Chirpy Warnie, grumpy Chappelli, and a nutty Afridi
One of the pleasures of the enthralling first Test at Lord’s was listening to Shane Warne. I emphasise the word "listening". On camera, Warnie is a slightly alarming presence, sporting a tan suggestive of a fortnight at one of Mercury’s more exclusive resorts and teeth that could guide trawlers to port on moonless nights. But safely ensconced in the commentators’ booth, he is an uplifting contributor who rivals Harsha Bhogle in the congeniality stakes.
For instance, I have yet to hear the game’s greatest legspinner utter a negative syllable about anyone or anything. All of life’s unpleasantness is encapsulated by the word, "rubbish", a word he occasionally uses to describe such diverse phenomena as inaccurate bowling and negative personality traits, but only to confirm that such things are entirely absent from the make-up of the player under discussion.
Optimism and generosity of spirit isn’t for everyone though, so viewers in need of an alternative had the option of tuning in to Test Match Special, where Ian Chappell was holding court. Gruffer than a billy goat recovering from laryngitis, he seems to have discovered new frontiers of grumpiness since I last heard him; at one point managing to inject bile, belligerence and bad temper into an anecdote about learning to ski.
Still, sometimes only plain speaking will suffice. Invited to assess the performance of Pakistan’s Test captain, Chappell remarked bluntly that he seemed to have gone backwards. Those of us willing the luxuriant-haired one to succeed could only concur as we watched him embark on a cricket-themed suicide ballet. Nineteen balls, 33 runs and then, the crazy icing on the failure cake, a spur of the moment resignation. Top that, Salman.
Still it’s not too late for showman Afridi to sign up for one of the many amusingly-named domestic Twenty20 teams. Yes, like an epidemic that was once briefly in the news, turned out to be duller than expected, but hasn’t yet gone away, the Friends Provident Twenty20 persists. A flurry of fixtures signifies that we are approaching the outskirts of the quarter-finals as those teams who have qualified for the next bit attempt to secure home advantage and those teams who can’t possibly qualify attempt to avoid injury while fulfilling their contractual obligations.
After witnessing all of Thursday’s play at Lord’s, I fought the impulse to switch off the county action and found myself watching a collective, calling themselves The Steelbacks, playing against Lancashire on a pitch that had been laid out by a groundsman with a keen sense of the comic potential of the absurd.
“That’s out of here!” roared the man with the microphone as one batsman lobbed a gentle slog sweep forty yards. In a Test match, such a shot would have resulted in a comfortable catch at shortish midwicket, but on a pitch reduced to back garden dimensions, it sailed over the rope and landed in the acres of space between where the boundary ought to have been and where it actually was.
My daughter is only six and I’m fairly sure that, granted a stiffish following breeze, she could reach that boundary with her size one plastic bat. Earlier during the day, a pre-recorded Clive Lloyd had suggested that Twenty20 is an exhibition. This was more like a family fun day. All that was missing was a coconut shy at square leg and Pakistan’s newest former captain running the tombola.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England