May 26, 2011

Deck your souls with psychological bunting

As the season kicks off, a look at the questions uppermost in cricket lovers’ minds, including: why did Prince William marry for love?
51

The first day of the Test summer. The unquestioned highlight of the British and European year. For English cricket fans, at least. A day when cricket lovers in this country bedeck their souls with psychological bunting and wave metaphorical flags with bats, stumps and balls on at themselves in joyous celebration that humanity’s greatest single creation, the crowning glory of all civilisation, the thing described by Abraham Lincoln as “the last best hope of earth” ‒ Test cricket ‒ is back. (Not all scholars agree with my interpretation of Lincoln’s words from his address to Congress in 1862, a decade and a half before the birth of Test cricket. But if you try reading that speech out loud with the old BBC cricket theme blaring out of your ghetto blaster, I think and hope that you will reach the same conclusion I did.)

Over the years, the beginning of the summer’s Test cricket has lost some of the excitement it had when I was a child in the 1980s, when innumerable questions would swirl around the crickosphere as the first Test loomed. Who would be left in the team from the previous summer? Who would be captaining the side? Who would be captaining the side in a month’s time? Who would be the first player dropped, how quickly, and how needlessly? How gruesomely would England lose? And which county stalwart would be speculatively picked in a moment of crisis, then summarily discarded, whilst the selectors consulted tea leaves, ouija boards, the entrails of freshly slaughtered animals and (on rare occasions) the first-class averges?

Few of these questions still arise in the more stable, well-organised 21st century world of England cricket. Most of the media discussion to date seems to involve wild speculation on what may or may not be going on inside Kevin Pietersen’s head.

However, this summer is particularly appetising, with Sri Lanka and India promising strong opposition and exciting cricket. Last summer and in the winter, England’s bowlers did not merely have Pakistan’s and Australia’s batting line-ups on toast, they sliced them into soldiers and dipped them in an egg. They are unlikely to find this summer’s tourists quite as pliant, but with home advantage and strength in depth they will be confident of further success.

The questions arising in advance of today’s first Test might not be quite as quirky as their 1980s predecessors, but they are intriguing nonetheless. Will England’s near-flawless Ashes performance prove to be the pinnacle of their achievements, an unrepeatable concoction of collective and individual form on one side and collective and individual uselessness on the other? (Last time England won in Australia, in 1986-87, they proceeded to win just one Test over the next three years. There would be a full mutiny in the Barmy Army if they do so again.)

How will Sri Lanka win without Murali? Removing a bowler with 800 Test wickets under his belt would adversely affect most teams, and in the two Tests Sri Lanka have won in England, Murali has taken 27 wickets at an average of 13, whilst the rest of the bowlers have mustered 11 scalps at 58. This is their first away series since Murali joined Eddie Hemmings in the ranks of retired Test offspinners, and in their five home Tests in that time they have struggled to take wickets and have failed to win.

Will Alastair Cook maintain his recent elevation to leviathan of modern-day batsmanship, or return to his previous state of toddling along adequately? Will Eoin Morgan prove to be a genuine Test batsman, or were his struggles against Pakistan last summer, when his one successful innings was scored primarily off low-to-medium grade spin, indicative a technically flawed one-day wizard?

And, perhaps most pertinently of all, will the Royal Wedding have inspired England’s players or distracted them? Will it have fired them with an even deeper sense of national pride and duty, or made them spend all their spare time thinking about dresses, crowns and Pippa Middleton’s Rumpelstiltskin rather than practising cricket?

(As a side issue, as an Englishman I think it is a national tragedy that Prince William married for love. For what is the point of having a royal family and the princes who come with it if you cannot marry them off to people from other countries to make strategic political alliances? Surely that is the historical raison d’être of royalty. If William had a shred of patriotism in his body, there are only two women in the world he would even consider marrying. 1: the daughter of Chinese President Hu Jintao; and 2: Angela Merkel.)

The official Confectionery Stall prediction: England to win, Pietersen to do quite well, and no Sri Lankan bowler to take 16 wickets in the match this time.

Sadly, Barack Obama, the 49-year-old professional president from Washington DC, concludes his state visit to the UK this morning, and is, one assumes, distraught that the buffoon responsible for the scheduling did not factor in a couple of days at the Cardiff Test. (A White House spokesman yesterday confirmed that the President is “gutted” to be missing the chance to see Thilan Samaraweera bat, and whilst “grateful that he could at least sample some of the build-up”, made “desperate last-minute pleas to postpone the Deauville G8 meeting, or do it via a conference call in the Swalec Stadium car park during the tea interval”.) (If anyone remains in any doubt about Obama’s obsession with English Test cricket, he married a woman whose forenames are Michelle LaVaughn. Case closed.) (Admittedly, they were married in 1992, before the English, male Michelle LaVaughn had even made his debut for Yorkshire, but Obama is a man of vision, so let us assume he knew what was what in early 1990s youth cricket.) (Besides, the first lady’s maiden name was Robinson – meaning that the president has never married a woman whose passport was not bedecked with the name of a former England opening batsman.) (I digress.)

Extras

The ICC has announced that, following its successful use in horse racing, a handicapping system will be introduced to international cricket on a trial basis. An ICC spokesman explained: “In recent years, several teams have fallen behind the stronger nations of world cricket due to a combination of financial inequality, crass organisational incompetence, and not being very good at hitting and/or bowling cricket balls. In order to re-levelise this increasingly non-level playing field, from September, the lower-ranked teams will be able to use wider bats, and the higher-ranked sides will have to defend wickets that are up to 60% taller and feature a fourth stump, to be located at the discretion of the fielding captain.”

If the trial is successful, consideration will be given to allowing the weaker teams to claim one-hand-one-bounce catches, and capping the innings of the world’s top 10 batsmen at 50 runs.

The ICC spokesman, speaking exclusively to The Confectionery Stall concluded: “The changes promise a dynamic and competitive new era in Test cricket, at far less cost and much more quickly than, for example, trying to make the West Indies good again, or teaching Pakistan to catch.”

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jayap on June 6, 2011, 5:01 GMT

    White-house nabobs in the picture and a cricket match featuring SriLanka in the caption fooled me for a sec... This is caption writing with impunity... admire the spunky style of ad libbing at work by AZ and Cricinfo! One does hear of copyleft so copyright must be a thing of the past :-).

  • Lee Mills on May 31, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    Pal, you manage to encapsulate everything I love about being British and Britishness, pretending to look at the world through a Union Jack tinted lens with your tongue lodged extremely firmly in your cheek, indeed so firmly it may require a hook shot from Geraint Jones to dislodge it (I knew he'd come in useful one day). It sometimes feels as though the first day of the test summer belongs to another world, but I am infinitely grateful that it, and your work, doesn't. Keep on writing.

  • Cricfollower on May 29, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    @skyeshwin: devoted follower of the hindu, do u really get sick on seeing grammatical nd other mistakes? "everytime, i read your article....."? Thr shld be no commas after everytime. Further, when u open a bracket, its done after leaving a space which u clearly hvnt done. Don' try 2 b such an eng grammar saint coz u don' knw basic eng grammar urself, stop showing off.

  • bharat on May 28, 2011, 6:01 GMT

    hey u missed the loyal ravi bopara snub to ipl lover ian morgan.... that was a england selection to its best...

  • dagobert on May 28, 2011, 0:57 GMT

    This is Andy's world of Fricket. A mixture of cricket and politics......

  • eman on May 27, 2011, 23:47 GMT

    what is the secret of andrew's obsessive affection towards pakistani catching? is it that they reminded him of being young and 21 again?

  • SRT_GENIUS on May 27, 2011, 23:24 GMT

    wider bats do not necessarily imply easier batting - it increases the chances of snicks & edges.

  • Albert on May 27, 2011, 15:18 GMT

    Andy, are you related to Einstein? The hair resembles him :|

  • rishabh on May 27, 2011, 14:40 GMT

    Michelle LaVaughn.....Too good

  • wh on May 27, 2011, 14:34 GMT

    Brilliant-and crazy- to juxtapose/use the photo of Obama and co. watching the assualt on Bin Laden for your piece.Jay Leno does the same thing-he will take your answer, and put a different question in front of it-eg:the answer is 10;so Leno will ask much is 1 US dollar worth in Euro. Always thought Zaltman is the PGWodehouse of cricket.

  • jayap on June 6, 2011, 5:01 GMT

    White-house nabobs in the picture and a cricket match featuring SriLanka in the caption fooled me for a sec... This is caption writing with impunity... admire the spunky style of ad libbing at work by AZ and Cricinfo! One does hear of copyleft so copyright must be a thing of the past :-).

  • Lee Mills on May 31, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    Pal, you manage to encapsulate everything I love about being British and Britishness, pretending to look at the world through a Union Jack tinted lens with your tongue lodged extremely firmly in your cheek, indeed so firmly it may require a hook shot from Geraint Jones to dislodge it (I knew he'd come in useful one day). It sometimes feels as though the first day of the test summer belongs to another world, but I am infinitely grateful that it, and your work, doesn't. Keep on writing.

  • Cricfollower on May 29, 2011, 17:24 GMT

    @skyeshwin: devoted follower of the hindu, do u really get sick on seeing grammatical nd other mistakes? "everytime, i read your article....."? Thr shld be no commas after everytime. Further, when u open a bracket, its done after leaving a space which u clearly hvnt done. Don' try 2 b such an eng grammar saint coz u don' knw basic eng grammar urself, stop showing off.

  • bharat on May 28, 2011, 6:01 GMT

    hey u missed the loyal ravi bopara snub to ipl lover ian morgan.... that was a england selection to its best...

  • dagobert on May 28, 2011, 0:57 GMT

    This is Andy's world of Fricket. A mixture of cricket and politics......

  • eman on May 27, 2011, 23:47 GMT

    what is the secret of andrew's obsessive affection towards pakistani catching? is it that they reminded him of being young and 21 again?

  • SRT_GENIUS on May 27, 2011, 23:24 GMT

    wider bats do not necessarily imply easier batting - it increases the chances of snicks & edges.

  • Albert on May 27, 2011, 15:18 GMT

    Andy, are you related to Einstein? The hair resembles him :|

  • rishabh on May 27, 2011, 14:40 GMT

    Michelle LaVaughn.....Too good

  • wh on May 27, 2011, 14:34 GMT

    Brilliant-and crazy- to juxtapose/use the photo of Obama and co. watching the assualt on Bin Laden for your piece.Jay Leno does the same thing-he will take your answer, and put a different question in front of it-eg:the answer is 10;so Leno will ask much is 1 US dollar worth in Euro. Always thought Zaltman is the PGWodehouse of cricket.

  • Raj on May 27, 2011, 9:50 GMT

    ROTFL...having a bad Friday at work....and you really changed it completely..!

  • Andrew Simoes on May 27, 2011, 7:50 GMT

    @Dirkie : Who am I? Now , that's a loaded question. I made it quite obvious that I am aware of the goings on at Blandings Castle. Furthermore , I have posted under a male name . You may therefore conclude that I am Beach, the butler, or Galahad. Whichever you prefer , I'm not fussy. @skyeshwin : I admire your powers of perception. Please be sure to share a link to these grammatically flawless articles in this newspaper of yours. For my own improvement.

  • Rajiv on May 27, 2011, 6:05 GMT

    The caption: priceless!!!

  • narayan on May 27, 2011, 2:50 GMT

    Legendary!!!

  • eddie on May 27, 2011, 2:13 GMT

    yet again andy you write a brilliant article. the photo caption was hilarious, particularly since your subject was not sangakkara but samaraweera, the most non-elegant batsman sri lanka has produced since asanka gurusinghe. and i actually think your handicap idea would work!

  • P K Sengupta on May 27, 2011, 1:51 GMT

    Nothing about day-night Tests and 'pink' balls? Why nothing about the immortal commentators on BBC Radio? Let the TV ones listen and learn how it is supposed to be done. BTW who was the gentleman who was often gifted a cake during a Test Match?

  • Sameer on May 26, 2011, 20:47 GMT

    This was downright hilarious & brilliant.

    I am glad the first day of Test summer is here - which means we'll be hearing more from you :)

    Keep em coming, Andy!

  • George on May 26, 2011, 19:23 GMT

    The second paragraph is a little too close to the truth to be truly funny, but it did make me smile that those days are (hopefully) gone...

  • CricketPissek on May 26, 2011, 17:33 GMT

    I bet Strauss would tell Obama "they asked for my long form birth certificate too", but the ECB is less critical :o) Loved the article btw

  • Karn Mamgain on May 26, 2011, 17:23 GMT

    Okay, please. This is too much. The caption literally made me lose my buttocks.

  • yamiji on May 26, 2011, 16:39 GMT

    Andy! Thanks for not giving your points during the IPL. And I am excited about test cricket after a long time ..Had enough of watching these Bollywood idiots on screen ..

  • skyeshwin on May 26, 2011, 16:31 GMT

    @chaitanya Hell yeah I am @Andrew Simoes Are you trying to mock me or what

  • Jim on May 26, 2011, 14:44 GMT

    @chaitanya: But the point stands :)

  • B.P.Srivatsan on May 26, 2011, 14:10 GMT

    What about making it harder for the stronger sides by restricting only 50 runs maximum to each of their players and a bowler who gets 2 wickets will not be allowed to bowl for the next ten overs? The weaker teams can be allowed 2 wicket keepers one of off side of stumps and another on leg side. Also they can catch the marginal six outside the boundary line and claim the wicket. Underarm bowling be legalised for them with Chappel as their coach. This I hope will equalise the playing strength of both teams!!!

  • Vipul on May 26, 2011, 13:23 GMT

    @The Empress of Blandings: Quite, Quite, Quite. To be sure. Quite, Quite. But one question: Do you ALWAYS respond to pighooey? :D Great article Andy as always!

  • chaitanya on May 26, 2011, 13:20 GMT

    @skyeshwin - Don't tell me you are from Tamil Nadu and you read 'THE HINDU' completely ,every single day.

  • Dirkie on May 26, 2011, 12:49 GMT

    Loving it Andy, keep it up. The caption under the photo made me chuckle like a school girl all morning.

    @Andrew Simoes: Who are you and what is your highbrow attitude about?

  • The Empress of Blandings on May 26, 2011, 11:51 GMT

    @ Gareth Davies: well picked up on. Not a mistake I shall make again. @Andrew Simoes: good point. I've never liked that Baxter, especially after that attempt to steal me left me trapped in that bathroom. Still, the soap was tasty...

  • Andrew Simoes on May 26, 2011, 11:15 GMT

    Very forced, Andy . You are better than this . @skyeshwin : Does Andy teach you new words? How sweet. @Empress : Whiffle may not make those mistakes , but I am sorry to say , Baxter does. The comment was written through him.

  • Tim on May 26, 2011, 11:01 GMT

    "And which county stalwart would be speculatively picked in a moment of crisis, then summarily discarded, whilst the selectors consulted tea leaves, ouija boards, the entrails of freshly slaughtered animals and (on rare occasions) the first-class averges?" Andy you are brilliant, keep churning out gold, you're the funniest thing on Page 2 by a country mile and often the most enlightening as well.

  • skyeshwin on May 26, 2011, 10:47 GMT

    Dear Andy, your blog is not only funny but a very good English article too. Everytime, I read your blog I get to know atleast 10 new words. I say this because I get sick everytime I see a mistake or grammatical error in the Indian newspapers(Except for The Hindu where there are no errors at all). Keep up the good work and use more and more new words in your forthcoming blogs. Many thanks.

  • Gareth Davies on May 26, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    @ The Empress of Blandings. Actually I think it's spelt "apostrophe" love. ;)

  • James on May 26, 2011, 9:56 GMT

    Nothing like a few recycled Bugle gags

  • Theena on May 26, 2011, 9:21 GMT

    Only you, Andy, can make me laugh reading a caption. That was bloody hilarious.

  • S A Raja on May 26, 2011, 9:00 GMT

    Longtime, Andy!!! Great Post. Keep the good work going!!!

  • Daniel on May 26, 2011, 8:57 GMT

    hahah ... made my morning Zaltsman. You surpass yourself ...!

  • The Empress of Blandings on May 26, 2011, 8:53 GMT

    As unnatural as it is for a pig to disagree with its owner I have to take issue with Lord Emsworth's comments above. SL may indeed not lose, but in the early English summer such a feat would be highly commendable and achieved against the odds. To say that only "cricket Machiavellians" predict a SL defeat is unfathomable: who or what is defined as a cricket Machiavellian? And I am shocked that the 9th Earl of Emsworth isn't aware of the "a" in "Machiavellian", that "lose" possesses just the single "o", that there is an "i" in "Pietersen", and that there should be an apostraphe in both "its" and "Zaltsmans". Whiffle doesn't make such mistakes: I trust you read his advice more closely than you follow his spelling and grammar.

  • Sujit on May 26, 2011, 8:51 GMT

    Just great!

  • Nandan on May 26, 2011, 8:42 GMT

    And what is the official prediction for India-England face-off? That one will be a Pippa...I mean..a pippin, eh?

  • Florence Nightingale on May 26, 2011, 8:04 GMT

    Oh....oh Pippa...ohhhh....

  • Riyas on May 26, 2011, 8:02 GMT

    love the extra's

  • sasidhar on May 26, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    gr8 post Andy..as always... :) the last section ICC extras was too good... hhhaaaa.. I think PAK players might still come up with innovative ways to miss catches even if you allow them one bounce catches!!!.... On a serious note, I expect ENG to win the series without much effort if they have good plans for sanga and mahela...

  • Tharindu on May 26, 2011, 7:45 GMT

    Hilarious! "Barack Obama and colleagues look on rapt as Thilan Samaraweera makes his way to a hundred" was extremly funny!

  • Fahad on May 26, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    Pakistan's fielding was brilliant on the WI tour. They took some very sharp catches, astonishingly ofcourse.

  • Lord Emsworth on May 26, 2011, 7:21 GMT

    Thought Zaltzman of all people would go against the English highbrow's weary habit of always talking down the Lankan opposition whenever they play them home or abroad. 95% of the time these cricket Machivellians have to eat their words when SL eventually rout them. It maybe the confec stall prediction but its your (Zaltzmans column!) SL wont loose, Peterson will be out cheaply and not 16 but perhaps 6 wickets! Zaltzman, 'Get thee to a nunnery' as Shakespeare suggested and Strauss you will be shouting 'A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse' at the end of the test series. And oh! Obama wasnt really looking for Sam. He actually wanted to see Boycott batting!

  • truemans_ghost on May 26, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    You have to give plaudits to any man who contrives to put Murali and Eddie Hemmings in the same sentence

  • xyz on May 26, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    first!!

  • raj Gurusinghe on May 26, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    "This is their first away series since Murali joined Eddie Hemmings in the ranks of retired Test offspinners" is that a reference to the fact that most offspinners are dropped before they can even contemplate retirement? if so brilliantly done.

    Although a quick google search revealed Eddie only played 16 test matches..however he did debut at the youthful age of 33...

  • Shiril on May 26, 2011, 6:10 GMT

    with the proposed changes - China will leapfrog in quick time in rankings and minnows like papua new guinea will upset Australia in next worldcup of parlianmentarians cricket !!!! As an after thought - even William should have thought of Sultan of Brunei's daughter in case UK goes Greece way :):)

  • dmoney on May 26, 2011, 5:45 GMT

    that photo just made me spit my tea all over my desk.

  • Sabri Wahid on May 26, 2011, 5:12 GMT

    Hahahaha!!! You made my day! Looking forward to another great test series!

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • Sabri Wahid on May 26, 2011, 5:12 GMT

    Hahahaha!!! You made my day! Looking forward to another great test series!

  • dmoney on May 26, 2011, 5:45 GMT

    that photo just made me spit my tea all over my desk.

  • Shiril on May 26, 2011, 6:10 GMT

    with the proposed changes - China will leapfrog in quick time in rankings and minnows like papua new guinea will upset Australia in next worldcup of parlianmentarians cricket !!!! As an after thought - even William should have thought of Sultan of Brunei's daughter in case UK goes Greece way :):)

  • raj Gurusinghe on May 26, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    "This is their first away series since Murali joined Eddie Hemmings in the ranks of retired Test offspinners" is that a reference to the fact that most offspinners are dropped before they can even contemplate retirement? if so brilliantly done.

    Although a quick google search revealed Eddie only played 16 test matches..however he did debut at the youthful age of 33...

  • xyz on May 26, 2011, 7:09 GMT

    first!!

  • truemans_ghost on May 26, 2011, 7:15 GMT

    You have to give plaudits to any man who contrives to put Murali and Eddie Hemmings in the same sentence

  • Lord Emsworth on May 26, 2011, 7:21 GMT

    Thought Zaltzman of all people would go against the English highbrow's weary habit of always talking down the Lankan opposition whenever they play them home or abroad. 95% of the time these cricket Machivellians have to eat their words when SL eventually rout them. It maybe the confec stall prediction but its your (Zaltzmans column!) SL wont loose, Peterson will be out cheaply and not 16 but perhaps 6 wickets! Zaltzman, 'Get thee to a nunnery' as Shakespeare suggested and Strauss you will be shouting 'A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse' at the end of the test series. And oh! Obama wasnt really looking for Sam. He actually wanted to see Boycott batting!

  • Fahad on May 26, 2011, 7:42 GMT

    Pakistan's fielding was brilliant on the WI tour. They took some very sharp catches, astonishingly ofcourse.

  • Tharindu on May 26, 2011, 7:45 GMT

    Hilarious! "Barack Obama and colleagues look on rapt as Thilan Samaraweera makes his way to a hundred" was extremly funny!

  • sasidhar on May 26, 2011, 7:56 GMT

    gr8 post Andy..as always... :) the last section ICC extras was too good... hhhaaaa.. I think PAK players might still come up with innovative ways to miss catches even if you allow them one bounce catches!!!.... On a serious note, I expect ENG to win the series without much effort if they have good plans for sanga and mahela...