Dhaka March 22, 2011

Being there for Rampaul's 52nd

Wandering through the streets of Mirpur on the way to the Shere Bangla, it was impossible not to sense that there was not quite as much excitement in the air as there might have been

Wandering through the streets of Mirpur on the way to the Shere Bangla, it was impossible not to sense that there was not quite as much excitement in the air as there might have been. Of course, had tomorrow’s game been Pakistan v Bangladesh instead of Pakistan v West Indies, as it so nearly was, the excitement levels would have been visible from the moon. It may well have been audible on the moon.

When Sarwan and Russell were at the crease last Thursday, the West Indies had been cruising to victory with calmness and panache, and Bangladesh was poised to party again. However, whenever West Indies are cruising to victory these days, they do so with the ghost parrot of preceding collapses chuntering loudly to itself on their shoulders (“you’ll probably lose, you’ll probably lose,” it chirps, whilst pecking away at some seed and commenting about how good Desmond Haynes was). Dhaka was duly deflated, and Bangladesh were grotesquely outclassed by South Africa.

I well remember my nation’s reaction in 1999 when, as hosts, England were knocked out of the World Cup at the earliest available juncture - it was a mixture of disgruntled chuntering from cricket fans and comments of “what World Cup?” from the public at large. Overall, analysts categorised it as a “mild huff”. In Bangladesh, however, there is a genuine sadness not that the West Indies had catapulted a winning position into a canal, but that the Tigers’ batting had come up shorter than Mushfiqur Rahim himself. Most would have accepted two wins against the Associate team plus a victory over England before the tournament began, even with a failure to reach the knock-out stage. But to have twice batted like a wedding cake under a steamroller has left a palpable sense of disappointed regret.

Time for a few more thoughts on the last group match in Chennai. I have seldom experienced such a powerful sense of collective anti-climax as when Tendulkar missed out on giving the crowd his 100th 100 by a disappointing margin of 98 runs. As some consolation for the stunned crowd, they will at least be able to tell their grandchildren: “I was there. I was there when Ravi Rampaul took his 52nd ODI wicket. Here is my ticket to prove it.”

India’s play between Dhoni’s dismissal and the pivotal dog-intrusion/wickets-flurry had had an air of lethargy reminiscent of the last days of the Roman Empire. It will be fascinating to see the impact of necessity on their play in the quarter-finals.

Physically, the current West Indies look like a classic West Indies team. They have three toweringly tall bowlers, and batsmen who play with daring, flourish and panache. Unfortunately, the three towering bowlers are two medium-pace dobblers and a slow-left-armer. And the batsmen play with daring, flourish and panache for approximately twenty minutes at a time, rather than for a decade-and-a-half.


- My own build-up to the quarter-finals has been somewhat disrupted by my impending one-night-only stand-up tour of Bangladesh (consisting of a single gig at Naveed’s Comedy Club in Dhaka tonight, Tuesday). I wrote recently about how a stand-up gig can be equated with a session of Test cricket. I will let you know in the next blog what my score was. I have no idea: (a) if there will be a crowd; (b) if there is a crowd, what the balance will be between Bangladeshis, expats and the assorted members of the cricket media whom I have told about the show; or (c) whether I have any jokes in my comedic locker that any of those three social groups will find funny. However, even if the crowd is 100% local Bangladeshis, I expect the language and cultural barriers to be significantly less difficult to overcome than at gigs I have done in Liverpool.

- As exclusively revealed in the ZaltzCricket twitter feed, the ultimate source of all cricketing fact, the ECB has announced that, following a computer simulation exercise, England have retrospectively won the 1971 World Cup.

An ECB spokesman said: "We were worried that Andrew Strauss and the lads might feel the pressure of trying to become the first England team to win a World Cup, so we thought we’d try and win an old one for them first. We tried buying the 1983 trophy of India, but they wanted ridiculous money for it. So we developed a match-generating computer to play the unplayed World Cups of previous years. We inputted all the relevant 1971 data into it, and we are delighted to report that England walked it."

In a one-sided final against old enemies Australia, the ECB reports, England smashed 523-8 in their 60 overs, with spin-king Derek Underwood clubbing a 34-ball century. Then, legendary wicketkeeper Alan Knott ripped through the Aussies, taking 7-13 as Ian Chappell’s team subsided for 45 all out.

The ECB refuted Australian complaints about the margin and manner of the result (“typical baggy green whingeing, why can’t they just be happy for us?”), but did acknowledge that the computer simulation “may need a little fine-tuning”.

The ECB spokesman added: “But you can’t argue with technology these days. The result stands. Well played England. There will be an open-top bus parade next week. We hope that Ray Illingworth and the boys having won the ‘71 Cup will take some of the pressure off Straussy and the guys before Saturday’s quarter-final."

Ian Chappell, meanwhile, announced his retroactive resignation following news of his team’s 478-run drubbing. He tearfully told a press conference: “Sure, Knotty bowled surprisingly well, but it was a World Cup final and we were awful. As skipper, I have to take responsibility. I hereby would have retired on the spot from all cricket. Please erase my captaincy and batting achievements post-1971 from the record books."

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