World Cup 2011 March 9, 2011

Twenty utterly crazy minutes

The words “spectacular” and “New Zealand batting” have not always sat comfortably together in the same sentence

The words “spectacular” and “New Zealand batting” have not always sat comfortably together in the same sentence. Yesterday, for twenty utterly crazy minutes, they were amorously smooching each other on the sofa at Pallekele, their clothes flying off in all directions whilst Barry White crooned in the background.

We must first pay tribute to the man who made it all possible – the Maharajah of Missed Chances, the Don Corleone of Dropped Catches, the Earl of Err, the Pharaoh of Fumble, Lance Corporal Granite Hands himself, Kamran Akmal. Shoaib Akhtar’s opening spell had been a microcosm of his career, a mixture of brilliance, wastefulness, and underachievement. He clean bowled Brendan McCullum with a perfect off cutter, beat a clutch of outside edges, touched 90mph, bowled three no-balls and conceded 14 from the resulting free hits, and needlessly hurled a ball so far over Kamran’s head for 4 byes that the beleaguered gloveman would have needed both a giraffe on a ladder and a functioning pair of hands to stop it. Neither of which, sadly, were at his disposal.

Afridi brought Shoaib back to bowl at Ross Taylor when he was not yet off the mark. Shoiab instantly found the edge. It flew just to Kamran’s right. It was perfection – shrewd captaincy and fine bowling had ensnared a dangerous opponent. And Kamran, a renowned lover of beauty, did not want to spoil the aesthetic of that perfection by moving half a step to his right and interrupting the majestic parabola of the edged ball. One chance missed. Oops. No matter – Taylor was looking like a wicket in waiting.

Two balls later, another excellent ball by Shoaib found another nervously prodding Taylor edge. This time, Kamran could not help but get his gloves to it. Most wicketkeepers from cricket history would have caught it. Men such as George Duckworth and Bert Oldfield would have pocketed it without a moment’s fuss. Despite both having been dead for decades. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America have been analysing the footage since yesterday, and still have “absolutely no idea how that ball hit the ground – it seemed to defy physics”.

Oops again.

Shoaib looked understandably irate, albeit in the manner of a parent whose naughty son has just thrown baked beans at his sister for the 100th consecutive mealtime. His figures then were 1 for 39 off 6. Without the no-balls, free hits, overhurls and wicketkeeper, they would have been 2 for 10. They could have been even better than that. Which explains why Shoaib has always been such a bristlingly compelling cricketer.

Taylor should have been back in the hutch, eating his birthday duck. His extraordinary innings might be described as an innings of two halves. Numerically. Or an innings of one 87% and another 13%, in terms of balls faced. His first 108 balls in 34 overs brought 69 runs, and just 4 fours, two of them edged. His final 16 balls featured 7 mighty clumps catablasted into or beyond the crowd, 4 more boundaries slapspanked to the fence, and a mind-altering total of 62 runs. He gelignited 54 runs – 466046 off Shoaib, 466246 off Razzaq – from the last two overs of pace that Pakistan bowled.

Pakistan may, on reflection, conclude that bowling low full tosses on leg stump was something of an error, but this was a startling, unprecedented assault. The Taylor-Oram partnership of 85 off 3.4 overs, by a massive margin, the fastest ODI partnership of more than 50 runs. If New Zealand had batted at that rate for their whole innings, they would have scored 1159. Most teams would struggle to chase that down. Even if the Indian powerbatting line-up really clicked, they’d probably fall 700 or so runs short.

All of this gives some credence to the age-old cricketing adage that schoolmaster have barked at their pupils ever since the game began: “It is definitely a good idea not to miss two facile chances that a Venezuelan schoolgirl could have taken when a key opposition batsman has just come to the wicket.”

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