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Thursday, 29th December Last week, Sri Lanka looked like a contingent of nervous schoolboys who’d just discovered they’d been booked to fight the lions in the Coliseum. But as any Roman Coliseum-goer would tell you, lions are notoriously inconsistent performers; savage powerful beasts one day; harmless sleepy pussycats the next.
And today, the Sri Lankans had the home side lying on their backs with their legs in the air, having their tummies tickled. The defining moment came when Big Jacques, who never gets a double pair, got a double pair; diverting the ball onto his helmet from where it rebounded with the dismal clunk of failure into the palms of short leg.
As the probability of defeat became a certainty, I watched a succession of South Africans miss a succession of straightish ones in a parade of increasing ineptitude until Marchant de Lange’s bails exploded and the Sri Lankans began whooping and screaming like I would do if I’d won the lottery after having been widely ridiculed for my inability to pick a single correct number in the last six months.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the hemisphere, Australia and India were doing their bit to undermine confidence in the batting industry with some shots that were so ugly that if they’d occurred in Victorian times, they would have been featured in a Travelling Show of Hideous Freaks. Apparently responsible batsmen appeared incapable of coping with the hint of a rumour of a suggestion of lateral movement.
Why should this be? It is generally accepted that pitches don’t talk, but if they did, the strip at the MCG would probably say something like this: “Don’t blame me, mate, I didn’t do anything. I’m not even wearing any grass today. And stop spitting on me. You don’t see me expelling unpleasant fluids on Ricky Ponting’s boots, so why’s he got to dribble all over me? Bloody hooligans! Players of today got no respect.”
First, Australia, having pocketed a lead, attempted to commit cricket suicide by inside-edging themselves to death and at 27 for 4 were tottering like a tray of full champagne glasses being carried by a blindfolded waiter on rollerblades down a freshly polished marble staircase. Then Ponting and Hussey slapped the innings vigorously about the face, told it to pull itself together and batted properly for a bit.
They were helped by the fact that India continue to take the lazy angler approach to the business end of Test matches. They may have the opposition on the hook, but they really can’t be bothered to reel them in. Set just about enough to win, Dravid, who never gets bowled twice in a match, was bowled for the second time in the match and India collapsed softly like a sponge cake left out in the rain.
Still, I’m not complaining. This global batting crisis makes for thrilling cricket. Hopefully we’re in for a Great Batting Depression, in which centuries are rarer than cliché-free cricket commentary and wickets always fall at the rate of five a session.
Friday, 30th December Without David Warner, the Thunderers of Sydney have only Gayle to bring the big hits at the top of the innings. But this is not a problem. Bangalore managed to almost win the Champions League with a team sheet consisting of Gayle and 10 somebody-or-others so there’s no reason to fear for the fate of the fluorescent green team.
And even though I’ve seen it several hundred times before, the Gayle repertoire still causes me to stop and stare. Today he hit a six off Shaun Tait, with no follow-on worth mentioning, that looked like a bored golfer hitting a nine iron onto the green or a retired colonel half-heartedly dead-heading his rose bush with a walking stick.
As is traditional on these occasions, the bowler was pictured trudging back from whence he came looking more rueful than a rue seller returning from a bad day at the market. Other bowlers tried different tactics. Shane Harwood tried swearing in the general direction of the ball, but that didn’t work either. This is the way with Twenty20 Gayle. Either he gets himself out, or you lose the game.
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Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. Providing his ransom demands continue to be met, he has promised never to write a whimsical book about village cricket. @hughandrews73