England March 17, 2011

Ball-dunking and grudge-dredging

Andy Zaltzman lies about the World Cup

I arrived in Chennai this morning, ready to see England re-begin their World Cup campaign again, after a 24-hour journey from Colombo. You may well think that 24 hours is a long time to take over what most people manage in an 80-minute flight. And you would have a point. But I am an Englishman at the 2011 World Cup. I decided to take an unnecessarily convoluted route because I thought it would be more interesting – exactly as my nation’s cricket team has done through the group stage of the tournament. They could easily have won all five of their matches to date, but they chose to entertain the cricket-watching universe instead.

It should be another fascinating match against intermittently explosive opponents, and if they win, they will begin the knockout stages buoyed by the knowledge that only they and Australia remain unbeaten by top-eight ranked opponents in this tournament. England are amongst the best prepared outfits in sport – this must all be part of a scientifically-generated masterplan. All it will need is a few potent shots of espresso before matches to ensure they are battle-hardened rather than battle-weary. And some luck with the physics of rotating coins and gravity.


- In order to negate the unfairness of the dew factor in day-night games, during all future matches in this tournament, the bowler will be forced to dip the ball in a bowl of water before each delivery. ICC big cheese Haroon Lorgat explained: “We want it to be the same for both sides, and, after our lawyers failed to persuade the dew to keep itself to itself, we were left with no choice but compulsory ball-dunking. It will be the fielding captain’s decision whether to use still or sparkling water."

- Andrew Strauss has sought to motivate his flagging players by urging them to use the Chennai showdown with West Indies “to avenge the wrongs England suffered at the Battle of Hastings in 1066”. The England skipper explained: “I know the West Indies are not, technically speaking, Normans, but if you don’t tell the boys that, I won’t either. It helps to have a historical grudge in top-level sport. For whatever reason, buried deep in the murky depths of history, we are usually the victims of grudge power. We just want a level playing field. Sadly, Germany and France keep avoiding us on the cricket field, so we have to be a bit creative.”


- Shoaib Akhtar has finally, reluctantly, given up his heroic tussle with the unstoppable march of time and announced his impending retirement. Cricket will be a less interesting place without him, a throwback paceman devoted to maximum velocity, a seeming force of nature in an era of biomechanical precision. With almost 450 international wickets at an average of 25 in an age of batting dominance, he cannot be said to have failed. At his sporadic best, however, he occasionally equalled anything cricket has seen, and leaves the game having obliterated Ponting and both Waugh in one over of unmatchable brilliance, and having been clumped for 26 in another over of schoolboy ineptitude in Pallekele last week. Very few cricketers could have managed the first. Millions could have achieved the second. Perhaps only Shoaib could have done both.

- The highlight of my unnecessary but enjoyable train journey was, as we chugged through Kerala, seeing through the window a snippet of cricket in a woodland clearing in which a young teenage boy played the finest on-drive I have seen in this entire World Cup. He leant into the ball, he whipped his wrists, the ball sped away towards the hypothetical boundary as if from the bat of a laboratory-engineered hybrid of Peter May and Dilip Vengsarkar. However, a few miles further down the line, the next ball I saw involved a rather unathletic child attempting to bowl left-arm spin with an action so atrociously awkward that it made Paul Harris look like Bishen Bedi. Promising and worrying signs for the future of Indian cricket.

- My daughter, who likes to please, came up to me a couple of days ago, and said: “Daddy, I really love cricket.” I swelled with pride – “I may have my practical, organisational and logistical flaws as a parent,” I said to my vigorously nodding wife, “but clearly, I am doing the most important part well.” I turned back to my daughter. “That’s great, sweetie,” I replied, giving her a well-deserved cuddle. “And who is your favourite cricketer?” I asked. She pondered for a few seconds, perhaps weighing up the relative merits of Bradman, Sobers, Hobbs, Tendulkar, Kamran Akmal and Tavare. “Daddy, my favourite cricketer is Roger Federer.” Evidently, I still have some difficult parenting work ahead of me.

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