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A vastly impressive South African performance yesterday was overshadowed by an even more impressive effort by the various security forces in operation at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. Their indefatigable determination to ensure that no rogue snacks entered the ground was reminiscent of Albert Einstein’s quest to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Those lorryloads of contraband nibbles missed out on being chomped on to the backdrop of a fairly routine match, but one illuminated by two innings of extreme class and an outstanding international debut by much-travelled legspinner Imran Tahir, who gave every impression of being the missing piece in South Africa’s team jigsaw.
This is not to say that, as in previous World Cups, when the pressure cranks into hyperdrive, South Africa will not find a way of dousing that jigsaw in coffee, or letting the Australians tear it up and throw it into a bin, or reading the instructions wrong and feeding it to a dog. But this was an imposing opening by the 1999 and 2003 Sporting-Blooper-Of-The-Year award winners.
Johan Botha has seldom seen the words “bowled an incisive new-ball spell” directly next to his name in match reports, but he should be guzzling those words down with his breakfast this morning. Dale Steyn gives his team the useful option of summoning the world’s greatest bowler in the middle of the traditional mid-innings lull, which is good news for his skipper and spectators alike. And offering an international cricket captain an experienced, accurate, wicket-taking legspinner is like offering a child a large tub of ice cream, and, as Tahir probed and tricked his way through the West Indies middle-order, Graeme Smith spent most of the afternoon with metaphorical chocolate chips all over his grinning face.
Smith himself played a steady supporting role to the electric brilliance of AB de Villiers, who timed the ball through the off side like a champion pudding chef times his soufflees. The South African captain will never be accused of excessive elegance. He often bats as if he had just stepped out of a tumble dryer and is still working out where all his limbs are. At the polar end of the style spectrum is Darren Bravo, who played with almost supernatural panache. He hit one early cover drive off Steyn with such melting perfection that even had the Delhi Police been patrolling the extra-cover boundary, they would have let it pass through untouched. Even if it had water, pens, coins, cameras and cigarettes in its bag. And I can think of no higher compliment for a cricket shot than that.
There has been much criticism of the removal of such objects from paying spectators. An English friend had a bottle of sun cream confiscated, which might have left him vulnerable to the subcontinental sun, but at least prevented him from getting so overexcited by the squelchy noise sun-cream bottles tend to make that he ran onto the pitch and squirted sun-cream all over the wicket, causing the game to be abandoned. No-one wanted to see that.
I had my wallet searched for coins. Intriguingly, I was ordered to put my Indian rupee coins into a charity collection bucket. But I was allowed to keep my British pounds. Has my country’s currency fallen so low in the world’s esteem that it is now viewed as (a) not worth being collected for charity, and (b) so embarrassing to its owner that it would never be used as a missile in a public location?
There are, however, extremely sound reasons why such seemingly completely inoffensive objects were rightly prohibited from entry into the stadium:
Water: Water has been scientifically proven to be extremely dangerous. The following people all drank water: Julius Caesar, Florence Nightingale, J Edgar Hoover, Elvis Presley, Jane Austen and Douglas Jardine. What are the only two things they all have in common? They all drank water. And they are all dead. Draw your own conclusions. Furthermore, there were potentially 40,000 people in attendance today. If they had each taken a 500ml bottle of water into the stadium, they would collectively have had enough water to fill a 20 cubic metre tank – enough in which to keep a small shark alive but angry for the duration of a 50-over cricket match.
Coins: Money is the root of all evil. Cricket fans, just like investment bankers, need to appreciate that there are more important things in life than money.
Pens: A ban on pens has been made necessary by a number of events. In Chennai in 2004, a spectator armed with a set of indelible marker pens ran onto the pitch during the drinks break in a Test match and drew a graph about agricultural yields on Sourav Ganguly’s back whilst he was distracted talking tactics with Rahul Dravid. At Lord’s the following year, Michael Clarke claimed he missed out on a century because of a pen. He was bowled out after being distracted by the sun reflecting off a fountain pen in the chest pocket of a retired army colonel who was snoozing in the pavilion. And in 2008 in Barbados, the Pope, paying his first visit to an ODI, tripped over a broken biro and dented his mitre on a bin. So, from a health and safety perspective, a pen ban is necessary. Plus, pens can distract spectators. The last thing the ground authorities wanted was for an unlucky cricket fan to miss seeing Darren Bravo unleash another bolt of perfection through extra cover, because that fan was busy drawing a cartoon dog on the back of a cigarette packet.
Pencils: Pencils are dangerously sharp. As my friend No-Eyed Geoff, the narcoleptic former court sketch artist, can vociferously testify.
Sun cream: The first refuge of the coward. The sun is 93 million miles away, and yet you are running scared of it, slavering your own head in some overpriced yoghurt-mayonnaise-body lotion hybrid? Besides, who are we to play with nature? Nature made the sun hot, we should not interfere with it by trying to stop ourselves burning.
Food: This is a cricket tournament, not a cookery competition. During a game, journalists, spectators, groundstaff and players should all be focusing their attentions on the glorious combat of cricket, not being distracted by whether their chicken burgers have enough ketchup on. Cricket is a spiritually nourishing game. It is not right to sully its purity with physical nourishment as well.
Cigarettes: See Pens. Furthermore, smoking kills a million people a year in India. It would have been a major embarrassment for the ICC if all 40,000 hypothetical spectators at the Feroz Shah Kotla had dropped dead due to smoking during the match.
I understand Delhi has had its problems in the past with excessively jaunty crowds scarring cricket matches, and spectator and player safety is a paramount concern, but whoever was responsible for today’s cocktail of incompetence, intrusive overzealousness and administrative dinosaurism seemed intent on stripping the joy from a sporting event.
● Ricky Ponting’s altercation with an Ahmedabad television has been variously interpreted as an act of childish petulance, an unfortunate confluence of physics and a strop, and the conclusion of a long-standing man-versus-machine feud dating back to when the 10-year-old Ponting’s telly broke just before the final scene of Gone With The Wind. However, it seems clear to this columnist that Ponting was launching an heroic one-man protest against the intrusive ubiquity of 21st century TV. We may disagree with his methods, but we can applaud his sentiment.
● Imran Tahir was superb on his international debut. However, as a proud Englishman, I find it more than a little disappointing that South Africa should resort to recruiting so many players from outside their own country. In contrast to England’s entirely homegrown squad – to qualify under ECB regulations now you have to prove that you have a bloodline descending directly from 10th century Saxon king Aethelred The Unready ‒ South Africa’s team today included not only Tahir, but also Jacques Kallis (obviously French), AB de Villiers (Uruguayan), Morne Morkel (born in unexplained circumstances in the Vatican City), and Faf du Plessis (escaped Kazakh freedom fighter).
To conclude, and to add a bit of back-story interest to the rather overlong group phase, here are some lies about World Cup cricketers:
● Australia’s Mitchell Johnson collects photographs of walruses. He owns 437 photographs of walruses. Johnson: “Walruses make me feel safe.”
● Indian seamer Munaf Patel likes to guess how old trees are.
● England’s James Tredwell once accidentally broke a child’s glasses while trying to explain the rules of American football to him on a crowded London Underground train.
● Pakistan paceman Umar Gul’s lifetime ambition is to discover a new chemical element, and to name it Umargullium. Gul: “Ideally, it would be a metal, but I’d take an inert gas too.”
● Ireland’s Ed Joyce is afraid of carpets.
● West Indies wicketkeeper Devon Thomas would like to learn to play the harp, but is worried about cutting his wicketkeeping fingers on the strings.
● Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews buys boxes of eggs just so he can crush them in his bare hands.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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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.