March 18, 2014

Who will win a fight between cricket and an elephant?

This and other imponderables answered in this special World T20-themed q&a

Tom Cooper's team-mates congratulate him for head-butting an opponent in a ruthless display of Total Football on the cricket field © ICC

To launch the Confectionery Stall / ZaltZone world-and-universe-exclusive coverage of the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh, here is a Q&A featuring the questions that you, the public, submitted on Twitter. All answers are entirely correct, legally unarguable, and safe for reciting on buses and trains.

@jug_23: If T20 were to reach its ultimate conclusion of one-ball cricket, who would be the World T0.1 Champion? And why?
Why have one ball, when a coin-toss-only contest would be even more exciting? However, if you do insist on retaining some of the rather outdated and time-consuming cricket phase of cricket (and technically, the format would not be "T0.1" but "NPO0.1"), then the winners would be: India. Who would beat Sri Lanka in the final.

This is a scientifically provable fact, based on the precedents of all World T20 cricket played up to and including Monday, 17 March, 2014. Taking only the first ball of each innings played in World T20 cricket, India are clearly destined to be the inaugural World NPO0.1 champions. They average 1.67 runs from the first balls they have received when batting, and have conceded an average of 0.76 runs from the first balls they have bowled. This gives them an overall First Ball Average Net Score of 0.91. Sri Lanka's is 0.72, just ahead of unsurprising NPO0.1 specialists West Indies (0.60). No other team has a positive rating, with Australia (-0.42) being particularly slow out of the blocks in this high-pressure format, and South Africa (-0.53, the worst of any Test nation) clearly succumbing to big-tournament first-ball nerves.

The fact that (a) the last World Cup final was between India and Sri Lanka, and (b) the NPO0.1 final would produce the same result, proves that the final 49.5 overs of each innings of a 50-over match are entirely worthless. Here endeth the mathematics.

(If you are feeling a sense that you will never get back the minute or so it took you to read that answer, please bear in mind that I will never get back the half an hour I spent totting up those figures. The internet may be a blessing, but it can also be a curse.)

@Roarzz: When will the batting Powerplay involve adjustable gravity?
T20 cricket is, by its nature, a contrivance. A frequently entertaining, sometimes thrilling, occasionally captivating contrivance but a contrivance nonetheless. As such, and as has been seen with its 50-over uncle, cricket will always seek new contrivances to enhance the original contrivance. In the 50-over game, these have ranged from the flagrantly idiotic (substitutions, for example), via the pointless (fielding Powerplay), to the interesting (batting Powerplay), and back via the baffling (changing the batting Powerplay regulations in an effort to stop it mostly being taken at the same time each innings by restricting when it can be taken, with the result that it is now almost always taken at the same time each innings).

This column has suggested further Powerplay variations: the batting captain skippering the fielding team, for example; or five overs in which bowlers are allowed to do, wear, shout or sing absolutely anything during their run-up in an effort to distract the batsman. Neither of these suggestions has - yet - been adopted by the ICC, for whatever reason.

An adjustable-gravity Powerplay would certainly bring a great deal of intrigue to T20. Batsmen are accustomed to the ball moving sideaways, due to swing, spin, seam or collisions with birds, but not with the ball befuddling them with vertical unpredictability. It would be a true test of a batsman's T20 skills if, upon release, he did not know whether the ball would be affected by normal, excessive or zero gravity. Is it a good-length ball, a half-tracker that scuds through to become a second-bounce yorker, or a bonce-endangering beamer?

It is also incumbent on the ICC to legislate gravity alteration into the game, before it succeeds ball-tampering as a fielding team's chosen means of microcheating. It can only be a matter of time before teams are sneaking into stadiums in the dead of night, and installing gravity-altering machines under the pitch, which they will then be able to control remotely during the following day's play.

@roychs123: how different would the world be if Misbah hadn't scooped it to Sreesanth way back in 2007?
Misbah's plopped scoop that concluded the inaugural World T20 final was arguably the most significant event in human history. You would have to be out of your mind to argue it, but you could still give it a go. I have run this scenario through ESPNcricinfo's Historical Scenario Alternativator, whilst wearing some retrospectacles, and I can confirm that, had Misbah scored the six runs required off the final four balls of that match:

1. India would never have played T20 again.
2. The IPL would still have happened, but would have been in the format of an expanded Ranji Trophy, featuring 12-day four-innings matches.
3. Crimea would be fine.
4. MS Dhoni would have run off the pitch straight into the nearest hair salon, had his flowing mane shorn off, retired from cricket and become a librarian.
5. Misbah would be president of Pakistan.

@SchnoodleLad: Who would win in a fight between cricket and an angry elephant?
Tough to call, as are most contests between a sport (which is essentially a concept), and an actual mammal in a state of advanced strop. However, having seen and reported on the travails of the much-lamented 2011 Cricket World Cup mascot, Stumpy the Elephant - one of the few documented clashes between cricket and pachyderm - I would put all of my and ESPNcricinfo's money on cricket. By the end of that tournament, Stumpy was clearly broken, a physical and psychological wreck, bereft of hope, vigour and purpose. News of his troubled life in the International Home For Abandoned Sporting Mascots has come as little surprise. His decline into coconut abuse and squirting cheap beer at himself out of his trunk reflects well on no one.

@Percinio: Is it a sign of growing professionalism that the Dutch camp seem to have taken notes from their football counterparts?
Dutch football is famous for its internecine squabblings, which have sprouted forth in several major international tournaments. The spat erupting from the replacement of Tim Gruijters with Tom Cooper, detailed here, suggests that the cricket team has responded to its recent disappointing form by seeking to emulate its footballing compadres.

There are also rumours that the Dutch have been applying the principles of "Total football" to develop the revolutionary "Total Cricket", in which players fluidly switch positions and roles during play. Expect to see opening batsmen blocking the ball, picking it up, and bowling it back up the pitch; wicketkeepers crouching down on the long-off boundary; and left-arm spinners bowling right-arm fast. It is the future of the game.

@kevin1990x: Is Dirk Nannes the only cricketer to play in the World T20 for two different countries?
Yes. According to this list, Ed Joyce, Luke Ronchi and Boyd Rankin have played for two countries in T20Is, but not in World T20 tournaments. Nannes played the 2009 tournament for Netherlands, and the 2010 edition for Australia. Rumours that Kevin Pietersen will be representing South Africa in this year's tournament have thus far proved unfounded.

@collings_jc: England v Sri Lanka on a spinning wicket. Who wins?
Sri Lanka. Probably. Certainly, if the 2011 World Cup quarter-final is anything to go by. Which it probably isn't, given that not many of the players involved are playing in this tournament, and it was three years ago.

Please tweet any further WT20-related queries to @ZaltzCricket. I will respond to a selection of the best questions in my forthcoming ZaltZone videos.

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