England March 3, 2011

The finest innings of all time by a man with pink hair

Kevin O’Brien narrowly beats Wally Hammond to the title

I admire a country that shows cricket highlights in airport departure lounges. It shows an appreciation that there is no part of modern life that cannot be improved by the showing of cricket highlights. However, why the authorities at Bangalore airport felt it necessary this morning to show highlights of yesterday’s England against Ireland clash remains a mystery. I would have thought that showing highlights of the recent Melbourne Test Match, or England’s 1987 World Cup semi-final win over India, or a film about Bodyline, would have been more appropriate.

For whatever reason, England v Ireland it was. Despite it being a rather mundane, predictable match. For the first 75 overs. Admittedly, the last 25 overs perked up a bit. Even so, there was not much to savour for the hardcore Michael Yardy fans in the airport, an audience that is too little catered for by the cricketing highlights industry. They can watch a few glimpses on the internet of Garfield Sobers, Yardy’s spiritual predecessor and cricketalike as a useful left-hand batsman and tidy purveyor of seam and spin, but it is not the same as watching the man himself.

I digress. It is a rare privilege to see a cricketer propel himself from relative anonymity into immortality in the annals of the game. Kevin O’Brien did so yesterday, in what was, without any question, the finest innings I have seen by someone with pink hair (and it possibly even surpassed Wally Hammond’s 240 at Lord’s in 1938, after the great English batsman fell asleep in a bowl of beetroot soup at dinner the night before the game – he was eternally thankful that his great innings was recorded only in black and white).

O’Brien strode to the wicket yesterday with an ODI average of 34, and a strike rate of 75. Against current Test nations, he averaged 22. In World Cups he averaged 23. His one previous ODI century was against Kenya three years ago. So it is fair to say that if a passing soothsayer had told you that he would reach 100 off 50 balls against an attack containing three of the world’s top 10-ranked Test bowlers, including moving from 5 to 90 in 35 of the more extraordinary deliveries in cricket history, you would have sat him down, mopped his brow, given him a sharp talking to, told him to get a proper job, and poured a cup of iced tea over his head.

This made O’Brien’s magnificent explosion all the more impressive, just as VVS Laxman’s 281 shone even more brightly because he walked to the wicket with a Test average of 27, and a single century to his name from 20 Tests over four years.

That poor little white ball yesterday must have been wishing it has never been born, as it suffered major impact trauma after major impact trauma, and caused mayhem in the Bangalore Air Traffic Control centre. But it played its part in an unexpected moment of cricketing history. And it told England in the strongest possible language that they need to learn how to use it better as a matter of tournament-saving urgency.

EXTRAS Three quarters of the way through yesteday’s game, I was pondering the possible content of today’s blog. There was little of interest to that point. England batted well but, like India on Sunday, were unable to accelerate, and Swann had given his team full control of the game, as it followed the internationally agreed pattern for Test Nation v Associate Nation matches.

So the blog was going to be about the atmosphere at game yesterday. And how that atmosphere was brutally obliterated by the inane, intrusive and skull-blastingly loud shards of music detonated into the crowd from the stadium PA system. I can understand why stadiums feel the need to cajole their audience with snippets of completely irrelevant and/or corporately funded music. How else would the crowd know that things like fours, sixes, wickets and Sachin Tendulkar reaching 100 are supposed to be exciting?

However, I struggle to comprehend why that music has to be chundered out at such eardrum-assaulting volumes. Where I was sitting in the Chinnaswamy yesterday, conversation had to stop between every over, after every boundary, and for the entire four minutes of a drinks break, as jingles, score updates and incomprehensible splats of western pop music splintered what little genuine atmosphere there was, in a bizarre quest to render all sporting experiences part of one formless splodge of musically scarred homogeneity.

Please stop it. Please, please stop it. Or at the very least, rein it in. It is annoying, unnecessary and disrespectful to the paying public.

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