Impromptu cricket matches and an elephant
I arrived in Colombo yesterday to be greeted by (a) my wife and children; (b) more heat than a pasty-skinned Englishman is genetically designed to withstand; and (c) the confirmation that England had definitely lost to Ireland the day before. Just in case I had not heard the news, immigration officials, taxi drivers and hotel staff were only too willing to inform me that England had definitely lost to Ireland the day before. They conveyed the sad tidings with admirable enthusiasm.
Colombo is a very different place to London. At home, few advertising billboards feature Thilan Samaraweera. Yet. Nor are there multiple impromptu cricket matches taking place in any available space – I saw at least six on the journey in from the airport to the city, which is around 5.99 more than you will see on the average journey into London from Heathrow. Nor is it common in the capital of England to see an elephant in a temple by the side of the road casually munching his afternoon snack and watching the traffic whizz by. As first impressions of a country go, it was an impressive effort by the Tear Drop Island. (Although I acknowledge that, if you absolutely hate cricket and think elephants are a living skewer in the eye for Charles Darwin, you might not have been so impressed.
Aside from the deep feelings of name-jealousy that all British people feel here – is there a single Sri Lankan with a name as dull as Andy? or a single Brit will a moniker as spectacular as Asoka de Silva’s first-name masterpiece, Ellawalakankanamge ‒ an English cricket fan might feel a tweak of envy at the pre-eminence of the sport in this country. Today, I will see Sri Lanka take on Australia at the Premadasa. I have seen Bangladesh in Dhaka (on a better-behaved and rather chirpier day than yesterday), and India in Bangalore (veering between adulation, resignation, exultation and relief), so after tomorrow’s game I will be able to give you definitive verdicts on which country’s supporters, and stadium PA systems, are the noisiest.
The World Cup saw the flip side of fan fervour yesterday, with the angry scenes in Mirpur after the home team crumbled like a packet of plums under a crunchy baked flour-and-sugar topping. As statements of quarter-final-reaching intent go, this was not the most strongly-worded effort by Shakib’s team, roughly akin to a boxer at a pre-world-title-fight weigh-in confidently predicting that his opponent will probably knock him spark out in the opening round.
Regular readers of this blog will know that, since my uplifting trip to Dhaka at the start of the tournament, I have been rooting for the Tigers to do well and meet the rising expectations of their support. All sports fans also know that the pain of any defeat can be alleviated by “taking the positives” from it. I will therefore attempt to extract the needles of hope from the haystack of ineptitude that Bangladesh served up yesterday.
● Tactically, there was some sense in being dismissed for 58. In cricket, you must seek to nullify your opponents’ strengths. And Bangladesh succeeded in neutralising some of the West Indies’ key players. Kieron Pollard hammered the Dutch for 60 off 27 balls. He did not trouble the scorers in Dhaka yesterday. Kemar Roach skittled the Netherlands’ tail with a hat-trick in Delhi – but Bangladesh utterly neutered his old-ball threat.
● Bangladesh will need their opening bowlers in peak form and fitness in the remaining matches. In this game, not only was Shakib able to protect them from a psychologically damaging mauling at the hands of the West Indies’ power hitters, but he was also able to restrict them to just three overs between them, leaving them fresh as a newly minted egg for the crucial forthcoming matches with the Netherlands and England.
● England had been chastened by their defeat to Ireland. By the time they arrive in Chittagong, they may well also have lost to South Africa. They would be raring to put those defeats behind them. Therefore, Bangladesh’s only hope of inducing potentially deadly complacency in the England ranks is by playing ferociously poorly themselves.
Whether these incalculable benefits outweigh the negatives of being obliterated and embarrassed in front of their home supporters is for others to judge. I still hope, for the sake of the non-stone-hurling Bangladesh fans, that the team can recover, but I am not optimistic. But then, in biblical times, Mrs Lazarus was not too optimistic about her husband’s prospects of being alive enough to buy her a slap-up meal the following Valentine’s Day, but that worked out quite well in the end.
● The Bangladesh Cricket Board has blamed the bus-stoning on “a small group of overenthusiastic autograph-hunting geologists”. The BCB chairman explained: “They merely wanted to get their favourite rocks signed by the West Indian players who had put on such a fine performance.”
● British Minister For National Sporting Pride, the Rt Hon Scralyard Huke MP, has claimed that, given that his government recently helped to bail out the struggling Irish economy, “we basically own the Irish cricket team – what we saw in Bangalore was, essentially, England beating England. Well played.”
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer