Q&A May 25, 2010

Tendulkar v Anand, cricketer v bear, and a plot to kidnap Gary Kirsten

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Bear facts: New South Wales’ finest pose with a somewhat hirsute training partner © New South Wales Cricket Association

Hello, Confectionery Stallers. As you read this, I am attempting to convert Southern Italy to cricket and/or discussing with my wife and children over a few plates of pasta the likely outcome of the forthcoming epoch-defining two-Test series between England and Bangladesh that will bring the planet to a standstill from Thursday. (That was poorly phrased – I did not mean that I will be discussing the Tests with someone whilst my family are suspended in mid-air from the ceiling of a nice trattoria. Let me be quite clear on that. That will almost certainly not happen, provided they behave and listen to my analysis of Junaid Siddique’s technical shortcomings.)

In the meantime, here is the first Official Confectionery Stall Q&A, in response to your responses to my Elvis-style Comeback Special blog last week.

Question (posted by “Circe”): Do you think Sachin Tendulkar can beat Vishy Anand (or maybe Veselin Topalov) at chess? What do you think his fans think? What do they really think? What does David Cameron think?

Zaltzmanswer: Tendulkar can and would beat Anand at chess. Whilst I have no idea whether Tendulkar even knows the rules of chess, I am confident that Anand’s legendary concentration would be broken by his being fully star-struck in the presence of the little maestro at his table. Especially if Tendulkar was padded up, wearing a helmet and brandishing a bat (coincidentally, the exact attire worn by Emanuel Lasker when he defeated Wilhelm Steinitz to become world chess champion in 1894). Anand would forget all about his Napoleonic openings, Bogoljubov defences and Falkbeer countergambits (thank you, Wikipedia), and try to ask Tendulkar about his greatest moments as a cricketing megastar. Tendulkar, who must be used to sledging, would ignore Anand and remain focused on the game, leading the champion chess wiz to resign in frustration and ask Tendulkar to autograph his bishops.

Tendulkar’s chances against Topalov would not be so good. Bulgaria’s Topalov is a renowned cricket-hater ever since he went to the circus in Sofia as a child. Due to a mix-up with bookings, instead of the circus Topalov saw Chris Tavare presenting a three-hour seminar on the forward-defensive, whilst Kent were deducted 16 County Championship points for sending out a performing rhinoceros and a trapeze artiste to open the batting against Middlesex at Canterbury.

David Cameron thinks that either Anand or Tendulkar could win, even though three weeks ago he was publicly adamant that Anand was useless at chess and wouldn’t stand a chance against Sachin.

Question (posted by Mick): Here's a question for you: are you ever going to finish that "greatest moments of the decade" thing you started but only got up to 2003? Also, if they manage to succeed in human cloning, which former English cricketer would you like to see brought back from DNA? WG Grace or Douglas Jardine, perhaps? And which cricketer would make a good stand-in PM for England given your current political madness?

Zaltzmanswer: I’ll answer those in turn.

(A) Ah, yes, er, sure I’ll finish it, I just don’t want to rush into it and accidentally pick moments which were not actually “the greatest”. By which I mean, thanks for the reminder. I may finish it. But given that England won a tournament whilst it remained unfinished, I may sit on it for a few more decades.

(B) Regarding a former England star to recreate in a laboratory, it would have to be 19th-century grinder William Scotton. His Wisden obituary stated that “he carried caution to such extremes that it was often impossible to take any pleasure in seeing him play”. In fact, his batting was so ceaselessly tedious that he committed suicide in 1893. It is not clear whether or not this was during an especially painstaking innings, but it remains a rather extreme method of making yourself a more interesting cricketer.

I would bring Scotton back to life, build a net with a bowling machine in a secret location, kidnap Gary Kirsten, and force the South African Beethoven Of Bore to watch Scotton block it for the next 10 years. I would treat Kirsten humanely and keep him well fed and watered, with internet access to communicate with his family, but I would make him sit through every single ball of Scotton’s decade-long vigil. And at the end of it, I would say to Kirsten: “Now you know how I felt after your double-century at Old Trafford in 1998.”

(C) Shahid Afridi. That would get the kids interested in politics again.

QUESTION (posted by Graham Bingham): Which cricketer (past, current or future) do you think would have the best chance in a fight with a bear?

Zaltzmanswer: This is a very difficult question to answer. The obvious temptation is to say England’s Alistair Cook, who tends to look awkward even when creaming the ball to all parts, and when struggling for form bats as if he is being attacked by a bear. He would therefore be better equipped to fight an actual bear than most international cricketers.

Other candidates include: Douglas Jardine, who would irritate the bear with his haughty manner and have no qualms about using dubious tactics to win (or at least asking Harold Larwood to do so); Merv Hughes, who may have actually been a bear (and recent scientific tests suggest that he shares 98% of the same DNA as a bear); and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, who took his six pet grizzly bears with him on all his tours with India (“I can’t spin the ball if I don’t know they’ve had their lunch and a good snooze,” he once said tearfully after a careless Edgbaston groundsman let them loose onto the streets of Birmingham).

QUESTION (posted by Aidan): Andy, with the recent success of the South Africa A-England coalition in the ICC World Twenty20, is this the birth of a "New Cricket"?

Zaltzmanswer: Yes. The first international limited-overs tournament occurred in 1975, the year after the last UK hung parliament. England proceeded not to win a tournament until just days after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was formalised. This cannot be coincidence. Clearly, English cricketers can only perform (in the shorter forms of the game) under a compromise administration. It makes them feel safe and wanted. So with Prime Minister Cameroniclegg’s “New Politics” changing the democratic landscape of Britain, we can also say that Collingwood’s triumphant South Africa-tinged England represent “New Cricket”.

England have long utilised foreign labour in their national cricket team – WG Grace famously once kidnapped the Australian player Billy Midwinter, and recently unearthed MCC papers suggest that WG himself was in fact originally an Italian chef called Luigi who was found chained to a lamp post in Gloucester, wearing a fake beard, after a stag night in 1865. He escaped jail and potential deportation to a colony only by agreeing to make up the numbers for the county team the next day after the opening batsman died of scurvy. And the rest is heavily bearded history.

I hope that resolves your queries. Please leave any further questions you would like me to answer in the comments section underneath this blog, and I will answer them on my return to Cricketland.

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