September 7, 2011

A positive spin on Donkeygate

Isn’t a field where an ass belongs, after all?

Donkeys have been a natural and integral part of cricket since the Chappell-Ganguly era at least © AFP

Saturday, 3rd September You’ve got to feel for MS Dhoni. We’ve all had holidays like this. Trapped in a caravan, a tent or a four-star hotel, surrounded by the same old faces, going slowly insane with nothing to do but watch Alastair Cook bat for weeks at a time, listening to everyone complaining about their aches and pains, and counting the days till it’s time to go home. And then, just when it seems things might be looking up, it starts to rain.

I can remember following England tours that scored just as high on the angstometer, in which the only sounds you heard were the clatter of wickets, the roar of the home crowd, and the stamping of passports as another batch of trembling replacements arrived at immigration control. As it happens, Nasser Hussain and his fragile fingers featured in many of those tours, so you’d think he would understand the tourists’ pain. Instead, his loose talk of donkeys has caused the summer’s third “Gate”.

But it isn’t always a good idea to take cricket folk literally. When KP called Graeme Smith a muppet, he didn’t mean that he believed the South African captain was made of cloth and operated by strings. When a commentator tells us that Sehwag has launched himself at a short one, he is not implying that rocket fuel was involved. Then there are the phrases like “impetuous hooker” and “flashing outside off stump” that could lead to all kinds of litigious misunderstanding if they were taken literally.

So in the interests of international harmony, here’s another, more positive interpretation of Nasser’s agricultural metaphor. A field is, after all, where a donkey belongs. Therefore the phrase, “he’s a donkey in the field” simply means “to be in his element” or “to feel at home” and is an adaptation of the well-known saying, often heard in the villages of rural Essex: “He’s as happy as a donkey in a field.”

Monday, 5th September The pitch at Galle was dryer than a dry gin in the Gobi desert and dustier than the trophy cabinet at Sahara Smiles, the world’s least successful synchronised swimming team. The ball was doing sneaky things from day one and batting was as tricky as trying to tiptoe through a snake pit in the dark. Which is precisely how it should be.

A Test run should be a hard-won thing, a precious jewel wrestled from the teeth of an angry clam at the bottom of a piranha infested lagoon*. Instead, we are currently in a period of rampant inflation, in which the value of the Test run has plummeted. A double-century in 2011 would be worth 150 back in 2001, whilst an Alastair Cook accumulatorathon translates as a pretty little thirty-something cameo at 1930 prices.

So do we celebrate this triumph? Do the powers that be initiate The Most Noble Order of the Gracious Groundsmen and give the Galle curator a yacht, a lifetime’s supply of broom handles and a complimentary Test century? Nope.

Chris Broad (a batsman, let it be noted) refers the venue to the ICC’s Department Of No Fun. Next spring, the Galle pitch will be flatter than the M25, England will declare on 750, Jayawardene will score a triple-century, and the crowd will need to be woken up at the end of the fifth day to remind him to go home. Sometimes I think the ICC don’t really want people to watch Test cricket.

*Marine biologists may query one or two of the details in this metaphor. However, I would refer them to the renowned documentary series, Spongebob Squarepants which is, as we are all aware, the authority on matters aquatic.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England