscent of that old boiler Merv Hughes, though conveying slightly less freight. The generously proportioned Bollinger runs in like a butcher taking his first venture on roller skates. Cautious at first, in a second or two he’s going too fast for himself, his head snapping back as he slams on the brakes just before gravity trips him up.

But it was Nathan Hauritz who did the damage in the end. His removal of Sarfraz Ahmed was at first glance a furtive, fumbling kind of dismissal, not worth dwelling on. But super slow-motion replays invested it with a curious beauty. Ball strikes bat like a match, tickles the seam of Haddin’s glove edge, bruises the heels of Clarke’s palms, balloons up from the tongue of his boot and finally settles lightly in his fragile grasp.

As Johannesburg showed, we can get ourselves into a pickle over technology. But those same gadgets have the capacity to enhance our experience and to deepen our fascination for a game that is, after all, an art form. In 2010 there are few better lives to live than that of a cricket lover with a television.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England