World Cricket Podcast March 29, 2012

The moon-landing milestone

A look at Tendulkar's stellar stats, where Vernon Philander was lurking all these years, and your questions on music, blogging, rules of cricket, and more answered

Andy Zaltzman looks up Tendulkar's stellar stats, wonders where Vernon Philander was lurking all these years, serves up tasty Mahela stats on a croissant, and answers your questions on music, blogging, rules of cricket, and more.

Download the podcast here (mp3, 14.9MB, right-click to save).

For those of you unable to stream or download the audio of the World Cricket Podcast, here is a link to a transcript of this month's show. However, it is supposed to be listened to, not read. So I would prefer that you listened to it. Or read it with my voice in your head. Thanks. AZ.

Hello cricket fans, and welcome to a slightly delayed World Cricket Podcast for March 2012. But it's still March 2012, and frankly the last few podcasts don't seem to have solved the Syrian situation or the global economic crisis, so it didn't seem worth rushing it out.

I am Andy Zaltzman, but if I'd been born 100 years before I actually was, I would have been Gilbert Jessop, the legendary big hitter England allrounder and fielding genius. As it is, the hundred-year delay in the womb seems to have had an adverse effect on my cricketing ability.

And what a month it has been for cricket. Sachin Tendulkar finally, finally, after what seemed an interminable wait, hit his 2000th four in one-day internationals. The Bombay Beethoven of Batting also passed another milestone. Er, I forget what it was… something to do with hitting a ball repeatedly with a bat over a prolonged period of time I think. That's it, he became the first man ever to score 99 more international hundreds than Ajit Agarkar.

Some have become a little annoyed at the ongoing hype-athon that dragged on for more than a year as Tendulkar searched for the elusive 100th 100. But the most impressive part was not the 100th 100 itself. Like the most impressive part of the moon landings was not Neil Armstrong hopping out of his rocket, plonking a flag on the moon. It was the years of groundbreaking work and preparatory missions that went into being able to fire three men in a tin can 240,000 miles without missing the moon. That was the impressive bit. So it was with Tendulkar's 100th hundred in a losing cause against Bangladesh in a group match in the Asia Cup. The more impressive bit was the 99 hundreds, plus 57 other scores of 80 or more, the 33,000 runs, the 22 years of high-class batsmanship and mountainous run-scoring in both Tests and one-dayers.

Yes, statistical milestones are not that important, but cricket is obsessed with milestones. Just look at the difference between the look on a batsman's face after completing his 100th run, compared to the look on his face after being run out attempting to complete his 100th run.

And remember this. If human beings had evolved with four digits on each hand instead of five, and therefore counted in base 8 instead of base 10, meaning that a century was in fact only 64, then Tendulkar would now have 201 international hundreds. Is that how maths works?

I first saw Tendulkar bat when he had a grand total of zero international hundreds to his name, in a tour match for the 1990s Indians against Kent. He scored 70. He was 17, a year and a half older than me, and I remember thinking at the time, "If I want to score as many international centuries as this guy, I am going to have work on my game. Big time."


As I record, the third day of the Sri Lanka v England Test in Galle is about to start, and England's batsmen have continued to do their level best (a) to really annoy England's bowlers, (b) to raise the possibility that their coaches, Andy Flower and Graham Gooch, two of the play of spin in the modern game, have accidentally said "Do the exact opposite of we used to do", rather than "Do exactly what we used to do", and (c) to give credence to the suspicion that November 2010 to August 2011 was a hoax. Or alternatively, it could be that they can only bat when North Africa is in the throes of a series of revolutions, which is possible. Pietersen has a lot of tattoos and none of them are of Colonel Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak. Or at least, none of the ones on public display.

England of course are coming off their recent three-Test series against Pakistan… I forget what happened in it… I know England bowled really well, the rest… bit of a blur to be honest… let's assume it was a draw… call it a draw… all I know is… still the No. 1 ranked cricket team in the universe…

Mahela Jayawardene's first-innings 180 was, in anyone's book, a very good innings, even if that book was Jilly Cooper's 1990s trash fest The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous. Anyone's book. Look out stats fans: it was also the highest score in a completed Test innings in which no one else has scored over 30. You could spread that stat on a croissant and it would still be true.

2011 was statistically the worst year of Mahela's stellar Test career, averaging just 24, and since the World Cup, he had failed to pass 50 in three of Sri Lanka's four Test series. But on Monday he batted like a reborn Rodin sculpting an especially thoughtful nude man. It was utterly majestic. And bearing in mind I am recording this before day three with the game still in the balance, it was either one of the finest match-winning innings played in recent years, or one of the finest match-losing innings played in recent years.

Who knows what will happen after Swann tweaked England back into contention late yesterday? But the historical omens are good for England. Hundred years ago, England toured Australia and won 4-1. So if history is anything to go by, England will win 4-1. In the two-Test series. Weather permitting.


Time now for your questions, submitted to my @ZaltzCricket twitter feed.

"aubm" asks: Is Vernon Philander, statistically at least, the greatest bowler of all time?

No. He is not. That honour still goes to late 19th century Surrey and England bowling whizz George Lohmann, who bagged 112 wickets in 18 Tests at the unquestionably tidy average of 10.75. Including 35 in three Tests in South Africa at the schoolboy average of 5.8.

Philander currently boasts the 19th-century throwback Test bowling average of 14.1, which is the third best by any bowler with 20 or more Test wickets after Lohmann and his fellow 19th-century-bowlers'-pitches beneficiary JJ Ferris, both of whom have wisely protected their averages by taking the sensible precaution of dying more than 110 years ago and staying dead in the intervening period.

Philander has two ten-wicket matches in seven Tests (as many as were managed in their entire career by the following pace bowling legends put together: Shaun Pollock, Bob Willis, Brett Lee, Joel Garner, Ray Lindwall, Zaheer Khan, Jeff Thomson, Jonathan Trott, Einstein, Beethoven, Mother Teresa and Jesus. Until Big Vern's career hit the skids with his first wicketless innings in the second innings in the just completed Wellington Test, he had taken three or more wickets in 11 of his 13 Test innings (and one of the other two was truncated by rain). He was South Africa's leading wicket-taker in his first six Tests, and joint top with Morkel in his seventh, despite sharing the ball with an in-form Dale Steyn, the universe's No. 1 ranked bowler. Only when Pat Cummins trumped him by one wicket in Johannesburg has an opposition bowler returned better figures than him. He has taken a wicket every four overs and three balls, in one of the most remarkable starts to a career in the 135 years of the Test game.

And here is the slightly odd thing about it. Philander, who by rights should be a character in a Charles Dickens novel, not a lethal Test match bowler, is nearly 27. His firs- class bowling average is well under 20. It is starting to seem that South Africa might have erred on the side of caution by not giving him a Test debut until he was 26. What the hell has he been doing for the last five years? Putting shelves up? Finding himself on an elongated inter-railing trip around Eastern Europe? Was he put under house arrest by the Burmese government for his crimes in favour of democracy? Was he working on a musical marionette adaption of Tolstoy's War And Peace?

Maybe he's been so successful because he has come into Test cricket already experienced, like Graeme Swann did for England. But, if nothing else, Vernon Philander's miraculous Test career so far (and, if he wants to guarantee himself statistical immortality he should drop a vintage typewriter on his foot and retire instantly with a career-ending toe injury), has confirmed cricket's long-held suspicion that pitching the ball up and swinging it is a good idea.

"nintendojones" asks: "Will Alastair Cook finish his career with more test runs than Sachin Tendulkar? At 27, he's already past 6000."

Good question. For starters, I think Sachin will still have the edge in artistic impression marks. By quite a long way. A very long way. About as long a way as you can get without comparing David Gower with Gary Kirsten. Or Brian Lara with Freddie Krueger.

But, as for the numbers. Sachin has scored 15470 runs in 188 Tests (8.5 Tests per year), Cook scored 6026 runs in his first 75 Tests before the current one. If he keeps scoring at 80 runs per match, and keeps playing 12.5 Tests per year (four more than Sachin has averaged over his 22 years in the Test game), and assuming Sachin either plays no more Test cricket or only ever scores ducks from now until he finally retired in 2017 ‒ both of which are pretty big assumptions ‒ it will take Cook nine and half years to catch Sachin's total. The England grinder will be 36 by then, so it is definitely possible.

But it will depend on him staying fit, England continuing to play lots and lots of Test matches, and, more importantly, on how good Cook turns out to be. We just don't know that yet.

He averages 48 currently, which is good. But what does it mean? He had the most purple of patches from the start of the Ashes last winter, hitting five hundreds and four fifties in eight Tests. Since then he's been out in single figures in eight of his last 12 innings, and it would have been 9 out of 12 (and six out of seven this winter) if Taufeeq Umar hadn't dropped a sitter in Dubai. Admittedly, Cook did pummel a broken India for 294 during that run, but we still don't know if he has had a Vaughan-style one-year career spike, or if he will carry on as an unstoppable run robot as he was in the Ashes. Before his Ashes explosion, he had been consistently OK against the top teams, averaging mid 30s over several years, whilst buffeting his overall average by cashing in against West Indies and Bangladesh.

In summary, Sachin has scored shedloads of Test runs. Cook will also score shedloads of Test runs. Which of them ends up having the bigger shed, er, doesn't really matter.

DerekWillis asks: "How can Monty Panesar hold a bat without dropping it when he seems unable to hold a ball hit at him?"

Answer: I think he would probably struggle to catch a bat if you hit a bat at him 50 yards through the air. The problem for Monty is that he knows that historically he hasn't been very good at catching cricket balls. He also knows that everyone else knows that. When I played cricket, I knew from a young age that I wasn't very good at catching cricket balls. As a result of (a) not being very good at catching cricket balls, and (b) dropping lots of cricket balls, even when I did get a bit better at catching cricket balls, I was only ever one dropped cricket ball away from remembering that I really wasn't very good at catching cricket balls. And also from thinking that I wasn't very good at catching cricket balls every time a cricket ball flew towards me in the air, asking me to catch it. And this was with only me and my village cricket team mates caring whether or not I caught it. Not with TV cameras everywhere, and a stadium and a press box full of people thinking: "This guy isn't very good at catching cricket balls." It's a tough cycle to break.

Derek also asks for advice for any Americans blogging about cricket. I guess I would stay, stick with it, cricket blogging is going to take over America. In 20 years' time, they won't make films in Hollywood, they'll just blog about cricket. It's going to be a multibillion dollar industry. In fact, if Brad Pitt was alive today, he'd be a subeditor at Cricinfo.

alec everlone asks: "Which heavy metal song best sums up English cricket? I think it's 'The Trooper' by Iron Maiden."

I'm not much of a heavy metal aficionado, Alex, so I'd have to say: "Ra-Ra-Rasputin" by Boney M. Does that count as heavy metal? If not, I'd go with anything by Lady Gaga. Or, as we used to know her in Britain, Mrs Thatcher.

The-Badger14: "Is Sachin being selfish by not retiring and preventing a new generation of Indian cricketers from flourishing in the long term?"

No. Just over a year ago, in South Africa and in the early stages of the World Cup, he was batting as well as he had ever batted. He's fit, he's still got a load of bats he needs to get through, and, without knowing what other hobbies he's got, he's probably never going to be as good at anything else as he is at hitting a cricket ball with a cricket bat. He should and probably will carry on until he knows he hasn't got it any more or decides he has had enough. If anything is stopping the new generation of Indian cricketers flourishing, it isn't Sachin. It's an inability not to poke at balls outside their stumps, and the fact that they can earn zillions of rupees by clonking a quick 20, but far fewer zillions of rupees for crafting a slow 120.

Kendersrule asks: "What are the rules of cricket?"

Cricket doesn't have rules. It has laws. Carved by God into some stone tablets a couple of hundred years ago I think. Other than that, the rules of cricket are like the rules of Fight Club. First rule of cricket. Don't talk about cricket. I am in a lot of trouble.

TracerBullet007 asks: "With Boucher on 999 international dismissals, when will the media hype begin?"

It's going to be huge. Although, if it takes him 33 innings to get there, South Africa are going to have big problems.

And finally, keernon asks: "If cricket was one of your friends, which friend would it be? The cool friend, the sexy friend, or the interesting friend?"

All of them. Cricket is every friend you could ever need. The friend you can confide in. The friend who inspires and uplifts you. The friend who irritates the arse out of you when he goes off for bad light. The friend who sends you to sleep when India have five men on the boundary and Cook is grinding out a double-hundred. The friend who occasionally disappoints you by being jailed for something. The friend who keeps waking you up at 5 in the morning shouting: Look at me, I'm on the telly.


And we finish with this month's Unsung Cricketing Hero - Hopper Levett.

As I record, it is an historic anniversary ‒ 78 years 2 months and 22 days since the Test debut and Test farewell of this month's unsung hero, the Kent wicketkeeper Hopper Levett. Levett made his only international appearance in the first ever Test match at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, but arguably his greatest legacy to the game was an anecdote. Levett, by all accounts, aside from being a top-notch gloveman, liked a drink. And not just any drink. An alcoholic drink.

One morning, Hopper turned up to play considerably the worse for wear. Not that this is necessarily poor preparation for cricket. As I myself can testify. I scored my first century for my village with what can only be described as a rogue mother-in-law of a hangover. The extreme levels of concentration required to bat under such an affliction, the stern focus required to calculate which of the balls heading towards you is the real one, mean that, if you do manage to survive the admittedly tricky first few overs, you are by then in an unbreakable cocoon of pure batting.

So it is my humble suggestion that England's current travails with the bat are not due to broken confidence against spin, or technical shortcomings in subcontinental conditions, or the magic bats they started using at the start of last winter's Ashes only having a 12-month warranty and then ceasing the function like a cheap Japanese fridge… England's problems with the bat are due to insufficient drinking the night before games.

I digress… Levett had turned up in less than optimum condition. He had to be helped into his cricket kit, he had his pads strapped on by a team-mates, and was shunted out into the field and placed behind the stumps. (These last details may not have happened. But let's assume that they did. For the sake of the anecdote.) He crouched down, like the wicketkeeper he unquestionably was, ready for the first ball. In ran the bowler, down came the ball, it beat the batsman, it flew narrowly past the still crouching Levett's head, and fizzed off the boundary for four byes. Levett had not moved. This was, with doubt, unorthodox wicketkeeping. Remember, this was long, long before Kamran Akmal came on the scene.

Levett crouched down again. In came the bowler. He fired it down the leg side. The batsman flicked at it, snicked it past leg stump, and Levett hurled himself to take a spectacular diving catch. Levett's team-mates are astonished. "How did you do that, in your condition?" they asked. "I don't know," replied Levett. "But it was not bad for the first ball of the day, was it?"

Quality glovework. Of course, like so many stories from the days before ubiquitous media coverage, it might be hogwash. But let's assume it was not hogwash. But pure, unarguable fact. Slightly embellished for comedic effect. Hopper Levett. England's greatest ever wicketkeeper. According to George Best's Encyclopaedia Of Cricket.


That's it for this month's World Cricket podcast. And may cricket have mercy on your soul. Back in April with another one, at some point. In the meantime, do read my Confectionery Stall blogs on Cricinfo, or else. Bye bye.

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