The secret to winning the World Twenty20
What days we have been living through. A coalition government is in putative charge for the first time since Geoff Arnold used to open the bowling for the country – can you imagine a cricketer with Arnold’s admirably defiant lack of personal-grooming products being allowed near the England dressing room today? David Cameron has taken the keys to Number 10, a man marketed by some media acolytes as Britain’s answer to Obama. An independently wealthy Old Etonian Oxford graduate reaching the highest office in the land – they said it would never happen in our lifetimes. There is hope for us all.
But these momentous events were as nothing to the seismic jolt that blasted England’s conception of itself to smithereens, like a vintage Waqar Younis yorker splintering a nervous tailender’s big toe. In a post-imperial, globalising, technological age, the old certainties of what it meant to be English have been tossed around in the tumble dryer of progress. But one immutable national trait has remained steadfast through the baffling transformations of the modern age – an indefatigable, almost fundamentalist, ineptitude at limited-overs cricket. Now even this one beacon of reliability, this solitary undeflatable rubber dinghy on the stormy boating lake of change, has been cruelly snatched from us by a ruthless fortnight of powerful, focused and consistent cricket.
I exaggerate, of course. Slightly. But, from the beginning of the Super Eights, England barely wobbled in their progress towards their first-ever world limited-overs gong. After formulating a strategy of Machiavellian brilliance – picking lots of batsmen who can thwack the ball hard – Collingwood’s team were Australianically dominant.
There was never even the slightest hint that they would find a way to concoct a defeat. Clearly, England have been recruiting the right type of South Africans.
England thus became the third different winner of the three World Twenty20 tournaments over three years, and the last of the eight major Test nations to reach a semi-final in the shortest form of the international game. Pakistan have reached three semi-finals, Australia and Sri Lanka two, and the other five teams one each. There is no real pattern emerging yet, and no dominant force – by contrast, the World Cup has been dominated successively by West Indies (two wins and a losing final in the first three competitions) and Australia (four wins out of five finals in the last six tournaments). Long may it remain so.
The one unifying feature of the winning teams at the World Twenty20 has been that they have hit a streak of form for 10 days once the Super Eight stage begins. This contrasts with the 50-over World Cup, which is essentially a test of which team goes least mad sitting in a hotel room for six skull-crushingly tedious weeks, playing a bit of mostly meaningless cricket once every five or six days. This format evidently suits the Australian psyche extremely snugly.
Here’s a slightly curious fact for you, Confectionery Stallers. The champion World Twenty20 teams between them have won two out of six group matches – India sneaked through with a washout and a bowl-out win against Pakistan in 2007, Pakistan were clobbered by England then defeated the Netherlands last year, and England lost a titanic opening-match struggle with the Duckworth-Lewis method before being rained through to the second phase whilst defending an unimposing 120 against Ireland. So it seems that starting the tournament shakily is a prerequisite for ultimate triumph, which, once all the teams realise this, could make for some highly entertaining anti-cricket in the group stage next time round in 2012.
(Duckworth-Lewis clearly needs some tinkering in its Twenty20 incarnation. It generally functions fairly when rain interrupts in 50-over cricket, but in the 20-over game, it seems to involve the umpire dropping a calculator into a pint of ram’s blood, then jumping up and down on it, thinking about what Salvador Dali would have been like if he’d been Freddie Trueman instead, holding his breath for two minutes whilst growling, and then saying the first number that comes into his head.)
Thank you for your questions in response to last week’s blog. Having been divorced from cricket by the election for too long, I am now going away with the family for a week’s holiday in a non-cricketous country, but I have responded to some of your queries, and my factually and legally incontrovertible answers will be posted here next week.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer