July 27, 2013

How does one beat a team of robots?

The only way to defeat ruthless logic is with wildly incoherent decision-making

I'm a fairly squeamish individual. I can't stomach horror films, I have one finger hovering over the off button whenever a wildlife documentary introduces a stray baby gazelle limping across the savannah, and by some nifty work with the fast-forward button, I was able to turn Saving Private Ryan into a story about a group of American tourists on an outward bound holiday in northern France.

So I didn't particularly enjoy last week's wince-inducing spectacle in North London, in which various English batsmen spanked, flogged, flayed, and cudgelled their ragged cousins from the other hemisphere. Long before the end, I had to turn over, and I have already written a stiff letter to Sky about their failure to offer a suitable warning along the lines that some viewers may find the following footage distressing.

As a neutral, I don't derive any pleasure from watching a superior team ruthlessly and efficiently grinding inferior opponents into the dust. I'd like an even contest.

This is why I'm glad fox hunting was banned. A tribe of humans, a squadron of thoroughbred horses, and a battalion of ravenous hounds, not to mention a regiment of other humans bearing sticks and guns, setting off in pursuit of one bedraggled mammal, whose only advantage was a half-mile head start, does not seem terribly sporting. And even if he won, the fox wasn't allowed to eat the hunters.

But I digress.

The upshot of witnessing the carnage at Lord's is that I'm now an Australian supporter. I've even applied for Australian citizenship. I hinted on my application form that I can bowl a mean doosra, and am able to bat for long periods of time without doing anything stupid, so I'm hoping the process can be expedited.

Still, I join the Australian camp at a slippery juncture. One of the hazards of finding yourself two down with three to play is that such a scoreline doesn't give you much room for manoeuvre. I've crunched the numbers, but it seems their best strategy is to win all three remaining matches, thus overtaking England's score by one.

Easier said than done. England play efficient, robotic cricket. So how to beat a team of robots? You could try removing Alastair Cook's battery, but the ECB scientists who created him will undoubtedly have positioned his battery compartment in a hard-to-reach place, so there's little chance of removing his screws without his noticing.

As any science-fiction fan will tell you, in the absence of a secret weapon, the only way to defeat cold, hard, ruthless robotic logic is to match it with wildly incoherent decision-making, borderline lunacy, and the element of surprise.

Bird, Wade and Lyon haven't played yet, so let's pick them. England have extensive databases on the other seven, so they need to do something different. The right-handers should bat left-handed, the fast bowlers can bowl legspin, and Shane Watson could try keeping his mouth shut. For a finishing touch, let's choose the batting order by drawing names out of a baggy-green cap.

Before you know it, Andy Flower's head will blow a fuse, and Cook will be wandering around Old Trafford, steam coming from his ears, droning "Does not compute! Does not compute! Error! Error!"

And hey presto, Australia would have won the Ashes.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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