December 4, 2012

South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Like an unloved pancake in a hippopotamus-rolling competition

Andy Zaltzman

Or how Australia were flattened in the Perth Test. Also, your burning questions answered re bearded cricketing brothers, whether Ponting retired to give Sachin a hint, worm-vomit analysis, and dressing up as farm animals

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For those of you unable to stream or download the audio of the World Cricket Podcast World T20 Preview Special, here is a link to a transcript of the show. However, it is supposed to be listened to, not read. Thanks. AZ.

The music in the podcast is by Kevin MacLeod.

Hello cricket fans, and welcome to Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast, Tuesday 4 December 2012. I am Andy Zaltzman, and I am in Kolkata, ahead of the Test at Eden Gardens, the famous ground that, of course, got its Biblical name because in the first Test ever played there, in January 1934, the teams forgot to bring a bat and ball, so they played with a dead snake that had become stiff and cricket-bat-like with rigor mortis, and an apple. And the players were all fully naked but for fig leaves. That is all a fact. Unless someone has defaced my copy of the 1935 Wisden.

In this show, I'll be answering your questions, and exclusively revealing the result of the Sri Lanka-New Zealand series. It was 1-1. Was that already public domain?

The little-trumpeted attempted world-record speed stat-run has been postponed, due to having too many stats. And this podcast is already long enough as it is. And it's only been going a minute. The stats will instead go into a blog this week.

What I will not be doing in this podcast is: a ball-by-ball epic poem about AB de Villiers' second-Test rearguard 33 off 220 balls; giving away a free Aleem Dar with every five podcasts downloaded; or offering legspinning tips to the unfortunate Imran Tahir. I used to bowl legspin in village cricket in England. And if I got plankhammered for eight an over, I used to think I'd had an unusually economical day. And if Imran Tahir does nothing else in his international career - and that is not looking like the most Inzamam-sized if - then at least he has reminded people exactly how difficult legspin is, and just how incredible Shane Warne was. And highlighted how Kumble was a tidy operator too. And MacGill, for that matter. He might even prompt a scientific reappraisal of Ian Salisbury's England career. Or might not.

So, South Africa have retained their world No. 1 spot, after going rope-a-dope, Muhammad-Ali-style in the second Test, in cricket's version of the Rumble in the Jungle, before coming out swinging in the third Test and flattening Australia like a unloved pancake in a hippopotamus-rolling competition.

From Block to Blockbuster, the Proteas swang between epics of slow and fast scoring, from playing like a team of Mark Richardsons to playing like a team of Viv Richardses in the space of a few days. Debutant Faf du Plessis turned the series in Adelaide, before, in Perth, Hashim Amla played one of the finest attacking innings of recent times, a masterpiece of calculated, surgically executed skill and brilliance. Amla as a man does not exude menace and intimidation. As a batsman, however, he played like a mafia don, he and Graeme Smith scrambling the baggy green minds as Australia's second-and-a-halfth-string pace attack wilted under the perfectly planned onslaught.

A perfectly planned onslaught is not something any of the Indians could have been accused of playing in their second innings origami-folding exercise in Mumbai a week ago. Here in Kolkata, I don't think I'm going out on the most Bruce-Reid-ish of limbs to say they will have to bat better in the third Test. With all the focus on Sachin Tendulkar, the struggling master striving to re-find his mislaid majesty, the time has come for the rest of the Indian batting line-up - who, with the fine exception of Pujara, and Sehwag's series-opening blast, have contributed little of relevance to the series so far - to step up to the plate, help themselves to an all-you-can-eat buffet of runs, and eat those runs. So to speak.

England only half-functioned in Mumbai, but that half functioned spectacularly, match-winningly well. India's bowling asked them a lot of questions. But most of those questions were easy ones, or the wrong ones. This game will be about the Indian bowlers more than anything. Apart from maybe the Indian batting against the English bowlers. Or how the English batting functions against that Indian bowling. And maybe the fielding, pitch and umpiring. Get back to me on that in a few days' time. Prediction: England win by between 63.5 and 64.8 runs.

And now, it's time for your Questions and Answers.

Bearded Ian: Does having a beard make for a better cricketer? Good question. And who better to answer this than science? Me.

Graham Gooch had a beard during the 1981 Ashes and was utterly useless - 139 runs in his ten innings, without passing 50. Mind you, Gooch also had a beard earlier in the same year, when he averaged 57 and hit two centuries in the West Indies against Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft, and Marshall as a tidy little back-up option. Come to think of it, after facing so much of that rather nippy pace attack, it is possible that the reason the Colchester Clobberer kept getting out to Terry Alderman a couple of months later was that his bat was coming down about two and a half seconds early.

And, come to think of it, Ian Botham had a beard at the start of the '81 Ashes, when he was rubbish, was sacked as captain, but kept his beard for the rest of the series, when he was awesome. I'm not a scientist, but it's almost as if the captaincy was weighing him down more than his beard.

The most famous cricketing beard of them all, of course, belonged to none other than the former England captain WG Grace. Grace was a national icon, a statistical phenomenon, a player without whom it once seemed inconceivable that England could take the field… and who played his last Test aged almost 51. Watch and learn, Sachin. Twelve more years. Twelve more years. And if you really want to match WG Grace, lots more food.

Scientifically, WG's beard tells us a lot about the impact of beards on cricket. WG was famously the greatest cricketer of his age by a country mile. He had a massive beard. Really massive. WG had two brothers from exactly the same gene pool, who both played for Gloucestershire and England, EM and GF. Both had impressive facial hair, the kind of ear-to-ear moustaches that British people used to grow when they wanted to invade somewhere with an air of authority. But not a gargantuan chin temple like their brother WG. And elder brother, Henry, played three first-class matches and hauled in the grand total of four runs and three wickets. Not only can he not have had a beard, he must have had hair that grew inwards into his face.

So in answer to your question: brothers from the same family are better players in direct proportion to their massiveness of beard. Otherwise, it doesn't matter. Unless you're Mohammad Yousuf, in which case it did seem to help.

Sqader: What is the record highest score in the last innings of someone's Test career? Nurse. Nurse. Help, I need a Nurse. A Seymour Nurse, the 1960s West Indian batsman who ended his Test existence by clouting New Zealand for 258. Out of a total of 417 all out. That was in 1969. In fact, Nurse's career was apparently in rude health when it ended. He hit two other hundreds and a 95 in his last six innings, bumping his career average up from 38 to 47, before quitting whilst he was very much ahead.

Other notable last Tests include Andrew Sandham, who hit 325 and 50 before riding off into the Test match sunset, having given his career average a helping boot up the backside from 24 to 38. And Jack Russell the First ‒ that's the 1920s Essex opener, not Jack Russell the Second, the late 20th-century scruffy hat-wearing glove guru with the hands of silk, who was to batting what Pablo Picasso was to painting portraits of women in his Cubist period - the angles looked all wrong, but somehow it kind of worked. The 1920s Jack Russell bowed out of Tests with the fourth and fifth hundreds of his ten-Test career in a Test in South Africa in 1922-23, scoring 140 out of 281 all out, and 111 out of 241 all out, in a game in which 33 of the 40 batsmen dismissed were out for 25 or less. Selectors were cruel beasts even then.

More recently, Australian batting legend Jason Gillespie famously went in as nightwatchman in his final Test and scored 201 not out against Bangladesh, meaning that he had a better record batting first-wicket-down for Australian than Don Bradman did. Or Ricky Ponting. Or Rob Quiney. And it just shows what the Australian selectors what might have missed for all those years when they assumed he was a pace bowler and not the spiritual heir to the Don himself.

TricycleBear on Twitter pointed out: "Ponting scored 8 in his final Test innings. Doesn't sound like much, but I bet it would've made Bradman jealous."

Yes, those eight runs would have tipped Bradman's average over 100. I still think they should have wheeled him out to play one of the weaker teams in the last few years of his life before his death in 2001, like Zimbabwe, or England, let him score 4 and then retire hurt. Or retire very old. Ponting, sadly, also like Bradman failed in his last innings, and fell an agonising 12,422 runs short of averaging 100 in Tests. What a farewell innings that would have been.

ShakPower: Did Ponting retire to give Sachin a hint? No. The real reason Ponting retired is to work on the giant supercollider he has built in his garden at home to try to bang molecules together to recreate the moment that Nasser Hussain put Australia in to bat on a batting paradise in Brisbane in 2002. Besides, it is not much of a hint for one ageing and clearly diminished player to retire. Much more of a hint would be if Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Manoj Tiwary all retired. I hope it doesn't come to that. Ponting's career ended in a slow fizzle, broken only by filling his creaking boots against the dismal Indian tourists a year ago. I hope Sachin gets the chance to leave on a high. Or at least a medium. But these scripts seldom go according to plan.

Meatsounds: Australian TV keeps adding doodahs to their cricket coverage, like 'copter cams and bowlers' point-of-release graphs. As a world leader in ridiculous inanity, what pointless nonsense would you like to see Oz TV add to their coverage? I'll exempt the bowlers' point-of-release graph from this criticism because it's actually quite relevant and interesting. If you're into where bowlers release balls from. Which I am. A bit. It's not my biggest hobby, but still. The copter cam also gives the viewer a priceless insight into what it would be like to be a pterodactyl escaping from Jurassic Park and flying over a Test match. Albeit that the players seem less scared of the 'copter cam than they would be of a pterodactyl.

Personally, I would like to see the following additions to all cricket coverage:

1. Hawk-Eye predictions of where the ball would have gone if the bowler had been drunk instead of sober.

2. Brain-scanner readings of the umpire's inner thoughts when giving someone out in dubious fashion. I bet they chuckle on the inside.

3. A relevance graph along the bottom of the screen to let you know when it is worth listening to the commentary.

4. Graeme Smith to be pixellated whilst batting so my children don't get traumatised by the sight of his cover-drive. Damned fine player. One of the highest-impact players in world cricket. But my kids are too young to be exposed to such aesthetic abomination.

5. All other commentators to address Ravi Shastri as: "Your merciful highness, Lord of all."

6. Worm vomit analysis. Host broadcasters should find a worm from inside the pitch, get it hammered, make it vomit into a microbucket, and analyse the soil it has been eating from just below the pitch surface, to give an idea of how the pitch is going to play on days three and four.

Prash_Sub: Is Marvan Atapattu the best pair-bagger-come-backer ever? Didn't he start with 5 ducks and a single? Or have I made that up? Big Marv did indeed begin his Test career like a clapped-out car struggling to start on cold winter's morning ‒ duck, duck, duck, wwwwwwww-one, duck, duck. He scored his second Test run six years three months after he first took strike in a Test. Which I assume is a record that has never been and will never be matched. But I haven't the time to check. So let's just appreciate it for what it is. Incredible. Especially given that Atapattu went on to score six Test double-hundreds.

In Perth, Dean Elgar became the 14th Test debutant to bag a pair batting in the top seven, and the first South African to do so since the immortal Plum Lewis in 1913.

The bad news for Elgar is that neither Plum Lewis ‒ who is surely overdue a Hollywood biopic ‒ nor South Africa's other top-six-debutant-pair-bagger PS Twentyman-Jones (the inaugural inductee to this exclusive ten-strong club of straight-out-of-the-blocks-and-straight-into-a-wall-double-failures in 1902) ever played Test cricket again. The good news for Elgar is: whilst most of the previous top-seven batters to quack-quack out for twin ducks on debut have gone on to live down to those early impressions, four have gone one to play more than 50 Tests - Atapattu, Kenny Rutherford, plus the more illustrious Graham Gooch and the divinely liquid-wristed Saeed Anwar.

In all, Elgar was the 38th debutant to blob out in both innings in his first Test, and only the third of those to end up on the winning side after England's Jim Smith in 1935, and the aforementioned not-bearded enough GF Grace in 1880, who was so traumatised by the ordeal that he did the decent, 19th-century thing and dropped dead two weeks later, simplifying matters for the England selectors. Albeit at some personal cost. Selfless, to a fault.

QueenslandSportsFan: Have you ever attended a cricket match dressed as some form of farm animal? I think the more pertinent questions are: Have I ever attended a farm animal dressed in cricket kit? And: Has a farm animal ever attended cricket dressed as me? The answer to both of those questions is no. Unless by attend, you mean eat. In which case, yes, I have attended bits of farm animals at cricket teas, and I've attended them snugly sandwiched between two bits of bread, all the way into my mouth. And unless you think I look like Steve Waugh's old lucky orangutan Nigel, in which case, yes, a farm animal has attended a cricket match dressed as me. Albeit that it was an animal from an illegal orangutan farm. Does that answer your question? Good.

And now, for those of you who were inconvenienced by the lack of photographs from the Mumbai Test, I will give you an audio photograph of what I could see from my seat in the Sachin Tendulkar stand:

Thirteen men dressed all in white, and two more dressed in white shirts with black trousers, standing around on a big circular grassed area surrounded by grandstands.

There you go. I could have chosen a slightly more exciting piece of the action, but my verbal camera happened to go off whilst nothing was going on.

So, this is where I was going to do the world record stat attempt. But frankly, I doubt you're still listening anyway. Eh? Eh? What am I wearing? See, you have no idea, I knew it.

So instead, it's the end of the show.

That's it, I'm done. I've run out of time for a more in-depth preview of the third Test in Kolkata, or a detailed review of that fascinating Australia-South Africa series. Oh well, never mind, someone else is probably talking about those things somewhere else in the world. See if you can eavesdrop on them.

I'll be back with daily reports during the game, from one of the cricket world's most iconic stadiums. And if you're in Kolkata, do come to my show at Kala Kunj, 7pm on Wednesday, 5th December, or, in real terms, after day one of the Test match. In which I hope Sachin bats well, Finn bowls fast, and the pitch is not lead item on every single CNN World News bulletin throughout the next five days.

For now, cricket fans, goodbye.

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

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Posted by zubin on (December 7, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

Andy your form is matching Cook's...and that's saying something.

..."Hawk-Eye predictions of where the ball would have gone if the bowler had been drunk" is a PRICELESS gem!

Posted by Ahsanul Kabir on (December 6, 2012, 11:13 GMT)

"Your merciful highness, lord of all" and more importantly, "worm vomit analysis"...Just falling out of my chair from a very cold England. You're the best Andy...You should always write every article in cricinfo...lol.

Posted by Jerry Flay on (December 6, 2012, 3:01 GMT)

fell an agonising 12,422 runs short of averaging 100 in Tests. What a farewell innings that would have been. Incomparable, Mr Z. You are truly the brightest light in the Cricinfo firmament of luminescence.

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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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