The fate of West Indies and the Rolly Janglers
The West Indies must have arrived in England in confident mood for their three-Test tour, buoyed by optimistic historical precedent. They would have read that England is, officially, in the midst of a drought ‒ and thought instantly of the sun-baked summer of 1976, when the parched outfields of this land were scorched by the blazing strokeplay of Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Roy Fredericks, and by the scurrying footsteps of England's batsmen fleeing to the pavilion after being volcanically obliterated by pace of Andy Roberts and Michael Holding. "This could be our year," they must have thought as they flew across the Atlantic. "Ignore all the form lines, Dr Drought could swing it for us."
They landed a few days ago to find a country thoroughly marinated by rainwater and ensconced in thermal underpants, with Worcestershire County Cricket Club looking over the New Road outfield and anxiously checking eBay listings for an affordable-looking ark. This is not the most obviously droughty of droughts. If the current West Indies batting line-up - into which Greenidge and Richards must have been close to being recalled, despite being in their sixties ‒ rack up 687 for 8 declared in a damp green-pitched early-season series, as the 1976 vintage did on the brown-grassed desert of The Oval, with Richards scoring an unmatchably majestic 291, then suspicions may arise that Allen Stanford's accountant has been operating the scoreboard.
For one of the 1980s West Indian touring parties to have lasted an entire day without losing a wicket, or indeed without conceding a run, against county opposition, would barely have raised an eyebrow. However, in 2012, yesterday's wash-out against Sussex will not have helped Darren Sammy's alarmingly inexperienced and institutionalised-bickering-depleted batting line-up to learn about the unfamiliar conditions that face them.
That is one of the six days of cricket before the first Test already washed down the plughole of history. Narsingh Deonarine's and Assad Fudadin's acclimatisation period has been further curtailed by visa problems delaying their arrival. (If only English cricket had formulated this cunning strategy when Bradman first toured here in 1930. "I'm sorry Mr Bradman, but your visa application has been rejected. Why? Er, well, it's because we have reason to believe you have links to Al-Qaeda. Can't go into details, Official Secrets Act. Off you pop. See you in the Bodyline Series.")
Deonarine and Fudadin are two of the several batsmen on their first Test tours of England, as Greenidge and Richards were in 1976. The difference is that Greenidge had played five seasons of county cricket, and Richards two, so they were probably rather better equipped to deal with the challenges ahead. Aside from them being quite good at hitting little red balls with flat bits of wood. If Chanderpaul ‒ who is a close neighbour of Sir Viv in terms of Test average, whilst inhabiting opposite ends of the galaxy in terms of style ‒ can score 291 in every innings, West Indies will stand a good chance in this series. If not, all-day washouts may be their most effective strategy.
● A quick Zaltzman Household IPL Update. I wrote a couple of blogs ago about how my daughter had selected the Royal Challengers Bangalore as our IPL team to follow, as they cruised to victory over the Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur. Since then, they have had a washout against the Chennai Super Kings, been hammered by the Kolkata Knight Riders, and almost pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against the Kings XI Punjab before dropping it back down defeat's throat into the oesophagus of failure. During the frantic final overs, both my children were shouting animatedly for the Royal Challengers (or, as my three-year-old son has unilaterally renamed them, the Rolly Janglers).
Defeat was a bitter pill to swallow. Or perhaps that was the overcooked broccoli I was feeding them for dinner. My daughter can barely sleep at night with the trauma of it all. Defeat to the Deccan Chargers in their next match on Sunday could spark a full-blown existential crisis.
I can only apologise to all connected with the RCB franchise for this disastrous downturn in form. I have a disastrous track record when it comes to my early days of supporting sports teams. I started following the mighty Gillingham Football Club late in 1992 after a friend introduced me to the burger-scented joys of lower-league professional football. They promptly sacked their manager and spent the rest of the season battling against relegation into non-league oblivion, narrowly escaping that fate in their final home game thanks to a 2-0 win over the footballing powerhouse that was Halifax Town, in an awe-inspiring performance that has gone down in the annals of sport as one of the greatest moments in the history of humankind and arguably the high-water mark of post-Renaissance European culture. Albeit in a seldom-read unauthorised appendix to the annals of sport. Preceded by the words: "The next sentence is a lie."
Mrs Confectionery Stall and I both like rugby, so in 2004 we bought season tickets to watch the professional club geographically closest to us - the multi-coloured wizards of Harlequins. They lost their first eight games of the season, before, in their final match, missing a last-minute penalty kick and being relegated out of English rugby's top division.
(I should also add that I started following cricket in the halcyon days of 1981 ‒ sparking the worst decade in England's cricketing history.) (And I put money on golfer Dustin Johnson to win the Augusta Masters this year. Less than an hour later, he pulled out injured.)
Fortunately, my kryptonite effect on teams does not last for ever. English cricket, give or take the occasional 3-0 unscheduled whitewash by Pakistan, is in the midst of one of its finest periods. Harlequins this season topped the league table and are two play-off games away from becoming English champions. And Gillingham are currently doing marginally better than they were 19 years ago. Nevertheless, the Rolly Janglers are in for a rocky ride for the rest of this IPL season. Sorry. The golden helmets look great, though.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer