March 15, 2011

World Cup 2011

Unexpected and instant fame for the number 29

Andy Zaltzman
Sachin Tendulkar chases the ball in the field, India v South Africa, Group B, World Cup, Nagpur, March 12, 2011
Sachin Tendulkar tried to outrun the horrific performance from his team-mates, but failed  © Getty Images
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This increasingly compelling World Cup has continued to prove far more exciting than anyone could reasonably expect of a tournament that, by this time next week, will almost certainly have sent eight of the world’s top nine ranked teams into the quarter-finals, as was almost universally predicted before it had even begun, and taken more than month to do so. A recipe that looked deeply unappetising on paper has transpired to be surprisingly tasty, to a cricketing palate if not an English one, and the dessert course looks set to be a champion pavlova of a knockout stage. Cricket has been lucky. In Group B, at least.

I have seen only snippets of the last few games, as I have been on holiday with my young family on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. One of the benefits of a holiday on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, or indeed anywhere in Sri Lanka, is that all the hotels come fully equipped with staff who are able to provide accurate and well-informed information about and in-depth analysis of international cricket.

From score updates to well-reasoned arguments explaining why Sri Lanka’s middle order could prove to be their Achilles heel, from potted player biographies to tactical critiques of captaincy, the service is exemplary, and far, far superior to anything I have experienced in Europe. Rome may be a magical city in many respects, but in terms of hotel staff cricket knowledge, it is to Galle what Jimi Hendrix is to Shane Warne in terms of leg-spin bowling.

I managed to see only brief snippets of India’s alarm-bell-clanging defeat to South Africa. I saw Tendulkar place the entire city of Chennai on cricketing history red alert for his next match on March 20 by majesterialising to his 99th international century. “Looks like India are hitting form at the right time,” I thought to myself in a sage piece of internal punditry. I left the TV room to return to my hitherto vain attempts to persuade my children that flies are not necessarily lethal. India promptly collapsed like a prim Victorian lady at the unexpected sight of a gentleman’s unshirted chest. From 267 for 1, their last nine wickets evaporated for 29, equalling the World Cup record for Most Useless Final Eight Partnerships In An Innings, set earlier this tournament by Kenya when uselessly capitulating against New Zealand.

The worst last-nine-wickets figure for a Test nation in a World Cup before this tournament was 59 by England, as Joel Garner chunked them into cricket marmalade in the 1979 final. All this after Tendulkar, Sehwag and Gambhir had combined to reach the fifth-highest ever World Cup total for the loss of one wicket. It is fair to say that India did not make the most of their brilliant start, as if Neil Armstrong had turned to Buzz Alldrin and said, “Looks a bit chilly out there, let’s just head home.”

29 for 9 – the equal fourth worst nine-wicket collapse to end an innings in ODI history. Coincidentally, 29 is also the number of times during breakfast the following day that Sachin Tendulkar looked up from his cornflakes with an expression on his face that unmistakably read: “Are any of you guys going to attempt to (a) explain and (b) apologise for that?”

That India’s middle order should fail more convincingly than a learner driver ploughing into a crowded bus stop whilst flicking a v-sign at his instructor during his driving test is concerning enough. India’s bowling, which had always looked like their Achilles heel, began to look like an Achilles leg as the unfortunate Nehra was planked into the Nagpur stands by Peterson, and MS Dhoni began to think: “Maybe, with the benefit of two balls’ worth of hindsight, I should have let Harbhajan bowl this one after all.”

It is beginning to appear that India’s greatest problem is their insufficient number of bowlers whose names begin with H or Z. In their three matches against Test opposition in this World Cup so far, Harbhajan has conceded 5.24 per over, and Zaheer 4.90. Munaf, Sreesanth, Nehra, Chawla, Yuvraj and Pathan have been clonked for 597 in 90.4 overs, each at a run a ball or worse, collectively at 6.58 per over. It may not be impossible to win a World Cup with only two fully functioning bowlers. But it will not be easy.

(I have a two-year-old son who has an H-commencing first name to go with his Zaltzman surname. He does not currently hold an Indian passport, but I’m sure these things can be arranged, and he has a South-African-born grandfather, which I think means he is eligible to play for any country of his choosing. His two-year-old bowling action, however, is unlikely to pass ICC scrutiny. And he frequently oversteps. And they should probably let R Ashwin have a go first.)

Fortunately for India, they are not alone. Every team left in this tournament is nervously flexing its metaphorical lower leg, urgently seeking physiotherapy for its own niggling Achilles heel, checking the internet to find any versions of the ancient Greek myth in which Achilles turned out fine after all, and wishing its metaphorical mother had taken a little more care when dipping it in the river of cricketing invincibility.

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

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Posted by hemant on (March 18, 2011, 17:33 GMT)

"I left the TV room to return to my hitherto vain attempts to persuade my children that flies are not necessarily lethal. India promptly collapsed like a prim Victorian lady at the unexpected sight of a gentleman’s unshirted chest. "

It is fair to say that India did not make the most of their brilliant start, as if Neil Armstrong had turned to Buzz Alldrin and said, “Looks a bit chilly out there, let’s just head home.”

"I have a two-year-old son who has an H-commencing first name to go with his Zaltzman surname. He does not currently hold an Indian passport, but I’m sure these things can be arranged, and he has a South-African-born grandfather, which I think means he is eligible to play for any country of his choosing. His two-year-old bowling action, however, is unlikely to pass ICC scrutiny. And he frequently oversteps. And they should probably let R Ashwin have a go first."

- Pure Genius!

Posted by kaybee on (March 18, 2011, 14:17 GMT)

@Prashanth Cherukuri Keep your tasteless comments about match-fixing and South Africa to yourself, buddy. Churlish, childish and unmerited. Oh, AND pathetic.

Posted by Qaiser Shahzad on (March 17, 2011, 8:52 GMT)

While you would have been showered with praise by lot of readers of your blogs/articles, I have to admit that you as a writer, are something special. May AlMighty give you a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng life so that you keep on churning incredible stuff like this one.

Posted by jeevan on (March 17, 2011, 8:29 GMT)

It was really brilliant 2 read ur article and ur comments. Now something what goes on the ground is neither predefined nor predictable. Neither what Sachin did, he knew it earlier nor the collapsed lower order was a preplanned action. The matches prove every time about the unpredictability of the game. Every nation that plays with full, having lot of experience go for winning a game but alas! the team like England never won a world cup,and team like South Africa miss several chances, and even if the small Srilanka and Pakistan becomes terror sometimes in this world-cup tournament.

Posted by Munno on (March 17, 2011, 6:44 GMT)

Almost passed out reading the following para:

(I have a two-year-old son who has an H-commencing first name to go with his Zaltzman surname. He does not currently hold an Indian passport, but I’m sure these things can be arranged, and he has a South-African-born grandfather, which I think means he is eligible to play for any country of his choosing. His two-year-old bowling action, however, is unlikely to pass ICC scrutiny. And he frequently oversteps. And they should probably let R Ashwin have a go first.)

Posted by Raj on (March 17, 2011, 5:59 GMT)

Reading all this reminds me of Ravi quoting in commentary as "Bhajji being best off spinner in world". kewl right !!! and I also feel 29 will also be the number bhajji is gonna hit for in an over in a very near future :)

Posted by Someone on (March 17, 2011, 5:01 GMT)

Nobel Prize for literature andy, you the bomb

Posted by santosh on (March 17, 2011, 4:48 GMT)

Their are few dubious people in India who belives that sachin cannot play well in pressure situation. but these play donot have the cricket knowledge,first have a proper knowledge,and then speak.

Posted by Paul on (March 17, 2011, 1:43 GMT)

29 is not just the number of times Sachin looked towards his teammates, it's also the number of times I have read this article so far ... and I still think it's hilarious. Andy is the Genius.

Posted by jay on (March 17, 2011, 0:02 GMT)

Zaltzman u r one real sob man !! Keep it up !!

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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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