June 12, 2012

The inimitable Mr Onions

Or what it is like to be sworn at by an angry gerbil

Sunday 10th June The Third Foregone Conclusion Test Match has had something for everyone. Connoisseurs of the wet stuff have been thoroughly spoiled: thundery showers, light showers, heavy showers, drizzle, light drizzle, mizzle - I’ve ticked them all off in my Eye Spy Big Book of Summer Precipitation. And the time off has enabled the players to explore the cultural highlights of Birmingham, home to Europe’s largest collection of concrete.

With a long and sweary summer ahead of them, England understandably decided to rest their two main sledgers. Australia and South Africa will be on these shores soon enough and we’ll need our top puerile-abuse merchants to be ready for them, so at the time of writing, the foul-mouthed first-choice fast bowlers are resting their throats, taking regular doses of Dr Flower’s Patented Swearing Oil and watching a selection of Al Pacino movies.

The problem with this plan is that England are having to rely on their b-string of cursers in Birmingham. And if you thought the sight of Mr Anderson mumbling some incoherent drivel in the vague direction of a batsman was rather feeble, it’s as nothing compared to the sledging style of Mr Graham Onions, to be on the receiving end of which must feel like being harangued by an angry gerbil. A gerbil who hasn’t had time to shave, at that.

Fortunately Mr Onions does have a useful sideline in wicket-taking and his success in this regard yesterday led to an early contender for silliest cricket statement of the summer, when Ian Botham claimed that Finn and Onions would walk into any Test side in the world. I hesitate to contradict the great man, but not even if they learned some Afrikaans, took up crocodile-wrestling and changed their names to Jacques van Finn and Grahames Onions, would the deadly duo of deputies get within a veldt mile of the South African team.

The verbal buffoonery of Mr Onions did lead indirectly to one of Saturday’s highlights when a riled-up Marlon Samuels responded post-match with a tirade of vegetable puns. Had these popped from the imagination of a tabloid editor, they would have been rather yawnsome, but it was refreshing to hear a West Indian player being something other than polite and respectful. It’s been a long time, but they seem to have a little of their swagger back.

It was also good to see Denesh Ramdin proving that not only can cricketers write, albeit in words of one syllable and with some innovative spelling, they can also remember to hold a piece of paper the right way round at the crucial moment. Ramdin’s biro-on-notepaper riposte after his second Test century in 77 attempts certainly put washed-up old nobody Viv Richards (24 Test centuries) in his place.

And then the cherry on the entertainment cupcake came with the triumphant return of Tino Best, not only because he smashed the England bowling all over the West Midlands in flamboyant style, but because he managed the highest score ever for a No. 11 and gave us something else to associate with Tino Best besides Andrew Flintoff’s Wildean quip about windows, which was funny the first 20 times we heard it, but is fast becoming one of those cricket jokes you laugh at politely whilst swearing inwardly.

Naturally you can’t have all this fun without a little suffering. First there was the underwhelming arrival of Sunil Narine, who completely failed to confuse or bamboozle anybody other than his captain and couldn’t even get Ian Bell out, which is, I’m afraid, the first thing they teach you at Mystery Spinner School. First Ajantha and now Sunil has let me down. I am seriously considering giving up getting excited about mysterious spinners.

And of course I have to mention the evening’s light entertainment, which featured two men in white coats with a mischievous sense of humour. The dance of the light meter is not always well received but Mr Hill and Mr Dharmasena performed it with considerable determination and didn’t let concern for paying spectators, television subscribers, players, common sense or the future of Test cricket distract them from their business.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England