February 28, 2012

England

Thirteen problems

Andy Zaltzman
Jade Dernbach races off in celebration after securing victory, Pakistan v England, 3rd Twenty20, Abu Dhabi, February 27, 2012
If the tattoo sleeve doesn't scare batsmen, some gentle ribbing will  © Getty Images
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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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Posted by pj-blr on (March 1, 2012, 13:26 GMT)

It was interesting to see that the tracking system used in the recent ozzie tennis tournament was also criticized by stalwarts of the game for falling short of expectations. The umpires in oz and eng and windies play their own kind of game and victimize players of such eminence as Sachin Tendulkar... without a DRS. We have also seen how electronic methods have also been used to negate the correct decision - the windies replayed an older delivery to rule the opposition captain out, the oz TV room pleaded power cut! Those who go gun happy at India should pay attention to such details. With so many minuses i think it is time for a conclusive take on the DRS. All said and done indian cricket mania is going beyond unhealthy proportions with games becoming more like scripted plays.

Posted by Alex on (February 29, 2012, 13:16 GMT)

I presume with Afridi he beleives too much into the 'Boom Boom' thing to be bothered to apply himself.

he can clearly bat well and good be the words best-rounder in ODIs if he just applies a little bit of sense to his batting.

Posted by Jamal on (February 29, 2012, 5:41 GMT)

Couldn't agree more

Posted by king curt on (February 29, 2012, 3:58 GMT)

shhh andy....don't annoy the I...N...D...I...A...N...S m8, you'll be out of a job in no time

just look at darrel...and john howard...and how the champions trophy is rigged...and how a certian side known for batting wants to keep cricket rigged by NOT reducing the onfield umpire's level of doubt.

oh yes, they are out there my friend...watching you right now!

i can only hope this message will get to you

Posted by JS on (February 29, 2012, 1:15 GMT)

Well written, funny stuff.

Posted by Peter Webb on (February 28, 2012, 23:06 GMT)

Lovely stuff! When I used to play for my uni cricket team I was also more of a test specialist forced to play the one day game- like Azhar Ali. But it helped my game and maybe it will also help Azhar's.

Soon I was powerhousing sixes out the ground!

Posted by arron on (February 28, 2012, 18:11 GMT)

you a cheeky arrogant bell mate.

Posted by Syed Ali Zia on (February 28, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

I have a record of boom boom afridi's performance since 16th may, 1999 in my head; it can be clearly concluded that he always contributed on the field, be it with the willow, ball or the acrobatic fielding heroics. He took a famous catch on the 13th of june 2001 at lord's to dismiss trescothick; his centuries in tests were awe-inspiring especially 122 off 95. Well, I can delineate his greatness, but it hinges on you as in I can bicker with you.

Posted by Sunny on (February 28, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

"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? "

Would the Kolpak treaty apply to Afghanistanis?

Posted by CapnSim on (February 28, 2012, 14:08 GMT)

1 d) Or rather the lack of rogue planetary alignments affecting his backswing, calling between the wickets, ability to pick a slow left armers stock ball. 2 Nobody Knows 3 Nobody Knows 4 Of course they don't. Indian cricket cares about two things. Sachin Tendaulker, and the 50 over World Cup. 5 Yes he should. 6 No, it actually forms the picture of a much better England bowler, say a Darren Gough, an Andy Caddick or a Craig White biting the head off a rabbit. 7 At least Bell and Morgan need to go. 8 Apparently not... 9 Before he re-quit tests and discovered he could play sensibly, but after his batting became genuinely poor because all he did was slog. 10 No, he actually sings 'a happy working song' from the film enchanted. Apparently it brings out the inner swipe over cow corner. 11 Very, very good. 12 Better than Morgan. Which is all Ravi cares about. 13 I hear a Daryl Harper deluxe stattuette is being released in May.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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