August 21, 2010

Pakistan in England 2010

Cook does a Michelangelo

Andy Zaltzman
Kamran Akmal ponders the simple chance that he dropped to give Andrew Strauss a reprieve, England v Pakistan, 1st Test, Trent Bridge, July 29, 2010
Kamran Akmal wonders if his baby-eel pals have become tonight's dinner  © Getty Images
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Pity me, Confectionery Stallers, for I have been locked away in Edinburgh at the Festival with no internet access in my flat. And no internet access means no Statsguru. It is incredible to think, in this day and age, that a man can be forced to live without Statsguru for more than 24 hours without the law or the human rights brigade intervening and righting this obvious wrong, but such is the life I have been leading. A life devoid of purpose, hope, meaning and, above all, statistics.

My one-man show in Edinburgh runs from 4.20pm to 5.40pm, roughly, and has more than once coincided with major flurries of wickets. At my show yesterday, a minute in, I received one of the oddest but most informative heckles of my stand-up comedy career, when an audience member, unprompted shouted out: “Alistair Cook has made a hundred.” As a comedian, I am well used to being heckled with personal abuse, or brusquely phrased criticisms of my act. Being furnished with a point of cricketing information was a rare treat. On went the show, during the course of which six England wickets fell. The show went well – if the game is still active at 4:20pm today, I may deliberately do the worst show possible, just to see if that makes England play better.

This has been a brilliant Test match, garlanded with outstanding play, intriguing subplots and tidal fluctuations, the kind of game that makes you want to fly a light aeroplane around your neighbourhood trailing a banner reading “I Love Cricket”.

The series had previously contained passages of brilliance, but the drama that is generated by bowler-dominated Test cricket was undercut by the knowledge of Pakistan’s dismal vulnerability with the bat. Werewolf films would be less scary if you knew in advance that the beast suffered from a fatal congenital heart defect.

Now, visibly maturing and reinforced by the craft and steel of Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Yousuf, and with Kamran Akmal having jettisoned the gloves made of live baby eels that he had been using earlier in the summer, Pakistan are poised for a second Test victory of their compelling, undulating summer. “Poised for victory” of course, has a slightly different meaning for this Pakistan batting line-up than it does for most cricket sides.

Watching the highlights on Thursday, a couple of Azhar Ali’s back-foot drives made me put my cup of tea down and tap the table with my fingers in appreciation, his weeks of largely unsuccessful struggle blossoming into a potentially match-winning innings of style and stature.

Alistair Cook played his finest Test innings, which rivals Collingwood’s Edgbaston hundred against South Africa two years ago in the contest for the Best England Hundred By A Player Facing The Selectorial Chop In A Critical Match Situation 2008-2010. Cook, I thought, should have been dropped for this Test. His run of just-about-adequate form against the stronger international teams stretches back to the 2006-07 Ashes, camouflaged by healthy, century-laden hauls against Bangladesh and West Indies which have bumped up his average in that period from low-30s to low-40s. He had fully earned a “rest from the front-line”, but the selectors have proved to be amply justified in not granting him one.

Bearing in mind that England’s batsmen have not faced a bowling attack of this all-round quality for some time, and have been unsettlingly exposed by it regularly during this series (as were the Australians in July), Cook’s innings becomes even more impressive.

England thus remain vulnerable should one of their openers be injured, out of form, abducted by aliens, overwhelmed by a sudden desire to give up cricket in favour of accountancy or the priesthood, or otherwise indisposed, but Cook’s innings has resolved matters for the foreseeable future. His Ashes record suggests that Australia will not exactly be quaking in their baggy-green boots at the prospect of having to bowl to him, but perhaps this innings will mark a turning point.

His decisive approach and strokeplay were in notable contrast to the tentative proddings of his recent performances (which were also in notable contrast to his much improved technical performance in South Africa last winter (which was in notable contrast to his tentative proddings of last summer’s Ashes)). The innings that first brought him to the attention of the broader English cricketing public was a double-hundred in a day for Essex against the 2005 Australians, so he has clearly possessed the ability to dominate. It has seldom been unleashed in Test cricket, where, after his stellar start, he has – without, until this summer, properly failing − serially underachieved.

This excellent, surprisingly stylish hundred may prove to be a springboard for the remainder of his career – after all, Michelangelo had painted many rather drab, humdrum ceilings (largely in a bland, neutral creamy colour) before he nailed the Sistine Chapel, and went on to become 23-time Italian All-Round Art Champion. This is not true, but the point stands.

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

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Posted by Suly on (July 31, 2012, 18:44 GMT)

说:I’ve found that it’s difficult to relaly make money off of the local menu concept outside of Northern California. It’s still pretty hard up in Silicon Valley. San Francisco seems to be unique in its wholesale adoption.

Posted by Salman on (September 19, 2010, 14:26 GMT)

What a shame this bunch of looters and their agents have brought again to this country...it is an insult on our nation by these pathetic faces!!!

The indian controlled ICC is openly playing their dirty game, and every tom-dick and harry's criminal bookie phone call is now a lead into new investigations against our players, who are the best in the world....and the whole parliament and PCB sits and watch this nonsense that is crossing all limits....

We need to stop this insane plot in which, as our crooked leader Zardari, is his agent Ijaz butt, playing the pivotal role, by showing a pathetic face after every insult that the ICC has put on the face of our country, our players.

the indian controlled ICC, Ijaz butt and all the bookies involved need to be caught and put on trial in Pakistan....we need to stop this nonsense ....wherever there is indian hands there is a conspricay and corruption and politics, and cricket is dead if indians are allowed their dirty games, like in Afghanistan

Posted by nisarg dave on (September 1, 2010, 4:13 GMT)

Missing your views on the current spot-fixing mess...

Posted by JMike on (August 27, 2010, 19:09 GMT)

ahem.

May I just point out that a certain highly intelligent (and funny (and good-looking, if I may say so)) individual just totally nailed a prediction up at the top of these comments.

Yours sincerely etc. --someone completely unrelated to JMike

Posted by tvBite on (August 26, 2010, 14:39 GMT)

Just got this e-mail: "Amazing fact: No test playing cricketer in the history of ever has lived to the age of 100. There's a South African who is 99 and counting though."

And my first thought was: "Andy Zaltzman must hear of this. "

Posted by andyrocks-thanksman on (August 25, 2010, 21:06 GMT)

Andy i really think ur readers are ungrateful. 99% of your articles leave us on the floor ROFLOL and with that 1% of rare, interspersed not-as-hilarious, witty or satirical-but-still-good-articles they complain. You probably wrote this in your sleep and you write much better than any of them will ever be able to write. You have an innate talent Andy. Thanks for exposing your talent to us. Good luck with your show and I'm sure that when you're done with it you'll be back to your 99% best.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (August 25, 2010, 5:19 GMT)

Hey Andy, can you contact Strauss and let him know, if he wins the toss, England should bat first? After all, Cook is in form and Strauss obviously wants to score a 50, and Pieterson can also score a 50, at least. Best Regards.

Posted by RIC on (August 24, 2010, 15:42 GMT)

That is precisely the point with Cook; a 'serial under-achiever' is precisely right, he has seldom made good runs against good opposition and for all the approbation for his 'temperament' he actually seems unable to produce against the genuinely good teams, until this hundred which I must say was magnificent. What is it with Essex producing highly talented batsmen who go missing on the big stage? Cook, Bopara....I can only think of two but I'm sure there are more. Somewhere. Maybe.

Posted by Anonymous on (August 23, 2010, 16:37 GMT)

'England thus remain vulnerable should one of their openers be injured ... or otherwise indisposed...' Apparently Andrew Strauss is emigrating to North Korea and going into politics - he got a taste for it after attempting to twittergag the England squad.

Posted by Taimur Khan on (August 23, 2010, 5:05 GMT)

Hi Andy Good thing Cook decided on a medium rare well done! Otherwise he would have been cooked for sure by the selecters..over a slow fire. As for splendid Amir & Ajmal, backed up by excellent Asif & Wahab, the essential difference between England's finest and this lot (with the honorable exception of the elegantly gliding Swan) is that England are flourishing only in helpful conditions. Anderson produced an excellent spell and the one that sent Yousuf back to the prayer mat was an absolute peach, but Broad and Finn looked about as penetrative as mosquitos boring against rhino hide. Please note that likening the resolve of the chasing Pakistanis to rhino hide is a travesty as a modicum of menance in the bowling can wobble them. Anderson and Swann oblidged but Finn and Broad were lamentably toothless. Kamran held his catches, easy as they were, but then that has never been an issue. He has proved capable of dropping the dolliest and on the trot too. Poor Zulqarnain..Poor Pakistan!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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