March 3, 2011

England

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

Andy Zaltzman
Michael Yardy fields during England's training session, Bangalore, February 26, 2011
Yardy: when he’s not being Superman, he’s Sobers  © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by Andrew on (March 8, 2011, 7:04 GMT)

Sadly I must admit it is my America that has pioneered and advanced the artless practice of ear-splitting music and sound effects at sporting events. Not a possession goes by in a professional basketball game without a top 40 hit or exhortation to "MAKE SOME NOISE!" assaulting spectators' ears. In baseball, cricket's lame little brother, the pleasant and occasional organ riff has been replaced by theme songs for every batter and pitcher upon their introduction and, often, upon their dismissal.

Sorry about that, world; it was inevitable such noise pollution would eventually sully cricket grounds around the globe. USA! USA!

Posted by Nathan on (March 5, 2011, 4:38 GMT)

Andy, why don't you seriously think about commentating a live match.....It would be interesting listeniing to your live thoughts rather than after thoughts like the above...........Take my advice as I'm not using it!!! ;-)

Posted by Annie on (March 4, 2011, 21:03 GMT)

You do not go to cricket games to have "a nice chat". Would you like a symphony being played at a football game? Probably not.

Posted by Mark on (March 4, 2011, 11:32 GMT)

Andy- agreed all round. Although this could mean the adoption of the England cricket team as the official (inept)cricket team of the Bugle...Right up until we somehow beat SA by 137 runs/8 wickets....

Posted by Vijay on (March 4, 2011, 11:06 GMT)

Ive been to afew countries around the world to see sporting events, and I can tell you Asian countries are by far the most fun and safe. Stop the music? You must be out of your mind. Try stopping alcoholism, hooliganism, racism and then we come down the list to music.

Posted by NALINWIJ on (March 4, 2011, 8:31 GMT)

England got their poor performance out of the way against Holland and looks like they put their shocker against Ireland so where else to go? I believe this loud music mentality comes from IPL where flat track 20-20 is compensated by equally brain numbing music. Have you noticed the cricket in Sri Lanka is a better contest between bat and ball so less crappy music is needed to numb ones senses.

Posted by Bernard Stacey on (March 4, 2011, 7:50 GMT)

Whilst I would have preferred Ireland to unleash their bleachers-wrecking carnage against another nation I was delighted to see them do well as it must make it triply difficult for the ICC to leave all Associates out of the next World Cup, or else risk it being know as the ICC Cup (as in, if it goes on too long: "Anyone know how you stop 'iccups?" - sorry).

Whilst watching Kenya getting caned by Sri Lanka is no fun for anyone here's a thought: let the BEST 10 nations play even if, whisper it, they aren't all the Test playing ones.

Only for heavens sake, next time can we not play Ireland, please?

Posted by Abhimanyu on (March 4, 2011, 7:33 GMT)

Hear hear Mr. Zalzman!

Loved the soothsayer bit, but I would have probably chosen to drink the iced tea to be honest.. its rather refreshing!

Ugh, the music is a ridiculous distraction at the best of times, but it does get the crowd going in full stadium when Strauss and Bell are spanking us (unfortunately) to all parts! I concur that in empty stadiums, they would be best advised not to crank it up to painful deafening tones, such things are best left for the Spice Girls!

Be that as it may, I am sure you are enjoying the atmospheres generated by the audiences here. Loud, cheerful, raucous and partizan - just the perfect atmosphere. One thing I do love about the experience of cricket in the U.K. is the sarcasm and the songs (no doubt inspired from football) - but what can I say. Horses for courses!

We are a loud, colourful and passionate race - sangfroid certainly does not appear in our dictionary. It will take time, but you cannot beat it so you may as well embrace it!

Cheers!

Posted by Hubert on (March 4, 2011, 7:30 GMT)

Saw a big crowd queueing up outside the saloon where KOB had his hair pinked. Noticed a few bald guys as well! maybe getting a pink moustache, beard or goatee!!! With St. Patrick's Day round the corner, we could see a few green tops as well! The hair, i mean.

Posted by Gautam on (March 4, 2011, 7:13 GMT)

You got it Bikrom, have been enjoying andy's pieces for quite some time now, and wondering where i have come across similar humour. As a PGW fan I urge Andy to write a cricketing novel on the lines of PG's golfing stories.I'll buy the first 10 copies.

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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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