December 21, 2011

Sixes? Spare us

Yet another Twenty20 league is upon us, and nudges and glances are at a premium

Saturday, 17th December I enjoy a good batting collapse. It’s like the final act of a Jacobean play, when the bodies start piling up and the plot gallops on. But like the eye-gouging scene in King Lear, it can be brutal, and I bet there are a few Sri Lankan fans who watched the denouement in Centurion through the gaps between their fingers.

Paranavitana’s plight was particularly sad. Having witnessed the demise of his captain, he spent most of his 32 minutes at the crease attempting to play at an imaginary ball that was always two inches away from the real ball. In the end he was out to an edge that was almost impossible for human senses to detect.

This was a recurring theme in the second innings; some of the dismissals were the nickiest nicks I’ve ever seen. Only just making contact like that takes real skill. Perhaps now that the ICC is going to pay the Sri Lankan players 46% of their wages, they might manage to get 46% of the bat on the ball.

Sunday, 18th December Although cricket coverage is pretty comprehensive these days, sometimes even the most dedicated fan is forced to rely on highlights. Better than nothing, of course, but they still leave you unsatisfied. It’s like being shown photographs of the best bits of a Rembrandt, or in the case of the BBL, half a Jackson Pollock.

This weekend I’ve seen seven minutes of Aussie action and I’m left with memories of fleeting and unconnected images of games I haven’t actually watched, some of them vaguely hallucinatory. Did I really see the ball for the Scorchers game being delivered by helicopter and carried out by a man in uniform? Has the credit crunch hit the Australian sports industry so hard that a ball needs an armed escort?

I’m sure I saw Afridi play one shot, but it was the one that goes straight up in the air, not the one that sails over long-on. And though Australian scientists have worked miracles to get Shaun Tait, or at least a cyborg constructed from parts of Shaun Tait, onto the field, his limb-flailing run-up is more ungainly than ever. If he were a racehorse, you’d say he definitely didn’t act on the going.

Naturally there were a lot of sixes, but frankly, after you’ve seen David Warner launch the ball over long-off once, you’ve seen it a thousand times. The Little Farmer brings the fireworks, for sure, but you can only crane your neck, peer into the sky and say, “Wow, look that!” so many times before you start looking at your watch.

And this is the sole drawback to Twenty20. A six should be as surprising as a slap in the face with a wet fish; it should be as shocking as a swear word in the middle of a church sermon. But now every player worth his salt is clearing his leg out of the way and sending everything aerial into that straight-of-midwicket corridor of predictability.

Watch too much Twenty20 and you begin to yearn for a half-timed cover drive or a carefully placed leg glance for a well-run two; anything but another full length ball launched back over the sight screen.

The penultimate delivery on the final highlights package I saw was Glenn Maxwell’s dismissal. After clubbing six boundaries, he had a half-hearted waft at Johan Botha and holed out lazily at mid-on. It was the weary swing of a man who had slogged and slogged but could slog no more.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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