Cricket, history and Sachin Tendulkar
For those of you unable to stream or download the audio of the World Cup Cricket podcast, below is a transcript of the scripted parts of the show. But it is supposed to be listened to, not read.
This week’s podcast features thoughts on the quarter-final teams, and on why life without cricket is pointless.
The music in the podcast is by Kevin MacLeod
Hello cricket fans, and welcome to issue 3 of Andy Zaltzman’s World Cup Cricket podcast. I am the legendary 1950s Ashes-winning tearaway England paceman Andy Zaltzman. Sorry, I think I had my drink spiked with Tysofrankambutamol, a steroid that makes you think you’re Frank Tyson.
I’m recording this on the morning of Sunday, March 20. I am just about to go to the India-West Indies game. And by the time you listen to this, I may very well have seen a piece of cricket history that will almost certainly never be repeated as long as the great game is played. I may well have had the privilege of witnessing India as a nation rise as one to salute a man achieving what no one had ever thought possible.
Yes ‒ I might have seen Sreesanth bowl ten steady overs, calmly, and without losing his rag.
Please, cricketing gods, let me be there to see that happen. It will be something to tell my grandchildren as they sit on my kneecaps in future years. I’ll be able to tell them: “I was there. Now stop trying to steal my hearing aid and don’t play football near my life-size marble statue of Ian Bell.”
Of course, it would also be nice to see Sachin Tendulkar score his 100th international hundred as well. But he’s only the first man to reach that milestone because England dropped Tim Curtis in the late 1980s before they’d given him a proper chance. And in a few years’ time, Michael Yardy will probably catch him up anyway.
In this week’s World Cup Cricket podcast, I will look ahead to the quarter-finals, commiserating with all the Canada fans who had booked flights and hotels for the knockout stages on for their team to cruelly let them down; I will probably sound as excited as a child on Christmas eve giddily feeling a present that clearly looks, and sounds, like the pet leopard he’s been asking his parents for years, as I selfishly hope Sachin scores that hundred today, when I’m going to be there. And not in Ahmedabad, when I may well be stuck on an aeroplane. And I will quietly reflect, in a thoroughly depressing week in which the world in general has scored a resounding 0 out of 10, on how much better cricket is than life. You can have cricket without life, still cricket. Life without cricket. Pointless.
However, amongst the things I will not be doing in this week’s podcasts are: reciting a new sonnet I’ve just written about the batting of New Zealand’s Jamie How; attempting to sell information to dodgy bookmakers about how often I will use the word “rambunctious” in my next blog; or revealing that if you take the radio commentary of Netherlands’ Ryan ten Doeschate hitting a century against Ireland on Friday and play it backwards, it contains coded information about imminent Armageddon and the end of life as we know it. More of that not coming later on.
So where else to start this week that with the news that MGM have bought the exclusive film rights to England spinster Michael Yardy’s forthcoming autobiography: Stumpslayer – The Vengeance Master Returns? Look out for Eddie Murphy as Kevin Pietersen, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie comeback as Luke Wright.
I’ll tell you where else: with the impending quarter-finals.
As I record, we know who’ll be in them, but not entirely who’ll be trying to smash whom out of which stadium. We do know that Bangladesh will not be taking part, after they were unluckily denied victory against South Africa due to the fact that South Africa scored 200 more runs than they did. Just think – if it had been Bangladesh who had scored 200 runs more than South Africa, they’d have been in quarters. Upon such slender threads do cricketing fates hang.
I hope Bangladesh as a team have learnt a valuable lesson over the last two weeks. And that lesson is: Don’t get bowled out for 58 and 78 at successive games at home in your national stadium with a place in the World Cup quarter-finals up for grabs. Tactically, it makes no sense at all.
The Tigers’ wildly exuberant fans will have been understandably de-exuberised. It was not a disastrous tournament for the co-hosts. They were OK against India, had two decent wins and one outstanding one, and had a couple of major national parties. Ultimately though, they proved to be short of what was required. About 11 batsmen short.
So, 30 days after we started, we are left with the eight quarter-finalists you would probably have predicted before the tournament began. And the eight that you would have predicted 30 years ago. If you’d been asked to. And if you had an innate hunch that South African politics was going to change a bit. A big bit.
Luckily, however, it was all much more exciting than that sounds, and more exciting than it could have been. And if you want to know how exciting it could have been, think back four years to the seven-week bonanza of bathos that was to 2007 World Cup. A tournament so grindingly tedious it made my television throw itself out of a window just to end the pain.
Here then is a quick rundown of the eight teams left to fight it out. And pray for a friendly coin to land on the ground either smiling at them with a head, or mooning at them with a tail, depending on how they’ve called. Two-thirds of all day-night games at the Premadasa in Colombo and the PCA in Mohali have been won by the side batting first.
So all those years and lifetimes of preparation, those biomechanical experts honing bowling actions to perfection, those computerised virtual bowling machines (the technology for which arguably could have waited until after humanity had found a cure for cancer), those dietary specialists, those video analysts and those motivational Richie Benaud impersonators will prove to be less important than the flick-velocity and thumb-power of an opposition captain as he sends a coin skywards.
The best team in the tournament. By far. So far. Bit of a blooper against England. But they’ve had worse World Cup bloopers than that. Might lack a middle-order tonker. The tournament format leaves them vulnerable to a one-off blitz. But whatever Jacques Kallis has been putting in his hair, he’s been putting in his batting as well. He’s playing like he’s 23 again. Which is good, because when he was 23, he played like he was 47. Graeme Smith has a greater range of attacking bowling options than any other skipper, and he’s used them well.
Smith bats as if he’s trying to obliterate the very concept of beauty – in fact, Classical scholars have announced that they are reassessing whether Oedipus skewered his own eyes out due to his understandable guilt about the whole inadvertently killing his daddy and kerplonking his mummy business, or because he had just seen Graeme Smith play a cover-drive.
I’ll keep you posted. But he and his team are looking very strong. So far.
The greatest danger in any long tournament is peaking too early. India have, very wisely, managed to avoid that pitfall. Impressively. Just when it looked like they were going to give that potent South African bowling attack the Mother Goose of all honkings, they lost nine for 29. Premature peak duly avoided. Tell you what though, speaking as an accredited cricket journalist, let me tell you: Sachin Tendulkar is a handy player. He’ll go far one day if he knuckles down and focuses on his cricket.
England have proved that they can win any game of cricket, against any opposition, from any position. They have also proved that they can lose any game to anyone from anywhere as well. When you look at Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, two admirable gentlemen of the game, so focused and calm and professional, the words, “lead a wildly unpredictable team through madcap, almost slapstick fluctuations in form, from clowns walking into plate glass windows to Nadia Comaneci nailing double somersaulting dismount for another perfect 10", well... they don't spring to mind immediately.
But six tight finishes in six games. They were 20 minutes of vaguely competent West Indian batting away from going out. They could now easily win the whole thing. Or lose in the quarter-final at the first available opportunity. Whatever, thanks for the ride, England. For the first time in a generation, you have lit up the World Cup. With something other than schoolboy incompetence.
Last millennium, it took the rest of the world 975 years for someone to beat the Aussies in a World Cup match. This time round, it’s taken a mere 11. Further proof that Australian cricket is on the skids. Everyone will fear their potent if only sporadically devastating fast bowling attack.
As for the batting, opposition teams will look at their team sheet and say: “Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting still retired? All of them? But Ponting’s still on the team sheet. Oh, he’s retired from major run-scoring. Great. We’ll take it.” Might still win it. Probably won’t.
Could have had the best attack in the tournament if only, if only... Umar Gul has been fast and magnificent. But in batting, they could do with (a) Afridi putting his sensible head on at least once this tournament; and (b) Miandad, Imran, Saeed Anwar and Inzamam back in the team. Having drunk a special youth-restoring potion. Actually, as they are now would do fine.
Eight-five runs in 22 balls. By New Zealand? Sod the supermoon, that is the sign of the apocalypse. Bruce Edgar, Trevor Franklin and Mark Richardson must be spinning in their still-empty graves. They have the thwackers to frighten anyone. But they played Australian pace and Sri Lankan spin with the confidence of a Chinese duck asked to pose for a photo wearing nothing but a thin pancake, covered in plum sauce, holding some cucumber and spring onions. Might win one, maybe even two matches in a row. Three is probably pushing it.
Hey, Muralitharan’s good isn’t he? The cricket world will miss the Sri Lankan sorcerer when he takes his 1300 international wickets with him into retirement. He might well bookend his career with another World Cup triumph. But he will be politely asking his middle-order batsmen to hastily read a book about how to hit a cricket ball.
They’ve depended on the magnificent Sangakkara too much. But they have home advantage and a big win in Mumbai under their belts, so, for me, second favourites.
Some signs of promise, but mostly unimpressive. Although Roach has been ace. They look likely to lose at any time. But, and it is quite a big but, if not a big enough but to get American rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot to switch his TV over to the cricket to see how much he likes it, they do have Gayle and Pollard. Who would beat anyone in a burst of powerful hypertonking. Could, but probably won’t.
All in all, it’s hugely exciting. I’ve noticed a declining optimism amongst the home supporters on my travels. Indians were bullish a month ago, but mostly seem resigned now. Almost no Sri Lankans seem to think their team can win it. And Bangladesh, well, poor Bangladesh fans. Excluding those who showed an inopportune interest in the parabolic properties of stones – wrong time, wrong place for experimental physics, gentlemen – so much hope, so much pride, so much love for the game. And so few batsmen. But I’ll take those memories of Dhaka on the opening day to the grave. I don’t mind which grave. If you want me to take them to grave near you, call my agent and we’ll sort it out.
That’s about it for this week’s podcast. A bit shorter than intended, because, well I’m a bit disorganised to be honest. I was born a week or so behind schedule in 1974, and you know it is, I’ve never quite caught up.
A couple of quick items of World Cup news.
Following the controversial reprieve of Mahela Jayawardene after what looked like a perfectly legitimate catch against New Zealand, the ICC have clarified that the TV umpire saw clear evidence on the TV pictures that a small worm had poked its head up from the Mumbai soil between Nathan McCullum’s fingers, and headbutted the ball into his hand. So, technically, it was rightly given not-out.
And they have also confirmed that Mahela was reprieved because, “he represents a throwback to a vanishing age of the art of classical batsmanship, and the umpires are perfectly within their rights to want to watch him play”.
The ICC have also announced two new sub-modes of dismissal. Following a couple of fortuitous stumpings by Prior and Dhoni in recent matches when they dropped the ball but due to lucky ricochets were still able to complete the dismissal, such wickets will henceforth be classified as “fumble-stumped”, and be marked in scorecards with the letters "fst".
And after Tharanga was run out backing up like a good boy doing what his coach has told him to do after Southee deflected a straight drive onto the stumps, the ICC has declared that such dismissals will be recorded as “fluked out”, and that any fielder caught celebrating an obviously unintentional dismissal will be docked 75% of their match fee.
That’s it. I’ll play you out with a bit of audio from England’s post-match press conference on Thursday. As you may know if you’ve seen the pictures with my blog or my ZaltzCricket twitter feed, my main travelling companion on this jaunt has been a little knitted WG Grace. He’s discussed celebrity with Dhoni, the art of batting with Dravid, and was told in no uncertain terms who had scored more hundreds than him when he met Geoffrey Boycott.
And at England’s presser on Thursday, I took out my cuddly WG, and asked the England captain a question. Bye bye. Thanks be to cricket. Amen
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer