February 5, 2014

The Shoaib Malik Semi-Final

Andrew Hughes
Shoaib Malik: He's a hurricane. Or something  © Getty Images
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To be honest, I'd forgotten about the Big Bash League. You know how short the attention span of the average T20 fan is. We're like goldfish. We're attracted to the flashing stumps, the fireworks, the colourful clothes and the shouting, but as soon as the music stops, we completely forget why we were watching, who we are, where we live and what we were talking about at the start of the sentence.

Still, a week is too long to wait for the knockout stage. For a month or so, the thing rattled along at a game a day, then it ground to halt. Returning to it now feels like a contractual obligation, not a climax; a completion of formalities, like asking the birthday girl to blow out some candles eight days after her party.

Tuesday's game will forever be known as the Shoaib Malik Semi-Final. At least it will in my house. It was with some surprise that I first noticed Shoaib in the Hobart team earlier this year. "What's Shoaib Malik doing playing for Hobart?" I asked the pigeon perched on my window sill. The pigeon didn't know. I'm not sure that Shoaib knew. The Hobart selectors certainly didn't, and the poor chap has been moved here and there in the batting line-up like a piece of furniture that doesn't quite fit with the d├ęcor.

Today he came out to bat at No. 3. I don't know why. Pretty soon he played a shot that was the kind of shot that you play when you think you are going to get out any minute and the thought accidentally gets passed to the part of your brain that controls your limbs, instead of remaining in the part of your brain set aside for anxious foreboding. But it didn't matter, for Shoaib had already done his job.

First, he removed former future Australian Test captain and former actual Australian T20 captain Cameron White, who played what the commentator called a "stand-up sort of sweep", which was a generous description, because although Cameron was certainly standing up, there was little sweeping involved.

I don't think we can look forward to the Stand-Up Sort of Sweep catching on like the Dilscoop or the Maxwell Mow or the Tufnell Run Away to Square Leg. Its main effect appears to be to loop the ball to cover point whilst the batsman looks hopefully towards the on side. It's hard to imagine when you might want to employ such a shot, unless perhaps you need 1 to win and the opposing team have gone with a 0-9 field.

Not content with decapitating Stars' innings, super Shoaib then ripped the guts out of what was left. Matthew Wade was attempting something in the direction of midwicket but misjudged it. Shoaib, who had been checking his email at mid-on, was alerted to the possibility of a catch by Tim Paine shouting "Catch!" in that desperate, imploring, prophesising way that wicketkeepers do.

Shoaib finished an angry missive to his agent, enquiring as to why he had been signed up to a franchise that didn't know whether he was a No. 3 or a No. 8, pressed "Send", checked that it had been delivered, then put down his phone and addressed himself to the imminent ball-arrival situation, moving roughly in the right direction, but with the kind of ungainly, sideways shuffle that screamed, "I'm going to fluff this!"

But he did not fluff it. The ball descended, he stretched out his palms hopefully, fell over, and emerged triumphantly with the thing in his hand.

After that, it was a formality. Brad Hodge did his best with a mix of deft dabs and steepling sixes, and inspired what is possibly the finest piece of minimalist commentary I have ever heard, commentary that perfectly obeyed the Rule of Benaud, which is to speak as little as possible whilst conveying as much as possible:

"Whoah! Hodge! Huge!"

But Hodge wasn't huge enough, and Melbourne's meagre total was chased down by Paine, who for the occasion employed a pretty Peter May-style cover drive, a B-movie horror slash over point, and an ugly sawn-off pull thing. He was run out by Malinga, who proved that he can york the stumps from 60 yards just as well as he can from 22, but that wasn't enough to stem the purple tide of victory.

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

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Posted by offnon on (February 7, 2014, 3:03 GMT)

"former future Australian Test captain" LoL! probably your column will remain the only enjoyable thing about cricket.

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (February 6, 2014, 2:24 GMT)

I too was confused with Malik in Hobart. Maybe he asked his agent for at least one summer where the temp doesn't go past 22 deg before he retires. As for his email to his agent; I'm sure once he checked the reply after the game his agent was asking what the minimum player payment is for making the BBL final and then playing in the Champions League T20. Nice % earner One thing I've noticed is that while Bailey, Hodge, Paine & White mainly stick to cricket shots which the super imposed red line says go 105m - or roughly 55m over the roped area, Glenn 'No Show' Maxwell waits until he's seen 5-10 balls and then tries to invent a different swipe every ball! It was said that Ian Chappell hummed classical music to switch off during balls. Maybe as soon as Maxwell crosses the rope it flicks a switch in his head and he hears the classic three ring circus theme music. Anyone could produce his nude balls when bowling, but I think his 'batting' could only be replicated by Sideshow Bob. So,IPL then

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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