India in England 2011 July 21, 2011

Is Agarkar a better batsman than Tendulkar?

That and other fiendishly difficult questions in this special England-India preview quiz

Greetings, Confectionery Stallers. As a preview before the salivatingly anticipated first England v India Test at Lord’s, here is a multiple-choice quiz for you. No conferring. No looking up the answers on the internet. No hacking into my telephone, computer or brain to see if you can gain an unfair advantage on other readers.

Question 1: Who is going to win the England v India series? (a) England. When the ICC Reliance player rankings for both teams are totted up, England have an advantage in batting (mostly arising from Sehwag’s absence), and bowling (mostly through Anderson’s superiority over Sreesanth/Praveen). They have not lost a series for two and a half years, and have in Cook a batsman in form so prime you could griddle it and serve it as a steak in a Michelin-starred restaurant. They are confident, settled, in form with bat and ball, and ambitious.

(b) India. Lord’s looks set to be rudely rained on, and – brace yourselves, stats fans ‒ India have not lost anything other than the first Test in a series in England since being unceremoniously splattered like a catapulted tomato on a granite snooker table in 1974. India have not been overwhelmingly impressive in Tests in the last year, but they are tough. They won two tight Tests against Australia, recovered from a first-Test flambéing by South Africa to draw an away series, and won in West Indies without several first-choice players. They won a World Cup under unprecedented pressure of expectation. They won here in 2007. They have lost only one of their last 10 Tests against England, and only three of their last 30 against anyone.

(c) No one. It’s going to be a draw. They are both very good but not flawless teams, and both are hard to beat. Besides, it is going to rain solidly for the next six weeks. It will be snowing by the time of the Oval Test. It’s the end of the world, I tell you. Alastair Cook turning into the world’s most unstoppable batsmen is one of the cast-iron signs of the apocalypse. It’s in the Book of Revelations. If you read it backwards after a couple of bottles of whisky.

(d) Cricket. Six of the world’s current top-11-ranked bowlers against six of the top 13 batsmen (once Sehwag is fixed). Legendary batsmen against the world’s best bowling attack. India’s best-ever team against perhaps England’s strongest in decades. It could be magnificent. As long as the captains don’t just meet on Thursday morning and decide to call it a draw at the toss.

(e) Technology. The continuing search for the perfect version of the DRS is being conducted with the scientific ruthlessness of a blind lion at a supermarket checkout trying to find the barcode on a zebra. The latest scheme is to remove one of the bits that seemed to working the best, and replace it with other bits that no one seems quite about. It’s crazy, but it might just work. Although more likely it won’t work, and the lion will soon enough poke his scanner at another part of the increasingly irritable zebra.

Question 2: Who should England pick: Broad, or Bresnan? (a) Broad. He turned the 2009 Ashes single-handedly in England’s favour, and his selfless injury in the 2010-11 series opened the door for the fire-breathing renaissance of Tremlett. He has a dreamy cover-drive.

(b) Bresnan. He took 11 wickets at 19 in the Ashes. Broad has taken 10 wickets at 55 in five Tests since the start of the Ashes. Bresnan has taken at least four wickets in each of four of his last five Tests. Broad has done so in two of his last 13. Admittedly Bresnan does not have a dreamy cover drive.

(c) Both. It is a tough selectorial call, but it can be avoided by making the two allrounders play jointly, dressed in a pantomime horse outfit. This solution, whilst contrary to the usual Flower-Strauss era game plan of not picking two players in a pantomime horse outfit, remains more likely to be adopted than dropping a batsman and playing five bowlers. (They could alternatively play in a pantomime Ian Botham outfit. Whichever is more readily available in the MCC costume shop.)

Question 3: How much will India miss Virender Sehwag until he returns from injury? (a) A huge amount. India will miss Sehwag like a picnic would miss gravity. He scores more runs, faster, than any other opening batsman in history – averaging 55 off 66 balls when he has gone in first for India. He is a certifiable immortal of the game with previously inconceivable statistics.

(b) A small amount. He struggled against the moving ball in South Africa, and has not scored a Test run in England for nine years. Largely through lack of opportunity, admittedly.

(c) Not at all. He makes absolutely no difference to the side. In Sehwag’s 86 Tests, India have won 35 (40%), and lost 19 (22%). In the 21 Tests he has not played in that time ‒ when he has been omitted either through injury or because the selectors ate a poisoned mushroom and convinced themselves that he was not nearly as good at hitting cricket balls with cricket bats as Dinesh Karthik or Wasim Jaffer (neither of whom, it must be said, currently averages 55 off 66 balls each time he has opened in Tests) ‒ India have won eight (38%), and lost four (19%). So India win, draw and lose an almost identical proportion of games whether the Delhi Dazzler is playing or not. The same applies to Tendulkar – India have won 34% and lost 26% of the Mumbai Mathematical Mammoth’s 177 Tests. In the 17 games he has missed since his debut (albeit without the selectors ever tucking into the mushrooms and deciding he was not as good as Dinesh Karthik or Wasim Jaffer), they have won 35% and lost 24%. All of which suggests that the result of a Test match is completely unaffected by the players playing in it, and the Indian selectors might as well pick Bollywood starlets, random names out of the phone book, or Dinesh Karthik and Wasim Jaffer. You cannot argue with statistics.

Question 4: How significant is the 2000th Test milestone? (a) It is the greatest moment in the history of cricket, and therefore, by logical extension, the greatest moment in the history of civilisation. When Dave Gregory and Jim Lillywhite marched out to toss the coin at the MCG in 1877, it is fair to assume neither said to the other: “This is going to be the first of at least 2000 Test matches.” Shakespeare only wrote 38 plays, but people still witter on about him all the time, almost 400 years after he popped his drama-obsessed clogs. Test cricket therefore has proved itself at least 52 times better than Shakespeare, and the moment deserves to be celebrated accordingly.

(b) It is nice.

(c) It is irrelevant. The currency of the Test match has been devalued like a Zimbabwean dollar, with too many featureless series, inadequate teams, and the idiotic Australia versus Half-Hearted World XI being inanely and pointlessly upgraded from “a bit of a jolly” status to Test match status. If you keep scheduling lots of Test matches, mathematics suggests that you will pass mathematical milestones for how many Test matches have been played. The greater concern is: will there be a 3000th? And if so, will anyone know what you are talking about when you say: “Hey, folks, it’s the 3000th Test match today”? Or will you have to explain: “It’s like two really, really long games of Twenty20 joined together. Still no? Bit like football but with sticks and no goals?”

Question 5: Does the fact that Sachin Tendulkar has thus far scored fewer Lord’s Test centuries than Ajit Agarkar mean that the latter is a greater batsman than the former could ever dream of being? (a) Yes. You cannot argue with statistics.

(b) No. You can and should argue with statistics. And you should keep arguing with them until they back down and start talking some sense.

(c) Too early to say. We should not rush to judgement on such matters. Let us wait until both players have retired and then judge their batsmanship careers objectively.

You have eight seconds to complete your answers. If you get all five correct, you win your choice of Yuvraj Singh or Kevin Pietersen to keep (subject to availability). Enjoy the game. And if you are a rain cloud reading this and thinking of heading to Lord’s to see what all the fuss is about, please stay away and follow the match on TV.

EXTRAS The news in Britain has been dominated by a murky swamp of subterfuge, falsehoods and half-truths of late, so the occasional incontrovertible fact is a source of both solace and excitement. Sachin Tendulkar has had a long career. That is a fact. He is only the fifth man to play Tests in four separate decades. And only the second to have done so without having played before the First World War. And the first to have done so without being English.

Tendulkar played his first Lord’s Test 21 years ago, against an England team containing moustachioed offspinster Eddie Hemmings, who had made his first-class debut in 1966, when Wilfred Rhodes was still alive and well and with a few more years in the tank. Rhodes made his Test debut in WG Grace’s final international match in 1899, and went on to become the only man in the history of civilisation to play Test cricket in five different decades. Could that be Tendulkar’s next challenge once he has notched up his 100th international hundred? To equal, and then surpass, Rhodes’ Most Different Decades Played In Test record? He looks in good enough shape. He probably does not have much else in the diary for the next two decades that cannot be put off until the 2030s. He might as well give it a go.

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