World Cup 2011 February 26, 2011

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

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

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.


● 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