February 26, 2011

World Cup 2011

Why stand-up comedy is like the first day of a Test

Andy Zaltzman
Abdur Razzak got the early wicket Bangladesh needed with Paul Stirling out stumped, Bangladesh v Ireland, World Cup 2011, Mirpur, February 25, 2010
Bring a few South Africans in, and you'll be happier  © Associated Press
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Had someone told me as a child that, at some point in my life, I would jump out of a chair in an office in Bangalore when watching a Bangladesh bowler take an Irish wicket on the television, I would probably not have believed them. Certainly, I had an unquestioning love for cricket from shortly after birth. Possibly, subconsciously, from shortly before birth. I was womb-bound throughout the English Test summer of 1974, which involved a 3-0 drubbing of India and a wet 0-0 against Pakistan. Perhaps my mother, who tragically does not have cricket in her life (may cricket have mercy on her soul), had inadvertently left a radio on whilst Chris Old and Geoff Arnold were skittling Ajit Wadekar’s Indians for 42, leaving me with a lifelong innate respect for nagging English seam bowling. I will have to consult a shrink to be sure.

But leap out of my chair I did. Whilst maintaining strict and irreproachable journalistic objectivity, of course. I must state that I have nothing against Ireland as a team – they were superior for most of the match ‒ or as a nation. Other than one particularly harrowing stand-up gig in Killarney in 2002. But I am prepared to accept that none of the current Ireland squad or management were responsible for booing me off stage on that occasion.

(I have often thought that a stand-up gig can be analysed in terms of the opening session of a Test match. On occasions I have come off stage after a show that went quite well thinking, “92 for 2, not bad, bit of a slow start, and a careless run-out with that ill-advised joke about global warming, but I gradually took control and was stroking it around nicely by the end.” A tough gig might be 76 for 4 – an early clatter of wickets in the face of some hostile heckling, followed by a grim struggle for dignity. A great gig can feel as if Virender Sehwag and Sanath Jayasuriya have cut loose in tandem. At Killarney, I was 42 for 8, with my star routine retired hurt with a badly fractured punchline. It was a tough wicket, the bowling was merciless, and the umpires were biased.)

However, if I may return to my own blog, not only was I enchanted and inspired by Bangladesh’s fervent cricket fans in my brief trip to Dhaka, but it seems to me that the most likely way for this tournament to leave a lasting legacy for the sport is if their team plays well and reaches the quarter-finals at least.

Legacy in sport, like jazz music, is a much-trumpeted but almost indefinable thing. Boxers often talk about leaving a legacy, though I am never sure exactly what this constitutes other than memories of fists flying into faces and men in underpants insulting each other at weigh-ins. Olympics and Commonwealth games like to leave a legacy, preferably of unusable 40,000-capacity arenas for hypothetical future international badminton, pogo-stick bouncing or conkers competitions. The 2007 cricket World Cup’s legacy was that all future tournaments in all sports could relax in the safe knowledge that the prize for all-time worst tournament had already been securely bagged.

Cricket is already beyond massive in India, and established and successful in Sri Lanka. This tournament could catapult Bangladesh forward to play a major role in cricket’s uncertain future. If they can harness the passion their people have shown for this tournament, and perhaps recruit some useful South Africans to boost their squad, within a few years they should be able to challenge most teams, at least at home.

The players must be aware of this. When it seemed that the pressure of home expectation and a decent Ireland team might be too much, they rallied impressively with the ball and fielded with feverish determination. They will have to bat with much greater focus in future games, but the "momentum" that is viewed as a far more precious commodity in modern cricket than, for example, runs or wickets, is with them again after Sehwag abruptly and spectacularly confiscated it last Saturday.

It was the most exciting game of the tournament so far (not the most hotly contested accolade, admittedly, with only England’s never-really-in-doubt victory over Netherlands offering even the mildest competition – akin perhaps to a Who’s Got The Fewest Legs? contest between some elephants, a spider, an ostrich and a snake) - and the result has given the tournament a welcome boost. This should gather momentum over the weekend as the other two host nations play big matches before their home crowds. It will be my first experience of seeing India play in India. I have seen Tim Henman play at Wimbledon. I imagine it will be noisier than that.

Extras

● On the subject of recruiting South Africans, it is surely time for cricket to institute a baseball-style draft system to ensure that the hundreds of spare South African cricketers milling around the world are fairly distributed around the emerging nations. Under this system, Kevin Pietersen, for example, instead of being able to choose to play for England, would have been allocated to Bangladesh, or Afghanistan, or Luxembourg. Ideally, within ten years or so, this would result in all teams in world cricket having five South Africans each, of roughly equal quality, thus ensuring that matches between the established and rising cricket countries are more competitive.

● Subscribers to the ZaltzCricket twitter feed may have been following the punditry and predictions of Dead Celebrities throughout the tournament. In yet more world exclusives, I can reveal that:

‒ First-World-War French army hunk Marshal Ferdinand Foch has been impressed by South Africa’s range of bowling options. Foch: “I wish I’d had so many attacking weapons in 1917.”

‒ Twelve-time English poetry champion John Milton is concerned about the ticketing and crowd arrangements. Milton: “I haven’t written much since the 1670s, but I picked up my quill in anger and wrote to the Times Of India this morning.”

‒ 1940s film starlet and quality-leg-owner Betty Grable is concerned that West Indies’ already thin bowling resources will never recover from the loss of Dwayne Bravo to injury. Grable: “I’m gutted he’s out. He’s ludicrously stylish with the bat and gutsy with the ball. I haven’t been this disappointed since I died in 1973.”

‒ Pioneering Soviet cosmopooch Laika barks that if England do not improve their fielding, they will be punished. “England have to show the same determination I did when I went into space. They tied a tennis ball to the front of my rocket, and I chased it into orbit. I remember sitting on the launch pad, casually chewing a stick, and then ‘5-4-3-2-1-Fetch’, and I was off.”

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

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Posted by InKarntion on (March 1, 2011, 11:09 GMT)

Well aren't you glad you were in Bangalore rather than Dhaka to see the actual "most exciting match of the tournament?"

Posted by Bhavya on (March 1, 2011, 6:50 GMT)

I have seen Tim Henman play at Wimbledon. I imagine it will be noisier than that.

Genius !!

Posted by Tommycove on (February 28, 2011, 1:13 GMT)

love your blog Zalts-burger. Your brand of banter is delightful and i look forward to hearing what you make of the england/india game!!.............Cor Blimey

Posted by George on (February 27, 2011, 17:31 GMT)

Fantastic. I don't even like cricket, but that is brilliant.

Posted by nick cowley on (February 27, 2011, 9:08 GMT)

Andy, your gig-scoring system reminds me of Tony Hawks, who had to hitch-hike around Ireland with a fridge after a drunken bet,and then parlayed it into a successful book and TV series. He once did a gig in Belfast starting with a description of his household woes and then asking the audience, with a deep breath, "and you think you've got Troubles?" He thought his innings had tumbled to about 12 all out, but then found he was 50/0 as the (cross-border) Irish sense of humour asserted itself....

Posted by Souvik on (February 27, 2011, 8:19 GMT)

Hi Andy, I hope you will be thrilled to see India match in front of homecrowd at Bangalore...Originally this match was scheduled at Eden Gardens,Kolkata and with the effort of our cricket politicians we(& obviously u) missed out a lifetime experience to engossed with India's most oldest & Biggest Cricket Ground with most passionate & knowledgable cricket fans. Its a crime that indian cricket politicians (including ICC president,BCCI president,CAB president) does not allow to held a India match at the Eden Gardens.It's a real loss for cricket world cup2011.

Posted by Anonymous on (February 27, 2011, 2:15 GMT)

Great one

Posted by sujon on (February 26, 2011, 23:20 GMT)

All is well. True, Bangladesh did not bat well in the match but Ireland was superior in most part is an overstatement. I was very nervous through the match. But having seen cricket in Dhaka for more than 2 decades, I was very confident that Bangladesh had enough to win the match. Ireland is quite competitive unit but this Bangladesh team is much superior than them and in any good day we will beat Ireland hands down.

In case Bangladesh lost yesterdays match, the WC would be dead in Bangladesh and it would have been a major blow. Beaware England!

Posted by Khurram on (February 26, 2011, 22:31 GMT)

Great article, Andy. I am officially your fan now!

BTW, Is it only me or this guy in picture - the 2nd from left - looks exactly like Waqar Younis! :)

Posted by Bernard Stacey on (February 26, 2011, 21:01 GMT)

I deplore the popular bandwagon that this and the 2007 World Cups are/were too long. On the contrary, we should be lobbying the ICC for a 4-year tournament where the final takes place the week before the opening group stages of the next one. The league stages could be made mathematically more complex - perhaps employing Messrs Duckworth and Lewis to work out the details involving calculations also based on ambient temperature and crowd numbers - rather than the current limiting system of just using runs and wickets. Quarter- and semi-finals could have home and away legs to prolong the contest and the resultant mental and physical exhaustion of the last few teams would ensure that others would prosper in the following tournament. Only this way can we ensure that all teams eventually have an equal chance of winning the tournament and that the TV franchises can maximise their slim profits. Calling for a short World Cup is pure irresponsibility with no respect for the future of the game.

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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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