February 21, 2011

World Cup 2011

Why we need three games a day

Andy Zaltzman

Here is the script of episode one of Andy Zaltzman’s World Cup podcast, featuring an interview with a Bangladesh fan in Fatullah, and some fantastic audio footage of the crowd at the World Cup opening match, plus some of Andy’s usual cricketous garbage.

You can also subscribe to this podcast via iTunes.

The music in the podcast is by Kevin MacLeod.

For those of you unable to stream or download the audio, below is a transcript of the scripted parts of the show. (But it is supposed to be listened to.)

If you have any questions you would like Andy to attempt to answer in the next podcast, please use the Ask Andy box on the right to send them in.

Hello, welcome to my first World Cup Cricket podcast. Later in the show, I’ll be talking to a Bangladesh cricket fan about his country and its tournament, I’ll be putting you on the spot with the inaugural Guess What Happened Based On The Sound Of The Crowd quiz, and there’s something from the opening game in Mirpur to give you a taste of the eye-popping atmosphere of cricket as a social sport breaking new ground, all whilst the actual game itself provided a largely predictable win for the old order against the new. That’s not to say it was boring. If anyone tells you that watching Virender Sehwag score 175 is boring, do not trust them. Shun them from your life, report them to the police, and check your pockets. Sehwag could probably make brushing his teeth exciting. It would probably end up with toothpaste all over the bathroom, but Sehwag marching out with a gleaming set of tusks shining from his magical mouth.

Among the things not in this week’s World Cup Cricket podcast are: an exclusive interview with former Hollywood film starlet Marlene Dietrich on whether Zimbabwe can make any impact on this tournament; a fly-on-the-thigh-pad secret recording of New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori breaking his personal best score in a game of Scrabble against Brendon McCullum; or ICC big cheese Haroon Lorgat singing the classic 1970s disco classic “I Will Survive”. All that, not in the show.

Now, let’s be honest, the highlights of the tournament so far have mostly been off the pitch. On it, we’ve had one comfortable victory and two absolute hammerings in favour of the older cricket nations. Still, only four weeks of the group stage left, so chins up everyone.

There has been much debate about the format of this World Cup, and in particular of the next one, provisionally subtitled: “Closed Shop 2015 – Keeping The Riffraff Where They Belong”. Now, admittedly, few people would claim the Associates have covered themselves in glory in their first two games. Maybe only a mathematics denier who had been hit on the head with a fire extinguisher, or a hard-nut golf fan – to quote Ernie Els from yesterday: “I don’t understand, Canada hit the ball far far less often than Sri Lanka, and yet you’re telling me they lost… no, I’m not falling for that. Looks like a Canada-Kenya final all the way for me…”

But I can’t help but think cricket is shooting the wrong elephant here. Like other sports that are popular in only a small number of countries, finding a format for a World Cup that isn’t scarred by tedious early mismatches and/or unwieldily long (unwieldily is an appropriate word for itself, isn’t it), is a real test for the organisers. Rugby union has had the same problem. When your number of teams is not divisible by 4, you have to get creative with the format, and some of the recent ones dreamt up look like they were the result of a drunken night out and a discussion with Salvador Dali.

For cricket, this has been a problem ever since the number of teams crept up above eight back in 1992. Obviously, some in high places in cricket wouldn’t mind going back to eight. Some would even like to go back to four. And some of those would like those four to be India, India, India and India.

For me, though, the main problem is the refusal to play enough games quickly enough. In this World Cup, teams are having to wait five, six days between matches. Finding enough diverting hobbies to stop themselves going stir crazy could be as important as more traditional crucial parts of the game, such as putting things in areas, not any areas, only the right ones, or executing things, plans and strategies mostly, preferably not wills or people.

How about this, cricket fans. A 16-team tournament. Four groups of four. Three games for each team, taking 12 days, with two games a day. The top two go into a second group phase. Again, 12 days, top two in the semis. Then semis and a final in the last week. Bang. Maximum five weeks, lots of important matches between the big teams, giving the tournament a chance to build up momentum, a showcase for the smaller teams – which would be further enhanced if the third-placed teams from the group stage then go into a plate competition, a four-team round robin leading to a final in between the semis and final of the main tournament. With the winner earning automatic qualification for the Champions Trophy, or some other prize of their choosing – a go in a space rocket, dinner and karaoke with Scarlett Johansson, or pole vault lessons from Russians jumping over high bars using a bendy stick like legend Sergei Bubka, or the chance to own ICC umpire Billy Bowden for a year. Do the washing up, Billy. And then sing me a lullaby.

You could even condense the schedule down even further, have three games a day… a standard day-nighter starting at 2pm in the afternoon; then a night-night game from 10pm to 6am; then a morning-daytime game from 6am until 2pm. Bingo, 24-hour cricket. The advertisers would be birthing themselves with excitement. You could tweak it so you introduce the intriguing tactical possibility of teams deciding whether or not to send in a tailender as a breakfast watchman.

Get back to me on that one, ICC. But if you use it, I want to do a gig at the opening ceremony.

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If you’ve reading my On the Road with Zaltzman blog postings on ESPNcricinfo, you’ll know that I have found my first trip to Asia rather exciting so far. I found Bangladesh and its enthusiasm for cricket utterly captivating. The England v Pakistan warm-up match in Fatullah – a warm-up match, between two neutral teams, remember – was played out in front of a packed and noisy house. Whilst there, I sat in among the local cricket fans. Do you think I (a) blended in seamlessly, or (b) stuck out like a thumb that was not merely sore but had been freshly hammered with an unusually angry mallet? Your guess.

And I spoke to a young man from Dhaka whom I met in the Fatullah stands, who expressed what seemed to be the universal feelings of pride and excitement about Bangladesh’s biggest ever sporting event.

INTERVIEW WITH ASHUK (In audio)

Thanks again to Ashuk and his friends, who were fantastically welcoming and bought me a chicken sandwich. Something that has never happened to me at The Oval.

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The opening match as a cricket game went according to most people’s script. Personally, I thought Shakib Al Hasan made a bit of a blooper when he put India in to bat, thus giving Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar – who I think most cricket fans agree are tidy little players who know one end of a bat from the other – first go at the game. I know the dew is a factor in Mirpur, but India were in a winning position after not long – one ball, some would say, catablasted to the off-side boundary by Sehwag. I thought putting India in first was roughly the equivalent of finding yourself cornered in a dark alleyway with a hungry-looking lion, and agreeing to let the lion have first bite on you, because you were feeling quite peckish yourself and fancied your chances of being able to counter-eat your way back into it when your turn came. Roughly equivalent.

But the highlight of the match, of course, was the crowd, the occasion, the atmosphere. It was a privilege to witness it, from my vantage point on the roof of the press box. They put the real journalists in a hermetically sealed soundproofed room so they can concentrate on the cricket. Chancers like me get to go on the roof where you can appreciate the full fantastic mayhem of a crowd and a nation going bonkers for cricket.

To give you a greater feel for the sounds of this landmark day for cricket, here is the first (possibly of many, possibly of one) Guess What Happened On This Ball Based On The Reaction Of The Crowd multiple choice quiz. Snappy title. It’s got prime-time TV format written all over it.

To help you out, the letters of the answers make up the initials of a former England player currently enjoying a spot of royal hospitality courtesy of Her Majesty’s Prison Service. Are you ready. Fingers on the buzzers. You have to provide your own buzzers. Clip one. What happened here?

CLIP 1 AUDIO

Was it: (a) A glorious cover drive for four, evoking memories of Victor Trumper at his best (b) As part of the pre-game warm up, a performing dolphin leaps out of its special tank, catches a fish, winks at the camera, and waves its tail to the crowd like a batsman celebrating a half century. (c) An edge to third man for a single.

CLIP 2 AUDIO

Was that the sound of: (a) Bangladesh winning the World Cup in Dhaka in 2023… recorded in the future, brought back to 2011 by some guy I know who can do these things, don’t ask too many questions about it I’m not sure it’s legal (b) Former British PM Tony Blair riding to the wicket on a motorised donkey, dressed as Tarzan, and proceeding to juggle five flaming squirrels whilst reciting works by Bangladesh’s national poet Kaazi Nasrul Islam. (c) Junaid Siddique playing a shot.

CLIP 3 AUDIO

Was this the sound of: (a) Just before the start of the game, Bangladesh opening bowler Rubel Hossain putting on a rocket pack, flying into the Indian dressing room, and stealing Sachin’s favourite bat (b) The pitch opening up to reveal Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina being carried aloft by Hollywood star Tom Cruise, Nelson Mandela and back-from-the-dead rock legend Elvis Presley, and promising everyone in the crowd $1million dollars in cash each. (L) A wide down the leg side.

Please complete your answer sheets. Pencils down. No cheating. Here are the answers:

Clip 1: C. An edge to third man for 1.

Clip 2: C. Admittedly, it wasn’t just any Junaid Siddique shot, it was a glorious, majestic lofted kaboom that flew high towards the midwicket boundary, and just over the fielder and the ropes for six.

Clip 3: L. It was a wide down the leg side. But not just any wide down the leg side, it was a Sreesanth wide down the leg side. That went to boundary. Bringing the total runs so far in the over to 23. If anything, the crowd didn’t get as excited as it could have done.

And the cricketer in question was Chris Lewis.

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So, a fascinating, inspiring start to the World Cup off the pitch, a predictable one on it. Let’s hope part A of that can keep going, and part B can buck its ideas up.

A quick Zaltzman World Cup Form Guide: India are good at batting. Bangladesh could do with a peak period Garry Sobers in their team. Sri Lanka are very good at defending totals of 300-plus against Associate member nations. Canada aren’t very good at chasing 300-plus to beat Test-playing countries. If New Zealand keep going at their current rate, they will win the tournament without losing a wicket. And Kenya’s odds are drifting – but they need to remember that Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup after being bowled out for 74 by England in the group stage. So they’re still very much in it.

That’s almost it for the first World Cup Cricket Podcast. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Do read my daily blogs on ESPNcricinfo, and follow my Twitter updates at @ZaltzCricket. I’ll be back with another podcast in around a week’s time, by which time I fully expect England to have beaten Netherlands, and thus proved that Joshua Reynolds was better at painting portraits than that Dutch chancer Rembrandt.

But I’ll play you out this week with something magnificent, a treat I think for anyone who loves one or more of cricket, sport and life. This is the full, unedited audio of that Sreesanth over at the Shere-Bangla stadium on Saturday, to let you hear what this tournament means to Bangladesh. I recorded it up on top of the press box, and at times you can hear that some of the local media guys who were sitting near me maybe slightly lost their journalistic objectivity. Understandably, and gloriously.

Bye bye.

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

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Posted by Yogesh on (February 23, 2011, 19:51 GMT)

Andy, If am right, your first two WC matches have involved a 175 from an Indian. You are India's lucky mascot :-)

Posted by Niels on (February 22, 2011, 20:09 GMT)

I love your idea of the scheduling for the world cup. Today was the best chance for a shock result and quite frankly, Holland were a good forty runs short of enforcing that.

the question is, how do you get this suggestion to be taken relatively seriously by ther right people?

Posted by KAS on (February 22, 2011, 11:14 GMT)

At MM: And who's fault is it that both India and Pakistan were knocked out? Should the format be:

Group A: Pakistan India Canada Bermuda Antartica Seychelles

Group B: Australia South Africa England Sri Lanka West Indies New Zealand

with the top three (an insurance to ensure both India and Pakistan qualify for the next stage) teams progressing to the next stage!

Posted by Matt on (February 22, 2011, 3:57 GMT)

Of course there should be three games a day, that way the tournament is over in 5 weeks and we will not be bored witless with the slowness of the whole event, just as we were in the Windies fours years ago. I also want the structure to stay like this, we need the minnows, but the event needs to be shorter. Stop pandering to the TV rights holders, I mean who is going to watch Eng vs Ned today, and run it like the 75, 79 and 83, at least 2 games a day and its over in a month.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (February 22, 2011, 2:38 GMT)

Much as I admire the pluckiness of underdogs, teams like Kenya and Ireland have benefited from green tops and rain and dodgy pitches, on the flat beds of India and SL, the chance of an upset is very minimal. India and SL have already pounded 800 runs between them, and I reckon Pakistan, Oz, NZ and England, SA will all hit 300 at one point or another. Sorry Andy, I'm going with 10 teams, one round robin group, the top 4 goes to the semis, that way every game is important, as is run rate. When you have groups, then you have the same problem of losing one game and you're out, and if it rains, that puts you an a disavantage, i.e , getting one point only. NZ could knock Australia out and Bangla could knock the indians out, and that means, tournament over. Nobody's happy, except NZ and Bangladesh. It is better for associate teams to tour countries and play first class teams, not national teams,Kenya could play S/Lankan clubs, Bangla could play sheffield shield teams, Holland --Eng counties.

Posted by CronjeLives on (February 21, 2011, 23:44 GMT)

Oh, and Super Sixes is the worst idea since Abraham Lincoln decided to "take in a show".

Posted by CronjeLives on (February 21, 2011, 23:40 GMT)

Top 4 ICC ranked teams get a bye to second phase. 12 other teams compete in 4 "seeded" groups of 3 - each team gets 2 matches, and these could all be played within 1 week.

Top team from each group go through to second stage - making 8 teams playing in 2 groups of 4. Each team plays 3 matches - all played in less than 2 weeks. From there you have semi's and a final. Final to be 3match series, played on consecutive days. Fatigue not a factor - these guys play 2 five-day tests within 14 days quite often.

The 8 teams that do not qualify from the first stage play a straight knockout in a "plate" competition. Played concurrently with second stage in main tournament on alternate days.

Whole thing in 4 weeks - 36 matches total.

Current rankings would mean: Byes to - Australia, India, S Africa, Sri Lanka. Seeded 1st stage teams: England, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh.

The other teams all have a chance to qualify for second stage proper - only needs 1 good win.

Posted by Pinakio on (February 21, 2011, 23:09 GMT)

"And some of those would like those four to be India, India, India and India." Oh no! For the game's sake. Oh yeah! For those advertisers' sake.

Posted by Mike on (February 21, 2011, 22:56 GMT)

Totally agree with Raja Khurram's proposals above.

I don't understand why it's so essential India qualify for the knockout stages. Obviously it's better if they do, but if they get knocked out early then they've just not been good enough.

This should be a sport, not a business or entertainment event. If you're not good enough to get out of your group then that should be the end of it.

Posted by Shahid on (February 21, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

I have a better idea. All those matches where major teams associates should be decieded by tossing a coin. The coin should have head on both sides and associates should be allowed to ask for tail only. Otherwise I like the formate suggested by Manoj Gupta.

Comments have now been closed for this article

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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