June 10, 2011

Why South Africa is in debt to English village cricket

Andy Zaltzman

Mohammad Amir’s rather naughty appearance in a village match in Surrey has created an understandable stir in the world of cricket. Unsurprisingly, a man who spent much of last summer making Test batsmen look like village players returned tidy figures when bowling to actual village players. Perhaps not tidy enough to have made it worth his while risking his already career-shattering ban being increased still further - even a spell of 10 for 0 would not have tipped those scales - but tidy nonetheless. And the four St Luke’s batsmen dismissed can take solace in the fact that Alastair Cook was routinely scalped by Amir last summer, and it seems to have transformed him into an unstoppable animatronic run robot. By this time next summer, expect to see several of the current St Luke’s XI firmly ensconced in the England set-up.

I hope Amir’s ban is not increased, or that any increase is at least suspended. It would be a shame if any lingering chance of one of the 21st century cricket’s greatest talents finding on-the-field redemption is reduced still further by such an idiotic offence.

The selection of “the ringer” has a long and proud history in lower level cricket. And, some would say, in the England team. In fact, the struggles of several Test nations suggests that the ICC should consider allowing the lower-ranked teams to field one ringer of their choice in each match. This would make the international game much more competitive and unpredictable. And make Dale Steyn a very tired man.

Another man in the cricket news this week can also claim to have enjoyed “ringer” status earlier in his cricketing life, albeit without either attracting quite such media attention at the time, or flouting the terms of an ICC ban.

One of Gary Kirsten’s first acts as the undisputed Nebuchadnezzar of South African cricket was to appoint a coaching team of Allan Donald, whom ESPNcricinfo readers will remember as one of the most spell-binding cricketers of the modern era, and Warriors coach Russell Domingo, whom ESPNcricinfo readers will probably not remember in quite the same manner.

I, however, do remember Russell Domingo. As a ringer. For my village team. In a mid-week friendly, in the mid-1990s. Mid-week friendlies often present serious recruitment problems for village selection committees, and on this occasion the mighty Penshurst Park CC found themselves struggling to field the traditional 11 players for the annual match away at Hartfield (a largely ceremonial occasion that was, to all practical intents and purposes, a time-killing curtain-raiser for the much more serious business of a pub crawl back to Penshurst). One of our players had already recruited a friend for the day; with the team still short, that friend offered to bring along his friend, a “useful player” from South Africa, who was free for the afternoon, and who, it transpired, was Russell Domingo.

The game proceeded at the usual low-octane, semi-arthritic pace of a village friendly, as Penshurst tootled along towards the standard tea-time declaration (as I recall, star opener Andy Zaltzman only partially troubled the scorers that day). About 15 minutes before tea, a wicket fell, and Domingo – heart no doubt thumping like a divorced kangaroo, as the magnitude of his Penshurst Park debut sank in – marched out to bat.

Approximately 14 minutes later, he was slightly sheepishly raising his bat to the pavilion to acknowledge his half-century, clouted off about 16 balls, greeted with considerable grumblings and mutterings of “ringer” from the Hartfield team, and with even more considerable grumblings from the people on the adjacent tennis court, unfortunately located just over the midwicket boundary, whose gentle Thursday afternoon mixed doubles had been interrupted by a bombardment of cricket balls plummeting from the Sussex skies via the heavy artillery of Domingo’s bat.

That innings represented the high-water mark of Domingo’s Penshurst Park career – the only water mark, in fact, as he returned to play at a level more suited to his abilities. This was, of course, neither the first nor the last incidence of an English team benefitting from selecting a South African who was far better than the local talent available. But Domingo’s career path since then suggests that the confidence gained by playing as a ringer for Penshurst Park set him on the path towards reaching the highest level as a cricket coach. If England have benefitted in recent years from the production line of South African cricket– from D’Oliveira and Greig, via Lamb and Smith, to Pietersen and Trott – now South African cricket should be eternally grateful to English village cricket for its role in developing an international coach for them. Let’s call it quits.

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

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Posted by Rileen on (July 1, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

"heart no doubt thumping like a divorced kangaroo" - WTF?

You're brilliantly ridiculous, Andy :-)

Posted by ET on (June 16, 2011, 11:11 GMT)

About 12 years ago a few teaching colleagues and I entered a team into the indoor cricket league in Johannesburg. We were in the basement league, and were often a player or two short. My housemate and the time was Martin Saggers, future Eng test bowler, who was playing Jhb league cricket on his winter break. He kept wicket to my donkey drops and I returned the figures of 11 for -22 (each dismissal docked 3 runs off a team's total) in my two overs. Martin's bowling was less spectacular but I'm sure the poor blokes who faced him took up bungee-jumping or shark-diving as gentler midweek evening pursuits.

Posted by Canuck on (June 15, 2011, 15:19 GMT)

Nice!

Posted by RamK on (June 14, 2011, 17:40 GMT)

Witty, amusing and therapeutic after a long, tiring day of fielding at fine leg while Jimmy Adams kept padding away Paul Harris who had practiced all week with a coin two yards leg of leg stump -- of dumping data in spreadsheets, to be more accurate. Keep 'em flowing, Andy. Waiting for Ind-Eng confectionery.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (June 13, 2011, 23:46 GMT)

my club team in the early 90's-66'ers, half state jr. old boys and half friends and passengers, had a genuine ringer once, our captain left for Australia and he was by far our best bat, so we thought of packing it in, losing in 90F and 80% humidity wasn't fun. This guy from India showed up at our nets, (we had a few join us that way) and asked could he have a bat? Turns out we found our Sehwag (this was before the real Sehwag). The guy opened, would blast 20 from two overs, watch the field go back, slips disappear, and just milk it. We never lost with him; unfortunately he left us after half a season, then we never won again.

Posted by Raghav on (June 12, 2011, 20:32 GMT)

Andy Z :Page 2 :: Zak : Indian bowling attack..he doesnt write just for the sake of writing something funny (or doesnt seem to at any rate)..with the other writers its more of forced humor..

Posted by Raks on (June 11, 2011, 19:58 GMT)

@AndyZaltzmannsHair - Amir does not need another idiot to advise him. He himself is enough :)

Posted by hassan on (June 11, 2011, 7:48 GMT)

i'm glad to see englishmen supporting Amir. he is one of cricket's greatest losses, it's shameful that such a young and bright talent was not adequately protected by ICC anti-corruption unit, and the story had to be unveiled by a near-tabloid newspaper. Thanks for your support Andy.

Posted by Prashant on (June 10, 2011, 20:53 GMT)

Bwahahaha. Interesting. It's even stevens really. :) SA and Eng should call it quits. That said, I honestly believe that SA are cursed. I think the closest any South African will ever get to a WC victory is when Kirsten led India to WC glory as the coach. :/

Posted by Piers on (June 10, 2011, 18:56 GMT)

Ya, cool story bro!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
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. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. 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 Cricinfo.

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