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It was all the more disturbing because most of the horror was packed into the last quarter of the game. Up until then, I had thought I was watching an entirely different production; a sentimental straight to DVD American movie about a bunch of misfit but likeable kids on a sports team that has never won a game, who finally discover that if they just believe in themselves, they can do it.
It all seemed to be going so well. The bookish boy who had reluctantly accepted the captaincy was threading elegant boundaries in all directions. There was the streetwise youngster Ravi, fighting back with a gutsy little innings. Later came clean-cut Brett, quirky but loveable Sreesanth and brave little Yuvi facing up to the big South African bully who had called him such horrible pie-related names. It was heart-warming stuff.
Then without warning, not even any sinister background music, the dropped catches began. To be strictly accurate, Sreesanth didn’t really drop his chance, since he didn’t at any point have hold of it. Dominic Cork, a new, strident recruit to the ranks of pontificators with microphones deemed it a schoolboy error. Those of us who can remember standing out in the long grass, experiencing that familiar feeling of rising terror as the ball soared inexorably towards us, felt instant affinity with Sreesanth.
The dropped catches continued to rain to earth. Bopara went down on both knees to spill his. Sangakkara, pursuing a high one clutched desperately at it, once, twice, bounced it off his left thigh, got another finger on it, then watched helpless as gravity dashed it from his reach and his left foot involuntarily booted it for four. Slips, slides, wides and mistimed dives diminished Bangalore’s target as Punjab spent their advantage with the recklessness of a millionaire frittering away his fortune.
And all the time, nasty Kevin Pietersen, he of the sinister stubble and evil grin, remained at large. He was joined, when Punjab finally contrived to take a catch, by Robin Uthappa and his newly inflated muscles. Robin has apparently been hitting the gym of late and this has given him new superhuman power. When he hit poor Lee’s best yorkers into the middle of next week, the game was up and the plot had taken a cruel and frankly unnecessary twist.
Even horror films and surgery shows have reasonably happy conclusions, with monsters slain and gaping wounds sewn up neatly. But there was no uplifting conclusion at the end of Friday’s carnage. Sangakkara did a passable impression in the last four overs of one of those minor characters in a Shakespeare bloodfest, wandering about the stage in bewildered fashion as the bodies pile up all around. Even Alfred Hitchcock might have baulked at inflicting such a level of psychological torment on his audience.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73