Hello, cricket world, welcome to episode one of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. I am comedian Andy Zaltzman, author of the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo. 98% of my brain is cricket. Is that a waste? Yes. Of the other 2%. Although, as the great West Indian CLR James wrote, "What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" Well, statistics, mainly. Or fielding drills.
In this week's inaugural world cricket podcast − perhaps the most significant development in the history of broadcasting since a caveman first discovered that more cavewomen could hear him shout and see him wave his club around if he stood on top of a mammoth − I will be looking at the cavalcade of international cricket that has been shoving itself into our faces recently. I'll bring you the cricket news that others fear to relate, and slapping a big fat statistic down on the table and telling you to eat it for your breakfast.
Where else to start than with the South Africa v England one-day series? Well, plenty of places. Test matches, for a start.
And in a year that has seen more than its fair share of unfathomably tedious high-scoring draws, Dunedin played host to a classic. The words "classic Test match" and "New Zealand" don't always dance merrily hand in hand, but this was what scientists would call 'proper cricket'.
The home team narrowly defeated Pakistan - did I read that right, Pakistan playing a Test match? Take that Al Qaeda, take that. It was the complete Test − five fluctuating days, in which batsmen and bowlers each had their periods of dominance, and an exciting finish. All viewed by about 25 people, and a couple of escaped crested grebes from Dunedin bird sanctuary.
I didn't see a single ball of it, but I still loved it. Just watching the numbers move in both columns was enough for me. I watched almost very ball of the West Indies v England series at the start of the year, and by the end of it I wanted to hibernate. Anything to escape the futility.
Umar Akmal played one of the finest debuts of the millennium so far, and both Shane Bond and Mohammad Asif played. Statistically, of all bowlers who have made their Test debuts this decade and taken 20 Test wickets, Bond and Asif are the best. Both average 22. Between them, they have played just 30 Tests, out of the 101 their countries have played since their debuts. They have failed to play in nearly as many Tests as I have. Which is going some. A performance record so paltry as be easily mistakeable for a coop full of chickens. That is the first paltry-poultry pun of this podcast. And, I humbly pledge, the last. Reassuringly for those who like their universe to be in order, Bond is now injured again. And it can only be a matter of time before Asif finds another ludicrous way to get banned, like firing an umpire out of a massive catapult, or testing positive for illegal levels of unpasteurised French cheese, or failing to turn up for a training camp after being cornered in his garden shed by a giant imaginary moth.
Meanwhile in India, Mahendra Dhoni's men steamrollered Sri Lanka in the second Test after a characteristic barrage of Sehwagic magnificence on the first day. There are not many 100% verifiable facts in the world these days, but I would confidently suggest that one fact is that Virender Sehwag is a more exciting batsman than Alistair Cook. And I think, in her heart of hearts, even Alistair Cook's mummy would acknowledge that.
I can't imagine what it's like as a bowler going to work on a nice sunny morning, only to find Virender Sehwag and a good batting pitch waiting in your in-tray. Must be pretty dispiriting. I imagine the feeling of having to bowl to Sehwag on a flat pitch is akin to being an office secretary asked to do some photocopying, only to find that the photocopier has been replaced with a man-eating lion. In fact, Sehwag often bats as if he has just eaten that man-eating lion. Raw. Impressive work for a committed vegetarian, but that's the kind of cricketer he is. He defies rules.
What would people make of Sehwag if he were transported back in time and plonked into the 1950s, when a run rate of 2 per over was considered irresponsibly cavalier? I imagine they would say: "I've no idea what sport he thinks he's playing, but it sure as hell isn't cricket."
Anyway, an imposing win for India. As I speak, the third Test is underway, and if you're a fan of history - which I am, I love it, I've got posters of history all over my bedroom wall and I got its autograph at a book signing once - then you would expect India not to lose from 1-0 up.
I was first entranced by cricket during the 1981 Ashes. The following winter England went to India, lost the first Test, and then played out five consecutive draws of seemingly increasing futility until the schedule brought a merciful end to it. You got the feeling, though, that unless the schedule had brought and end to proceedings, Keith Fletcher and his men would still be there, 28 years later, still 1-0 down after 837 consecutive drawn Tests. My love for cricket survived that series - and I knew then it would never die. Although I hadn't factored Allen Stanford into my calculations at that point. What's he up to these days? Haven't heard from him in a while. Must be tied up with something. Oh yes, that's it. I remember now. Ironic in a way that a man who loved Twenty20 cricket so much is now having to rely very heavily on his defence.
In Australia, Ricky Ponting led his nation to an innings win over the West Indies. So they've probably forgotten that the Ashes ever even happened.
In an opinion poll of 100,000 randomly selected people from around the planet taken before the Aus v WI first Test, 99,856 people predicted that Australia would win easily, probably by an innings, including some 55,000 people who had never even heard of cricket. The remaining 144 people forecast that West Indies would blow Australia away with their barrage of devastatingly hostile fast bowling, before the Carribean batsmen flayed the Aussie bowlers flamboyantly to all parts of the Southern Hemisphere. But 143 of these people had just emerged from a 20-year coma, and the other one was relying on a dubious interpretation of the Book of Revelations.
The main matter of interest was a sparkling second-innings debut hundred by Adrian Barath. His devastating off-side play was reminiscent of, who shall we say, a young Andy Zaltzman. Well, I once hit a really good square cut for my school 3rd XI. Does that count?
And this leads to the first in a regular World Cricket Podcast feature: Splat - it's a ZaltzStat.
Barath and Umar Akmal have joined some illustrious names in reaching three figures in their first Test. Unquestionable greats of the game, from WG Grace and Ranjitsinjhi, George Headley and Greg Chappell, to Dirk Wellham and Ali Naqvi. All live contenders for the all-time World XI in my book. Albeit that my book has chapters written by Dirk Wellham's mummy and Ali Naqvi's best friend from school. And that, listeners, is a world first - Dirk Wellham and Ali Naqvi appearing in the same joke. They said it would never happen. They said it could never happen.
But have Barath and Umar condemned themselves to a career of failure? Of the 81 men who scored debut hundreds before this year, 30 have failed to score another hundred... That's no more hundreds in 230 combined Tests. Some, like Rodney Redmond and Andy Ganteaume, because they never played again; some, like Archie Jackson, because they took the disappointing option of dropping dead; and some, like Dirk Wellham, because they were Dirk Wellham. A further 13 debut centurions have gone on to score only one more century... so a sample of more than half of debut centurions have gone on to score a piddling 13 further hundreds in 434 subsequent Test matches. That's one every 33 games. That's worse than England allrounder Chris Lewis' 1 in 32 tests. And look what happened to him. Currently 100% more in jail than most cricketers like to be. Not playing with a lot of freedom, shall we say. An hour a day in the exercise yard, and few hours kip, and about 15 hours a day thinking about when he bowled out Tendulkar with an absolute beauty at Lord's in 1996, hoping that a relative can smuggle him a copy of that year's Wisden just to prove it was really him.
So to South Africa v England. England have continued their recent trend of veering wildly between excellence and ineptitude... taking Rudyard Kipling's advice from his poem "If" and treating the twin impostors triumph and disaster the same... by taking some positives from them and then refusing to repeat them in the next game. One game, England are perfectly focused, executing their game plan as smoothly as Henry VIII used to execute his wives. The next, they are thrashed like a naughty Victorian schoolboy. If this pattern continues - and let's not forget, it was the pattern that won them the Ashes - South Africa will win the final match of the series by at least 10 wickets, or 350 runs. Take your pick.
For their part, South Africa have been equally up and down, although they are clearly still producing some excellent cricketers. Who then go on to play for England. I'm sure we must have a few spare county cricketers knocking around that we don't really need that we can give them as a thank you present.
Other cricket news...
Following a spate of injuries, England have announced that they will no longer warm up for their matches by playing football. Instead, coach Andy Flower says the team will fight each other in brutal 15-round bare-knuckle boxing bouts. "We want to build team camaraderie, and smashing each other in the face like it's still the 19th century is the best way to do that. Sure, the players might have to take the field with the odd broken nose or swollen head here and there, but as long as they avoid the twisted ankles and knee-ligament damage that are the real problems these days, that's a price worth paying.
That's it for the first ever Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. If it turns out to be anything like Test cricket, in exactly 100 years' time there will be a podcast commemorating this podcast that will end up being exactly as funny as this one. That's a joke for all you 1976-77 Melbourne Centenary Test fans out there. (That game ended in a 45 run win for Australia against England - amazingly the exact same result and margin of victory as happened in the first ever Test 100 years earlier. I've over-explained the joke now. The magic's gone. First rule of comedy: never make jokes about the winning margins of two long-distant Test matches. That's why Eddie Murphy made it so big. Never fell into that trap.)
And finally, some lies about cricketers...
If Don Bradman had been a woman, he'd have scored twice as many runs, four times as quickly.
When Zaheer Abbas was born, he was the same size and shape as a cricket bat.
If Ian Botham had been Neil Armstrong, the first words he would have said when he landed on the moon would have been: "Howzat, come on that has to be out."
Aravinda de Silva once dropped a catch because he was trying to remember the dance moves to "Waterloo" by Abba.
And ex-England captain Ray Illingworth owns 2500 sofas.