Reeling from the Sharmageddon
It's easy to become jaded by one-day international cricket. As I write, there have been 1375 ODI games played in the last ten years. A hundred and forty per year. Even if you had an understanding partner, a completely clear schedule and an unquenchable thirst for the game, you just wouldn't have enough time for all that cricket.
A by-product of the ODI's ubiquity and the concurrent rise of T20 cricket is that a lot gets lost amongst the noise. No small measure of it comes from doomsdayers warning of the imminent death of ODI cricket at the hands of the 20-over game. Running shotgun to this supposed format cannibalisation is the theory that ODI cricket is actually killing itself. Flat wickets, short boundaries, bat technology, and batsmen aping the T20 tempo are the chief suspects.
As I sat down to watch the series-ending game of Australia and India's recent ODI series at the Chinnaswamy Stadium there was a fair chance that it would be no different, just another in a forgettable and interchangeable cluster of one-dayers. By any objective measurement it was an absolute freak show and I don't think I'll forget it soon. It was as though David Lynch had directed a game of cricket (red umpire-uniforms and all) but was clocked on the head halfway through India's innings and replaced by Michael Bay. It was ridiculous, it was explosive, and you had to double-take and live-pause to make sure it was all really happening. It was Sharmageddon.
Like Bay's movies this game required you to leave your brain at the door, but I was happy to do so. Freed of cynicism, I embraced the most preposterous game of cricket this year. It would actually be a contender for the most utterly bonkers game I've ever witnessed. With such a dour Ashes series still fresh in my mind it was like ditching Sunday school to hang out with the Hell's Angels. The phrase "batting like a millionaire" is a pejorative term obviously, but here it just seemed like the order of the day. It's also literally correct, I suppose.
His role was negated this time, but Virat Kohli is almost universally loathed in Australia. He actually plays and acts a lot like an Australian cricketer from 15 years ago, but that irony is generally lost on most of his Aussie detractors. Call me a contrarian but, like I was drawn to Sourav Ganguly before him, I've ended up loving him. Kohli's calamitous run-out positioned Rohit Sharma as the bad guy, but the latter won everyone over with an absurd double-century. At first I thought he would have to enter the witness protection programme but by the end they were practically handing him the keys to the city. He played like a video game character.
I really should digress to register my sympathies for the bowlers, though. Cement companies are chief among Indian cricket's sponsors at the moment and during this one-day series you could be forgiven for assuming they were also supplying most of the pitches. An unyielding strain was placed on the bowlers and most looked appropriately fragile by the end of the series. Vinay Kumar may never recover but I'll remember him forever as a result. John Inverarity's faith in Xavier Doherty might also be brought into question, but his was also a thankless task.
Some things remained the same. Shane Watson's hamstring sent him a firm message of disobedience, so off he trudged for the umpteenth time of his career. Stuart MacGill, anchoring the Australian broadcast, tried to blame it on divine intervention. By that point I no longer knew who or what to believe in.
MS Dhoni played a helicopter shot whose flight path finished outside the stadium. It seemed perfectly appropriate in the context of the prevailing madness. When Moises Henriques dropped Rohit over the boundary for six he seemed like a compliant extra rather than a villain. I was cheering it all; the sixes, the drops, and sometimes even wickets. I lost my mind so thoroughly I was no longer sure it had ever served any purpose in the first place. Rohit and Dhoni made the world's most effective ODI paceman look like a jittery rookie. The Indian pair were the Harlem Globetrotters and Australia were the Washington Generals.
Nothing so bizarre could transpire in Australia's innings, I thought. Then George Bailey ran himself out in circumstances that only this game could conjure. In his place Glenn Maxwell exploded into life. An underrated element of his innings that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere since was that he appeared visibly angry to have been forced to cool his heels until the fall of the fourth wicket. Maxwell also appeared pleasingly aware of the fact that he was on track for the fastest-ever half-century in ODI cricket. Instead he had to settle for the share of Simon O'Donnell's Australian record. Against a huge tide, James Faulkner made Australia's fastest ODI century. Barmy stuff.
Watson, of course, batted injured. My first impulse was that this was an incredibly stupid decision, but I'm willing to concede that it also might have been brave. Had it been any other player it could have been labelled inspirational but he did seem to just crock himself worse and worse as it went on. His 49 seemed apt; not statistically significant enough to go down in the annals of cricket history, but an assured odd spot. Maybe his entire innings will only be remembered as a backdrop to Shikhar Dhawan's heartless mockery of Watson's injury. That's fair on Dhawan but probably not the Australian. Still, the complaints flowed from everywhere. We're a hardy bunch us cricket fans, but we're also world-class whingers.
As the game came to a close it was just past 3am in Melbourne but as I sank into bed I was giddy and content. I woke and wondered whether it was all a bizarre dream. Cricket doesn't always make you feel like that. It was a pleasant reminder.
Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sports in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian and the Wasted Afternoons. He tweets here