March 25, 2014

A Molotov cocktail of brilliance and bloopers

Andy Zaltzman
Will streakers now see the irony in running past a set of flashing stumps?  © Getty Images
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The World T20 has been doling out its trademark Molotov cocktail of brilliance and bloopers, topped with the over-sugared glacé cherry of incidental entertainment. Its early stages have shown the characteristic mayhem of cricket's shortest format [correct at the time of writing] in full chaotic swing.

It is, as yet, impossible to predict the ultimate destiny of the trophy - on the evidence of previous tournaments, it is barely even worth speculating for at least another few matches, although unbeaten Sri Lanka and India will be extremely concerned at their disastrous early successes and an-almost-certainly-fatal failure to secure a Bad Start, which has been a prerequisite for triumph in the four World T20s played to date.

Six WT20 Talking Points

1. Netherlands are unlikely to be tying orange ribbons on the cup next Sunday, but have nevertheless played two hours of unforgettable cricket. Unfortunately, the second of those two hours was unforgettable in a waking-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-screaming-"please-make-it-stop" kind of way. In their past two matches, they have managed to launch themselves off both ends of the T20 statistical diving board, with one gloriously high-tariff record-splattering run chase, and one landing-painfully-on-the-side-of-the-pool number-crunched capitulation.

"Unbelievable" is an overused word in 21st-century sport. It generally functions as shorthand for one or more of: (a) "believable but surprising"; (b) "unprecedented, but, logically, likely to occur at some point"; (c) very good; or (d) "quite good". But the Dutch hammering of 193 in under 14 overs, after two and a half games of moderate cricket (and following their recent subsidence in the 50-over game), I think just about qualifies as authentically "unbelievable".

Their dismissal for 39 in 10.3 overs against Sri Lanka - the second-lowest score and second-fastest skittling in any T20 match - was more comfortably within the realms of credibility, but nonetheless rather dispiriting, and arguably the most disastrous Dutch collapse since the tulip market took a nasty tumble in the late 1630s.

2. T20 is a laboratory of cricketing experimentation, in the quest for new shots that combine run-scoring effectiveness with an almost heroic level of physical ugliness, and in new bowling strategies to counteract the facts that batsmen can now hit the ball in what often seems to be a mathematics-defying 420-degree radius, and that modern bats have alarmingly expanded the batsmen's margin for slogging error. However, the most significant advance on display in this tournament has been the stumps, which light up when struck.

It seems almost tragically ridiculous now that cricket persisted - survived, even - for hundreds of years without stumps and bails with flashing lights in. By ignoring technology about which someone must have thought within approximately 25 seconds of Thomas Edison first demonstrating the electric light bulb in 1879 (thanks be to the internet, for she is all-knowing and all-seeing), cricket missed the opportunity to become the world's most popular form of entertainment.

Had the automaticoflashwickets been implemented in the late 19th century, would football hold its current global pre-eminence? Would anyone bothered to invent cinema, when all the entertainment the human brain could possibly require was already available at either end of a cricket pitch? Answers: no, and definitely no.

Cricket may have realised the need for, and glory of, instantly illuminating stumps far too late in its history, but it must now embrace further technological enhancements to improve the great game still further. These should include:

* An anti-tampering ball programmed to says "ow" when scratched, or, "oi, hands off" when illegally fondled. Uses technology developed by the doll industry.

* The honesty bat, which emits smoke from the edges when the ball has been snicked. There must be some chemical compound that burns instantly on contact with hard leather spheres. We put a man on the moon almost 45 years ago, there should already be an honesty bat in every household.

* Umpires on Segways. Controlled by an official ICC game-accelerating-chivvier in the stands. No more will cricket fans suffer the agonising trudge of two umpires converging on the midwicket area to discuss (a) fading light, (b) impending lightning, or (c) pub options. Instead, the officials will be forcibly whizzed at high speed for an instant confabulation, before a three-second big-screen countdown forces them into making a decision before (a) nightfall, (b) Armageddon or (c) closing time.

* Injured batsmen on Segways. The cricketing authorities in the sky declared incomprehensibly that runners would be outlawed from top-level cricket, thus preventing non-injured batsmen cheekily taking advantage of the absolutely zero advantage offered by having a runner, and depriving the paying spectator of slapstick run-out opportunities. If they are to persist with this measure, they should at least allow (or force) hobbling batsmen to use Segways to move between the wickets.

* Overweight fielders on Segways. Can you honestly tell yourself that you would not have paid to see Inzamam-ul-Haq zooming around the outfield on a Segway? No, you cannot.

3. Dale Steyn is good at bowling.

4. Stuart Broad is no stranger to slapping his chequebook on the ICC desk, whipping a pen out of his pocket, and saying, "Who shall I make it out to this week?" His fine for a meteorological dig at the umpires seemed a little harsh, however. If anything, he was charitable in claiming that the officials had indulged in some "distinctly average decision-making" when not taking the players off the field in England's D/L-aggravated defeat to New Zealand. Yes, the game was exciting and the atmosphere was electric. But it was too electric. If leaving the players on the field whilst all manner of a thundering hell was breaking loose in the skies above was distinctly average decision-making, then below-average decision making would presumably have involved ordering the players to carry on playing throughout the storm, whilst wearing medieval suits of armour, accessorised with pointy Kaiser helmets.

This is not to say that England were on the wrong end of a massive injustice. They have become extremely adept at finding methods of losing T20 matches. But deciding the outcome of a match after just five second-innings overs seems too contrived, even by T20 standards. More evidence is required. Evidence provided when New Zealand failed in an almost identical chase two days later. We can infer, therefore, that they would 100% definitely have done exactly the same against England, had Apocatequil the ancient Incan thunder god (currently on a gap-year trek around Asia) not intervened. England should be awarded the points. We can also infer that New Zealand would have learned their lesson from this failure, and thus closed out the victory against South Africa. Who should therefore be deducted two points.

5. A microstat: Dwayne Smith's 11 off 29 for West Indies against India was the slowest innings of more than 20 balls by an opener in a T20 international, and the fourth slowest in all T20 history by an opener when batting first.

6. There have been 19 matches in nine days in the men's tournament. After today's match, and tomorrow's day off, there will be 12 more games in six days, then two semis and a final played from Thursday to Sunday next week. The women's tournament has just begun; it comprises 27 matches in 15 days. It feels like a festival of cricket, giving cricket's newer forces a moment in the spotlight, whilst also pitting the top teams against each other in meaningful contests, and almost guaranteeing daily stories of interest. The 50-over World Cup must be looking on in the greenest of envy.

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

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Posted by dunger.bob on (March 27, 2014, 4:35 GMT)

I've always thought the umpires don't do enough to entertain the crowd while the bowlers amble back to their mark. Billy Bowden tried, but didn't quite have his routine nailed down. I was thinking perhaps some karaoke from the stump man while square leg does some break dancing in a flashing body suite.

@ JackieThePen: Another tip, stand well clear of the dude with all the metal body piercings, Oh, and remove your own jewellery if you have any.

Posted by   on (March 26, 2014, 16:01 GMT)

Makes good reading when T-20 revelry is taking a break. Some suggestions and innovative ideas are worthy of more than just a casual wonder., I suppose the ongoing Srinivasan saga won't give either the ICC or BCCI much time to think and reflect on little else but probity in cricket administration. Eminently readable piece.

Posted by nikhilrkutty on (March 26, 2014, 5:11 GMT)

"Yes, the game was exciting and the atmosphere was electric. But it was too electric." - Gold, this.

Posted by Insult_2_Injury on (March 26, 2014, 2:51 GMT)

19 matches in 9 days you say? Here in Australia the official FTA broadcaster has screened the grand total of.....1. Therefore your synopsis is invaluable, thanks.

Posted by Nampally on (March 25, 2014, 19:14 GMT)

A good Comic Act Andy Zaktman - I won't call it "Unbeliabale!Your one liner for Dale Steyn is too brieffor good Bowling whilst Broad gets 2 paras for inventing a method of losing. Dwayne Smith's 11 off 29 balls was a tortoise Crawl after eating tortios! But the best anti climax came when Netherland collapsed for 39 in 10 overs after hammering 193 in 14 overs. Does it not show the unpredictability in this great Game of Cricket & the magic of T20- Kings one day but Paupers the Next day. That is what makes predicting a winner of T20 so "incredibly & unbelievably" unpredictable!

Posted by sportsismylife on (March 25, 2014, 18:41 GMT)

Loved the honesty bat. I prefer that the ball self destructs into a leather paste if tampered with or stays glued on to the palm of the tamperer.

How about: - Mildly glowing laser light emitters at base of each stump, that illuminates the pitch area between the stumps at each end helping the umpires with lbw decisions and batsmen to know where their off stump is.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (March 25, 2014, 18:16 GMT)

@ BenGundry observes "Regarding point 4. The chase NZ failed in wasn't near identical. For a list of the differences, see point 3."

An excellent observation. Point 3 has the uncanny ability to trump all other forces in the cricket universe.

Posted by Rishabh on (March 25, 2014, 16:24 GMT)

Virender Sehwag on a Segway.

Posted by BenGundry on (March 25, 2014, 15:20 GMT)

Zalt, Regarding point 4. The chase NZ failed in wasn't near identical. For a list of the differences, see point 3.

Posted by   on (March 25, 2014, 13:42 GMT)

I think the umpires on segways is about to happen sooner....actually a great idea!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on ESPNcricinfo.

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