England February 28, 2012

Thirteen problems

Andy Zaltzman has questions he needs answers for

I promised in the last Confectionery Stall to share some of the cricket-related questions that have been occupying me of late. Arguably, there have been too many cricket-related questions occupying me of late (and by “of late”, I mean “since the age of six”), but if they perform the useful function of helping me not think about, for example, the state of the global economy, the international response to the Syrian crisis, how my parenting skills are likely to fare when my children are teenagers, or the future of Test matches, then so be it.

Here they are. Write your answers on a piece of parchment, and bury them in your garden to confuse future archaeologists.

● Kevin Pietersen’s ODI hundreds are like London buses – you wait three years and three months for one, and then two turn up in the space of four days. (I admit that I did the empirical research for this joke years ago, waiting at a bus stop in La Paz, Bolivia.) (And that the two that eventually turned up were in fact not London buses, but my parents asking me to come back home.) (But the point stands.) Why the delay? (a) essential maintenance work; (b) Pietersen had been batting in the wrong position, at 3 or 4, for too long – most of his best ODI innings have now been played either early in his career at 5 or 6, coming to the wicket when his run-scoring task was quite clear, or, more recently, opening, when he can shape England’s innings from the start; (c) Fate; (d) rogue planetary alignments; (e) Pietersen wanted to disprove the fears expressed when he was appointed England skipper that the captaincy would affect his batting, by not scoring an ODI hundred for three years and two months after having the captaincy taken from him; (f) a combination of luck, form, injury, technical glitches and the opposition insisting on getting him out; or (g) I don’t know.

● Why does a team lose a DRS referral when the replay returns an “Umpire’s Call” verdict, proving that the referring team was either essentially right, or only infinitesimally wrong, to refer it, but either not quite right enough to overturn the decision, or wrong by a sufficiently small margin as to raise the very real possibility that the ball shown to be shaving the stump by a millimetre might not have actually knocked the bail off? Does this not penalise them twice?

● And, whilst we are on the subject of the DRS, why do teams only receive one referral in an ODI innings, despite the fact that they are allowed to lose the same number of wickets as in a Test innings? Does this suggest that the entire system, far from aiming to eliminate umpiring “howlers”, is in fact designed simply to make them even more annoying?

● Was Dr Faustus employed by the BCCI as part of their secret How To Win The World Cup panel? If so, does India now regret having implemented the naughty Doctor’s plan to trade World Cup glory for Test meltdown?

● If Jade Dernbach bowls more than 50% of his deliveries as slower balls, will he be officially be reclassified as a spinner? Albeit a spinner with a useful much-quicker ball?

● Is the success of Dernbach’s seemingly unfathomable and recently match-winning slower ball due to the fact that, when his heavily-inked arm rotates at the required velocity to deliver it, an optical illusion is created whereby the tattoos blend to create an animation of WG Grace biting the head off a squirrel, thus distracting the batsman?

● Given that Saeed Ajmal took 39 wickets at an average of 15.9 in the Tests, ODIs and T20s against England, and that amidst that run of scheming tweak wizardry, he took 0 for 32 in an ODI against Afghanistan, should England be sending their players to spend a year in Afghanistan to work on their techniques against mystery spin?

● Does Eoin Morgan realise that a batsman having a pronounced duck amongst his trigger movements could be risking bad karma?

● When, why and how did Shahid Afridi persuade himself that he couldn’t bat properly anymore, despite considerable evidence to the contrary? He was praised for his “maturity” in scoring a fine half-century in the third ODI – when he was an immature, hot-headed 18-year-old, he scored an ultimately match-winning five-hour 141 when opening the batting in a low-scoring Test match in Chennai. If only Pakistan had selected him at the age of six, he could have been one of the most immovable grinders of the modern age.

● What does Azhar Ali ‒ of whom this column is an unashamed admirer as a Test player but who had only played four List A one-day matches anywhere in the world in the 22 months before his recall to the green pyjamas ‒ think when he goes out to bat in a one-day international? Is it the same as what prominent miserablist songsmith Leonard Cohen would think if forced to take part in a World Heavyweight title fight, i.e.: “I am good at what I do, but I am seriously out of my comfort zone”?

● How good will Steven Finn prove to be? In the recent ODI series, he has looked as if he could become one of England’s best since Freddie Trueman. If he can get into the Test side. And not get injured. And keep bowling at an out-of-form Mohammad Hafeez. His 13 wickets for 134 runs (at an average of 10.3, the best by an England bowler with 10 or more wickets in an ODI series or tournament), mean that he has taken 20 wickets at 16, with an economy rate of 3.8, in his last seven ODIs. In his first eight ODIs, he took eight wickets at 50 and went for 5.5 per over. In his 12 Tests to date, he has 50 wickets at 26.9. If he can directly replicate his proportional ODI improvement in the Test arena, then, in his next 10½ Tests, he will take 125 wickets at 8.6. That will not happen, but, if it does, which it won’t, it will be worth watching. As will fast bowling in general in the next few years, if the last six months have not been an elaborate hoax.

● Ravi Bopara scored two half-centuries in two innings in the ODI series, but could, and probably should, have been out for 1 three times in those two innings, reprieved by a missed stumping, a botched lbw decision and a blooped run-out. So, for any philosophers out there, was Bopara batting well or badly?

● Why is it so hard to find decent statues of umpire Daryl Harper these days? My garden feels empty without one.

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

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