World Cup 2011 March 5, 2011

Curses be upon you, News of the World

Blame the paper for all future rumours, scandals and suspicions

Tuesday, 1st March Conspiracy theorists are like cockroaches: it is impossible to get rid of them entirely but they need to be kept under control. Unfortunately the post-Salman era is a warm and hospitable environment for these persistent pests. Indeed, blaming your team’s collective brain freezes and willow misadventures on corruption, once the preserve of loonies, nitwits, and the easily bewildered, is now a nearly respectable pastime for people who should know better.

Last week there was unsubstantiated television talk of Sri Lankan naughtiness in their game with Pakistan. And now Indian newspapers are reporting that other Indian newspapers have reported that a source has reported that the ICC are looking into Australia’s last innings. And so it goes on. I don’t hold Salman and friends responsible for all this. No, it is the News of the World who are to blame. We were happy in our fantasies. Reality is confusing.

Wednesday, 2nd March Group A is one long snooze. The place where it’s all happening is on the flip side of the fixture list, in Group B, where the England cricket team are keeping the party going with consummate skill. By expertly pitching their performances ever so slightly either side of just about good enough, they’ve turned a tedious slog through the preliminaries into a thrilling rollercoaster ride. They are certainly answering all those moaners who said that there was too much 50-over cricket these days and that the tournament just went on for too damn long.

Frankly, I could watch this stuff for weeks. Anyone who sat through Ireland’s innings without experiencing a rising sensation of joy is probably missing their happiness gland. Each O’Brien six elicited a louder exclamation from the depths of the Hughes sofa and my astonishment supply had run dry long before he elbowed Hayden from the top of the big biffing league. And it wasn’t just about the sport. There was some comedy too. The men in shady blue offered us a string of ball juggling episodes of increasingly elaborate hilarity, with Andrew Strauss’s Chaplinesque fumbling at mid-on being the piece de resistance.

There is, too, a comforting psychological aspect at play here. For those of us of a certain age, a successful England team is a challenge to the natural order of things. I’m still not sure how it happened. A few months back, the familiar collection of hard-working journeymen and overrated chancers were being pummelled in Kingston. Then fairy godmother Andy Flower appeared and they were transformed. But like all the best magic spells, this one had an expiration date and as England fumbled, stumbled, and tripped over their shoelaces in Bangalore, it seemed as though they were changing back into pumpkins before our very eyes.

Friday, 4th March Australia have been doing their homework ahead of their not-very-important clash with Sri Lanka at the weekend. A source with access to the Australian dressing room (the security guard assigned to television protection duty) was able to sneak out a copy of their highly confidential plan to counter the dangerous Lasith Malinga and avoid a spate of broken toes that might hamper their function-attending ability in the latter stages of the tournament:

1. Wear 17 pairs of socks.

2. When he lets go, get your feet out of the way by jumping as high as you can.

3. Ask to swap places with Kumar

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England