Questions from the kids, and a bit about Jaisimha
Thank you for your responses to last week's blog on English interest in the IPL, which provoked some lively and varied reactions. Some agreed with my viewpoints, others did not. Some in a more strongly worded manner than others. Several Indian readers expressed a similar lack of emotional connection with the tournament, some from elsewhere in the cricketing world have fallen for the new-fangled charms of the talent-packed short-form spectacular.
The IPL continues to be the biggest issue in the game at the moment. It clearly arouses strong and divergent opinions, in India and outside. I do not, however, think there is any element of "English jealousy" involved. Test match fans the world over - whether they love, hate, or remain undecided about Twenty20 as a format ‒ are rightly concerned about the impact it is having, and will inevitably continue to have, on the game they love. Its effects have already been seen in international schedules, team line-ups, players' techniques, and the volume and unchangeability of the excitement in the voices of stadium announcers.
Clearly, T20 and the IPL have done and will do much good for the game globally. They could also, in some ways, do irreparable harm. The balls are, literally and metaphorically, up in the air, swirling around in the floodlights after cricket took an almighty swish with its eyes partially closed, and we do not yet know if those balls will land safely pouched in our hands, splash messily into our plastic beer glasses, or plummet hard and fast straight on the bridge of our cricket-loving nose. Or a combination of all three. The anxieties many people have about the future of the game are nothing to do with national affiliation.
A final footnote to last week's piece (which, I would like to stress, I did not intend to be an "anti-IPL" piece, still less an "anti-Indian" one, nor do I think it was one)… During my children's supper time on Monday evening, we watched the closing stages of the republican-minded IPL fan's nightmare match-up between Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Rajasthan Royals, won easily by Bangalore after some characteristically brilliant striking by the Virtuoso of the Veldt, AB de Villiers.
My children, aged five and three, asked a range of questions of varying pertinence, from "Is he out?", "Why has that man got big gloves on?", and "Why do the blue team keep hitting the ball in the air?", to "Whatever happened to getting your foot to the pitch of the ball, keeping your front elbow high, and stroking the ball along the ground?" (The last of those questions may, on reflection, have been asked not by my offspring but by the ghost of Gubby Allen, who had popped round unexpectedly for a cup of tea and a quick haunt.)
With a few overs remaining, my daughter chose to support the Royal Challengers, largely because I told her they were by this stage definitely going to win, but partly also because I had been to Bangalore. We have therefore picked the RCB as our team for the rest of the tournament, thus giving us the not-quite-umbilical emotional connection to an IPL franchise that I wrote about English viewers generally lacking. I am taking her to the tattoo parlour tomorrow morning to have a portrait of Vinay Kumar inked indelibly onto her bicep. Whilst I go into surgery to attempt to have my hair rendered as gloriously luxuriant as Zaheer Khan's. It may be a long operation.
These early encounters with cricket can prove deeply influential - my children may well grow up thinking that RCB's four-wicket hero KP Appanna is the greatest bowler in the history of the game, just as I grew up convinced that Chris Tavaré was the inviolable blueprint for the art of batsmanship.
After supper, we retired to the children's bedroom, armed with a plastic cricket bat and ball, and for the first time in their young lives, the junior Zaltzmans showed genuine interest when their daddy tried to make them play cricket. My son displayed a penchant for leg-side drives that can only have come from his mother's side of the family (if he had sliced everything through gully, any paternity issues would have been verifiably laid to rest), whilst my daughter clonked a straight six ‒ all the way to the curtain on the other side of the room, a mighty carry of some 10 or 12 feet ‒ of which Ian Botham himself would have been proud. If their strokeplay was a little on the agricultural side of the MCC Coaching Manual, their youth and inexperience can probably be held responsible more than the IPL hoicking they had just been watching.
Would the same youthful enthusiasm have been created if I had switched over to the West Indies v Australia Test match? Probably not. The children's questions would certainly have been different - "Why aren't they hitting the ball in the air?"; "Whatever happened to the concept of risk-taking initiative in Australian batsmanship?"; "Why are both teams wearing white?"; "Why are you so interested in this, daddy?"; and "Why isn't Chris Gayle playing?" To all of which, the answers would have been: "It's complicated, darling. It's complicated. Eat your broccoli."
● Australia's left-arm tweaker Michael Beer is few people's idea of the spiritual descendant of McGrath, Lillee, Davidson, Lindwall and Spofforth. But last week, in just his second Test, he became the latest addition to the illustrious line of baggy green new-ball tearaways. History will probably judge Beer to not have been the most terrifying opening bowler in the history of Test cricket, particularly on the ground where Curtly Ambrose's soul-curdling new-ball spell in 1994 obliterated the cream of English batsmanship like a divorced steamroller squishing the bowl of satsumas that had run off with its wife.
Nonetheless, Beer became the first Aussie spinner to bowl the first ball of a Test match since Bill O'Reilly in 1938, and ‒ possibly ‒ the first spinner to bowl the first over in both innings of a Test match since 1909.
Possibly, but not definitely. My dear, dear friend Statsguru, a trusted and loyal companion on many journeys through the strangely chirping jungles of cricket statistics, a source of refuge and comfort in an increasingly troublesome world, enables the curious-minded (by which I mean, those with nothing better to do) to tick a box to find only statistics relating to those defined as "spin bowlers". The Guru and I therefore searched for tweakmen who had bowled the first over in two innings of a Test. This is the result of that search. The almost-all-knowing Statsguru lists 1960s Indian batting stylist and part-time bowler ML Jaisimha as the only other spinner to have bowled the first over in both innings of a Test since mystery wrist spinner Douglas Carr did so for England in his only Test, at The Oval in 1909. I conveyed this information to an understandably ambivalent universe via Twitter, the 21st-century's version of shouting at traffic.
Moments later, thanks to the magic of technology, the renowned Indian cricket writer Ayaz Memon had tweeted back to inform me that Jaisimha, in defiance of his official Statsguru accreditation, had also bowled seamers on a fairly regular basis, proving that, sometimes at least, human beings, with their rather more nuanced memory chips, still have the edge over computers.
Ayaz described Jaisimha as a childhood hero (as he also was, apparently, to Sunil Gavaskar), who was "stylish, charismatic, an astute captain, and loads of fun" (qualities which Michael Beer may or may not prove to share, although the early two-Test evidence of his career is that he probably does not share all of them).
I admit that Jaisimha had been little more to me than a name on vaguely remembered scorecards, before Ayaz furnished me with this microbiography hinting at an engrossing cricketer. The internet is a remarkable tool that enables the human race to share everything instantly and globally ‒ its life-changing scientific discoveries, its revolutionary innovations, its artistic creations, its political movements, its boobs, and most importantly, its articles about cricketers from times gone by, from an age before Jaisimha's Test average of 30 would have been dissected, harangued and yelped about on message boards and chat forums. So here is some more on Jai, a player who clearly enchanted his contemporaries as well as confused the mighty Statsguru.
Duly corrected, I returned to a chastened and apologetic Statsguru and broadened the search remit to include that most enigmatic of bowling categories - "mixture/unknown". And I can (almost) confirm that it is (perhaps) a fact that Beer is (in all probability) the first spinner to bowl the first ball in both innings of a Test Match for over 100 years. He might not be, but he probably is, and at the very least he is now entitled to treat himself by slapping on a Dennis Lillee headband, twizzling out a Fred Spofforth moustache, and going to bed in commemorative Ray Lindwall pyjamas. Even if he has been left out of the third Test.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer