Pakistan July 14, 2010

Long Bob’s short moan, and the spirit of the game

We English do not summer well

We English do not summer well. We are designed for living in the depths of soggy forests or shivering in stony cottages on windswept moors. Hot, dry weather turns us the colour of the Zimbabwe one-day shirt and causes us to sweat whilst sitting down, an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs. Mercifully then, after a distressing interlude, the English monsoon season has arrived in all its soggy glory. Our native moisture is restored and for the next 11 months the dampness of a chap’s shirt will be down to precipitation rather than perspiration.

And who better to celebrate the return of leaden skies and gloomy afternoons with than good old Bob Willis, a man genetically suited to standing in the rain at bus stops complaining about the council? Long Bob was, of course, a fine bowler, but I have often thought that his cricket career was merely a distraction from his true calling: having a bit of a moan.

He was rather restrained during his opening spell on Thursday, but when the umpires took the players off for bad light shortly after lunch, he was soon steaming in off his long run and letting fly with a gloriously downbeat monologue castigating the folly of the men in white coats, an interlude of vintage complaining that was only spoiled by the sight of the players returning to the field just as Bob was hitting his grumbling straps.

English conditions also seemed to suit the Pakistan bowlers. Mohammad Aamer was bruising thighs and brushing bat edges as he tore in Wasim-style in the latest chapter of his extraordinary teenage adventure, whilst at the other end Mohammad Asif was coming on like the reincarnation of Sydney Barnes, removing Clarke, Katich and North in a game-changing spell of loopy swing bowling.

So good was the Pakistan bowling that even their opponents were moved to compliment them. The Australian captain made a particular point of congratulating his young opponent by offering Aamer a few words of encouragement and a traditional Tasmanian elbow rub. All of which confirms the wisdom of the MCC’s decision to brand this double-header as the “Spirit Of Cricket” series.

Of course, it’s easy to be cynical about that sort of thing, but who would argue that the custodians of cricket’s soul could have chosen a better contest to publicise the courteousness and generosity of spirit that underpin our great game? Good-natured Ricky Ponting versus level-headed Shahid Afridi. Mild-mannered Australia against even-tempered Pakistan. What can possibly go wrong?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England