November 16, 2013

A cricket-themed remake of Ocean's Eleven

New Zealand pull off a game light on big stars but one with a classic plot

Two games into their tour of Sri Lanka, the New Zealand Replacement XI is doing better than the New Zealand Original XI, in that they aren't losing. Perhaps the abundance of sky, water and pervading dampness has made them feel at home, but whatever the cause, they are definitely not losing, thanks to Tuesday's last-over heist in Hambantota.

A cricket-themed remake of Ocean's Eleven, the game was light on big stars, but had a classic plot: a collection of quirky characters coming together to steal a valuable cricket match from under the noses of a team of crack cricket professionals, assisted by Mr Duckworth, Mr Lewis and Sri Lanka's tactical pratfalls.

Angelo Mathews said that he hadn't picked a team with the weather in mind. Given that this is monsoon season, that the first game was washed out, that the same series this time last year was soggier than a trawlerman's sandwich and that the forecast for this game consisted of a big blue raindrop suspended from a big black cloud, this decision must rate as one of the more pungent fails on the cheeseboard of cricket selection bloopers.

Yet despite this, with one over to go and 20 needed, Sri Lanka had the thing won, and the situation looked hopeless for our heroes. Angelo had turned to wily last-over death-bowling specialist, Rangana "Ruthless" Herath, and New Zealand's last hope, Nathan McCullum, blinked nervously as he contemplated the odds stacked against him.

But plucky Nathan is of the "step back and heave" school of batting and employing this method he managed an astonishing six off the third ball of the over.

Now 11 were needed from three, and it was time for the home captain to step in. Having impressed upon Herath the importance of not bowling the ball there again, he retreated to midwicket from where he had a ringside seat to watch Herath bowl the ball there again. After a touch of fancy footwork, honed during his reign as Dunedin Junior Salsa champion 1996-1997, McCullum major played a cut-price Dhoniesque scythe and the ball arced out of Chandimal's reach and skittered away for four.

Desperate situations call for desperate measures, so Herath got out his emergency towel. Pretending to wipe the ball, he read the instructions on the towel. The instructions said, "Come round the wicket". So he did. I'll let Danny Morrison describe what happened next.

"And there goes Nathan McCullum! He's got all of it! Oh you better believe it! He's smoked it downtown, for a maximum!"

In case you don't speak Morrison, that means the batsman hit a six.

Angelo was angry. He wanted to jump up and down and shout, "Herath, you utter buffoon, you blethering nincompoop, you unconscionable imbecile". But he showed admirable restraint, and settled for a few seconds of furious nose-scratching. Bringing everyone up into the circle, he began to compose his post-match explanations, trying to find a way to heavily imply that Herath was entirely to blame, without saying Herath was entirely to blame.

But there was still a ball to go. One ball for glory and Herath could redeem himself. So what do you bowl to a man who has already hit 19 runs off you, and who is likely to swing like an angry Viking in a battle-axe throwing contest at anything vaguely spherical that passes within his range? A slow knee-high full toss of course. If Nathan McCullum had missed it entirely, fallen over and rolled onto his own stumps, Herath would have been a hero, sort of. Sadly, Nathan McCullum didn't miss it, not even slightly. He hit it for six.

So New Zealand are not losing. By the time you read this, Sri Lanka may have taken their soggy revenge, but then again, by the time you read this, Sachin Tendulkar may be playing his last ever Test match innings, in which case, why are you reading this? Put the TV on and get one more dose of Sachin, while you still can.

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