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Hello cricket world, and welcome to the fifth episode of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast, recorded Wednesday 3 February 2010. I am Andy Zaltzman and I sleep on a bed of Wisdens. When I wake up, I work out my age in terms of someone else's Test batting average. Currently, I'm exactly Graeme Fowler years old, but in April I'll be Mike Gatting. Can't believe my daughter's already nearly Bob Holland. Hardly seems like yesterday that she was just Chris Martin. Mind you, before you know it she'll be Maninder Singh. Still, as long as she doesn't start bringing boyfriends home until she's at least, oooh, Mark Ramprakash, or preferably even Sourav Ganguly, I can deal with fatherhood.
So, in this week's podcast, we'll be taking a look at... hang on Shahid Afridi tried to eat a cricket ball.
Nothing else matters. Afridi tried to eat the ball.
Still, we shouldn't be surprised. It's about the only thing he hadn't tried to do so far in his explosive career. Why not have a little nibble - Australia's a free country. And there were plenty of spare balls.
Of course, there was uproar about alleged ball-tampering. But surely the greater concern is the evidence that the Pakistan team are being drastically underfed. If Afridi is reduced to trying to eat a cricket ball, it can only be a matter of time before wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal starts nibbling away at the stumps when standing up to the spinners. Although if his eating is like his wicketkeeping, he'll need a bib.
More on this later when I talk to our Australian correspondent Justin Hamilton about the crazy goings-on at the end of the Aussie summer.
To me the Afridi tampering/snacking incident was reminiscent of when 1930s England mystery spinner Igneus Poltroon jnr unveiled his new delivery, the "Gobber", which he expectorated down the pitch at high speed, with devilish underspin. On a wet wicket, the moisture in the pitch and the saliva on the ball could make Poltroon unplayable. Although he did have some problems disguising the delivery, which stood out from the rest of his repertoire, which he bowled largely from his hand.
Apart from his famous cartwheel toe-slinger, in which he would place the ball on the top of his foot, somersault into the wicket like an Olympic gymnast, and catapult the ball off the end of his toes as he cartwheeled past the umpire.
Poltroon's Gobber once dismissed Wally Hammond in the Gentlemen v Players match at Lord's, but was later outlawed by the MCC after one of Poltroon's teeth flew out as he spat a particularly skiddy delivery, and the projected molar hit short leg Gubby Allen square on the back of the head.
So, the big news in cricket is that on Saturday, India and South Africa will come face to face.
The world's number one and number two Test teams meeting in a climactic contest to define for all history which is the greater... over two Tests... Two Tests? Is that it? Two... Well, to commemorate this two-game showdown, here is the official World Cricket Podcast rundown of the all-time great two-Test series...
There you go. A two-Test series is like going to the cinema to watch a film, enjoying the first half-hour, and then someone putting a canvas bag over your head and bundling you into the back of a taxi before you can see what was really going to happen.
Nevertheless, it's a fascinating prospect. South Africa roared into form at the end of the England series, but India are undefeated in the last 18 months and 14 Tests.
SA have a 10-wins-to-five advantage in the 22 Tests the countries have played, it's four wins each in Tests in India. Dale Steyn took 15 wickets at 20 last time round in India, two years ago - more wickets than all of India's seamers put together. Tendulkar averages just 28 v SA in India, Dravid 39, Dhoni 28, Laxman 22.
Steyn and Morkel are shaping up to be the next great fast bowling partnership in world cricket, in the footsteps of the likes of Donald and Pollock, Wasim and Waqar, Ambrose and Walsh, Lillee and Thompson, Newport and Lawrence from England's immortal 1988 Lord's victory over Sri Lanka, and of course, Sri Lanka's own Ramanayake and Labrooy from the same game.
Dhoni's India, however, have proved adaptable and resilient. Six of their top seven are averaging over 50 in the current 14-Test unbeaten streak, and Zaheer, Harbhajan and Ishant Sharma all average around 30 with the ball. South Africa have lost their long-time coach Mickey Arthur. But that loss could be counterbalanced by the fact that India are coached by potential South African double agent Gary Kirsten. After Trott and Pietersen helped their mother country square the series against England, could Kirsten do the same now?
"I'm sorry, Virender and Gautam, I just think we need a new pair of openers. You're dropped. And instead we're going in with Vikram Rathour and Sanjay Bangar. There's no substitute for experience. And Dravid, loosen up, you're opening the bowling."
That said, it should be good while it lasts. By the end of it, we should be closer to knowing the answers to at least some of the following questions...
* Who is the more entertaining opener: Virender Sehwag or Ashwell Prince? * Will Sachin Tendulkar play forever? There seems no reason why he shouldn't. He's basically immortal. * Can Graeme Smith conclusively overtake his predecessor Kirsten as the most inelegant but effective batsman of all time? * Will Paul Harris reclaim his rightful spot as the world's sixth greatest bowler? * Will Shahid Afridi turn up, run onto the pitch and eat the ball? Or will other bowlers be inspired by Afridi and eat the ball themselves? Kallis looks like he likes a snack; I think he's the most likely.
This is set to be a great test of both teams. Over two matches. Here's a deal: See how it goes over two games. If it's really good, just play some more. Is that too much to ask?
And the official World Cricket Podcast prediction: 3-2 to India. If only.
Time to get the lowdown on the tail end of the Australian summer now, and in particular, the lunatic who fortunately didn't injure Pakistan's Khalid Latif, with comedian Justin Hamilton.
Justin Hamilton interview in here
England update now, and the latest news on the decision by England to let captain Andrew Strauss hibernate.
England, of course, omitted Strauss from the forthcoming tour of Bangladesh, to rest and recuperate ahead of his hectic schedule of not playing in the World Twenty20 in West Indies. It was assumed Strauss was being rested for some or all of the following reasons:
* to avoid risking injuring his shoulder raising his bat to celebrate the four centuries England are assuming all their batsmen will score in the two Tests * to assuage his carbon conscience by not flying a quarter of the way around the world and back again just to play a silly game like cricket * to put up some shelves * to take down those shelves * to ask his wife where she wanted those shelves * to put up those shelves again under supervision from Mrs Strauss * to learn to play the trumpet in order to be able to respond to the Barmy Army's own trumpeteer, * to work on his recipe for spaghetti carbonara (tweak of nutmeg, can't go wrong) * and to not miss any of the new series of 24 (he is known to model his captaincy on the calm, assured leadership of the late, lamented, fictional US president, David Palmer).
Well, the truth is that Strauss has to hibernate, because he is in fact genetically part hedgehog. Making him the second consecutive England Test captain who can be a bit spiky.
Strauss is currently snuggled down in a big pile of leaves and sticks in a quiet corner of his local woods in Middlesex, lowering his metabolic rate to ensure that he survives the cricketing winter and is all set to go come England's next Test series, the Ashes in November. Well, that is, the next England Test series that is discernible to large parts of the English media.
Time now for a new World Cricket Podcast feature, a two-question multiple-choice quiz, the answers to which spell the initials of a Test match player.
Question 1: What do Graham Gooch, Mike Whitney and WG Grace's little brother GF have in common?
A: They were out for a pair on Test debut. B: They all have appeared in low-grade Australian soap opera Neighbours (Whitney as a school cricket coach, Gooch as a nightclub bouncer, and GF Grace in a lithograph in Helen Daniels' bedroom). C: They all died a fortnight after their Test debut. D: They all used to sleep in the bath the night before a big match - Gooch because he liked to be wrinkly when he batted, Whitney because he liked to dream of being a shark to make his bowling more aggressive, and GF Grace because he had once fallen out of bed and been out for 0 the next day, after which he always slept in something with high sides.
Question 2: Why is former offspinner John Traicos unique amongst international cricketers? A: He is the only player to have represented his country in both men's and women's cricket. B: He holds several cricketing records: the longest gap between Tests - 22 years between his final match for SA in 1970 and his debut for Zimbabwe in 1992; he is the only Test cricketer to have played for two different countries, been born in a third (Egypt) and have parents from a fourth (Greece) and now live in a fifth (Australia), all whilst using a name, John, that wasn't his real name, which was Yiannis, and is the only Test cricketer to have played against both Bill Lawry and Sachin Tendulkar. C: On his international debut, against Australia in 1970, he left his jockstrap in the team hotel, and had to play in his wife's bikini bottoms. Nevertheless, South Africa won the match. Traicos remains the only player to debut in women's underwear. D: He used to practise fending off bouncers by sneaking into the monkey enclosure with a bucket of apples, then teasing the monkeys until they started pelting the fruit at his face. He would then try to block the fruit with his bat, before the zookeepers noticed.
So, two questions. The answers make the initials of a famous Test cricketer, not including middle initials.
The answers: question 1 was A, they were all out for a pair; and question 2 was B, obviously B, making the initials AB. And the correct AB Test cricketer in question is:
Andy Blignaut of Zimbabwe.
Any of you who went for Allan Border, bad luck. Alec Bedser, tough break. Famous 19th-century Australian stonewaller Alec Bannerman, two-Test South African war hero Arthur Briscoe, or little-remembered West Indian legspinner Arthur Barrett. Not even close. It was Blignaut. If you got it right, you win the chance to forge Andy Blignaut's signature on a piece of paper.
Well, that's it for this fortnight's World Cricket Podcast. Thanks again to Justin Hamilton, whose website is justinhamilton.com.au.
There will be more in my Confectionery Stall blog soon, and I'll be back with another podcast in a couple of weeks, when I'll be talking about issues ranging from cricket to cricket. Via cricket.
Until then, howzat my friends, howzat. And I'll play you out with some more lies about cricketers.
Northamptonshire and England opener Wayne Larkins got to the last two in the auditions to play Indiana Jones in the film Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but was beaten by Harrison Ford because the filming clashed with England's 1980 series with West Indies, which Larkins hoped to play in.
Indian batting legend Gundappa Viswanath is obsessed with balloons, and used to blow up 100 balloons before each innings, hoping it would help him score 100 runs.
Pre-war Australian legspin guru Clarrie Grimmett once pretended he was a private investigator for an entire month, just to see whether he might like to do it as a job.
Mudassar Nazar can juggle six live ferrets at once, but generally chooses not to use that power.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer