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England’s heroic efforts to reignite the 50-over game continued with another fluctuating, stomach-rumbling, rocket-propelled donkey ride of a match, replete with all the over-the-top melodrama and emotional mood swings of a teenage disco.
Once again, Strauss and his men yanked Victory from the jaws of Defeat. Having seemingly wrapped Victory in a burrito and fed it to Defeat. After Defeat had vomited Victory back up onto its plate, saying, “I’m not hungry.” Which followed them teasingly putting Victory on a plastic spoon and whizzing it in and out of Defeat’s open mouth like a parent trying to amuse a baby and trick it into eating a vegetable.
England could have won all six of their group matches. They could have lost all six. They could have tied all six. So three wins, one tie and two defeats is probably a fair return. A team with mostly admirable rather than thrilling cricketers has contrived to give the cricket world one surprisingly good game, followed by five varying classics that would have had Victorian cricket fans munching through their umbrella handles like cheap hot dogs.
It is always sensible to have a scapegoat or two grazing up your sleeve that you can whip out in the event of a defeat and feed to the press as a scapegoat curry. If England had lost, their fans could have blamed injuries, fatigue, umpires, John Logie Baird for inventing television and paving the way for the third umpire to sit on their lofty Olympian perches and dispense their random justice like a drunken Greek god, and the general concept of technology.
Most of all, however, they could have blamed the evils of capitalism.
When Jonathan Trott caught Andre Russell, tumbled in indecipherably close proximity to the boundary, and was denied the catch by the TV umpire (even though, to my naked eye 80 yards away high up in the Chepauk stands, he was clearly and definitely infield by between 1.5 and 2 millimetres), it seemed that England’s hopes had vaporised. If the boundary rope had not been surrounded by the padded advertisements, but had merely been a boundary rope just as whichever god invented cricket surely intended it to be, Trott’s catch would have been verifiably legal by a good couple of centimetres.
However, thanks to the unstoppably gropey tentacles of commercialism that have wrapped their branding around any available object on any available sports ground, not only have glorious cover drives been besmirched into glib marketing opportunities, not only is the fee-paying spectator denied the timeless entertainment of seeing a ballboy prepare to field an imminent four only for the ball to ricochet up off the rope into his face, but England were almost denied their opportunity to confirm their place in the greatest eight international one-day teams in the known universe.
When the Berlin Wall came crumbled like the West Indian tail and Capitalism started showboating in the aftermath of its points victory over Communism (in which it was aided by the fact that Communism spent the entire fight standing in the corner, punching itself in the face), I doubt those revelling in the end of oppression stopped for a moment to consider how their selfish desire for freedom from totalitarian tyranny could one day almost affect the result of a very important cricket match. Such is human nature.
- In my continuing, and I believe thus far successful, attempts to establish myself as the most infantile member of the cricketing press corps, I whipped out my little woolly WG Grace (that is not a euphemism) at the post-match press conference, and told Strauss that he had been watching England play for 130 years and could not remember a run of such exciting games. Strauss took one look at the knitted legend and his famous beard, and responded: “It looks like he’s lost a bit of timber.” Fine work from the England captain. WG blushed woollily, and mumbled something about having trouble with the local food.
- WG was a busy boy at the Chepauk. I fulfilled a lifelong dream during the interval, as I was invited on Test Match Special to talk to broadcasting leviathan Jonathan Agnew. I have been listening to TMS basically ever since I became a sentient being. I was more than a little excited, if disappointed that John Arlott was sadly off duty again. It also gave WG the chance to chinwag with, in ascending order of Test runs, Aggers, Vic Marks, Michael Vaughan and Geoffrey Boycott. (Pictures from the meetings on the right)
Attempting to diffuse the slight awkwardness of having asked Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott to pose for picture with a small woolly doll, I said to him, “I think you scored more centuries than WG did.” Boycott: “I know I did. I know exactly how many more than him I scored. And I didn’t cheat as much as he did.” A legend and a hero.
- I hope you enjoy the photographs. I am reliably informed that this is the first published photograph of the Boycott holding a small woolly doll of a 19th-century megastar (rumours that he used to own a knitted miniature Florence Nightingale remain unconfirmed). While taking the photo, I thought to myself: “I am a 36-year-old father of two. I have a university degree. I have a mortgage. And I have just asked one of England’s greatest sportsmen to hold a small woolly doll for a photograph. Does this mean my life is going (a) very well, or (b) very, very badly?”
- West Indies were left with various regrets after a match in which they, like their opponents, repeatedly created, then squandered winning positions. A little more calmness at times, a little more boldness at others – taking the batting Powerplay when Sammy or Russell were in and swinging, for example ‒ could have won them the game. As could Ramnaresh Sarwan’s bowels.
Coach Ottis Gibson, asked in the post-match press conference why rookie wicketkeeper Devon Thomas had been oddly promoted above the veteran of 164 ODIs and a decade of top-level cricket, replied that Sarwan had been temporarily indisposed on a toilet break. He stopped short of revealing that, just as Thomas nervously prepared to face his first ball, Sarwan emerged with a newspaper tucked under one arm, a half-finished cryptic crossword clear for all to see, asking: “Can anyone think of an anagram of ‘oral bard’ that means ‘popular breed of dog’?” Or that he strolled casually back into the dressing room, snout down in a well-thumbed copy of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, excitedly squealing, “I knew they’d get together eventually.”
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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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. 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 ESPNcricinfo.