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World Cricket Podcast
An apology to Amla, and a fountain of stats
February 19, 2010
Andy Zaltzman frolics unapologetically in cricket's great wash of numbers
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Hashim Amla: Makes Don Bradman look like Russel Arnold © AFP

Hello, and welcome to issue six of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast, broadcasting to the entire cricketing universe from a small room in South London. I am Andy Zaltzman, author of the Confectionery Stall blog, and I live in an igloo made of Wisdens. And my Test bowling average is 21.57. Or it would have been, if I'd been Freddie Trueman. Which I'm not. But I should have been.

Later on in this week's show, I'll be talking to Alex Bowden, King Cricket himself, from his palace of the kingdom of cricket, which he rules justly, but fairly, with the bat of justice in his hand and the stumps of truth on his head.

And above all, I'll be asking, "What the hell's happened to Hashim Amla?" First he was rubbish for a bit, then he got good, then he stayed pretty good for quite a while - nice, solid, steady kind of player - and then all of a sudden, bang, he's making Don Bradman look like Russel Arnold.

Four-hundred-and-ninety runs for once out. Who predicted that? Be honest. If you predicted that Amla would average 490.00 in this series, you win yourself a free IPL franchise of your choice. You have to be correct to within one decimal place.

He followed his double ton in Nagpur with two superb centuries at Eden Gardens, but ultimately in a losing cause, as Harbhajan struck last man Morkel on his pad, an appeal tore the Kolkata skies asunder, and umpire Steve Davis' finger of doom rose to the heavens, at which point, I'm pretty sure I heard the crowd roar here in London. Or it might have been my stomach rumbling. I'd been engrossed in the cricket and forgotten about breakfast. Schoolboy error. I cheated myself out of a meal.

And Harbhajan then broke the Indian 60-metre sprint record, defying the laws of physics as he hurtled across the outfield, arms outstretched in triumph, like an excited aeroplane about to take off on a particularly appealing flight.

Amla left simultaneously triumphant and defeated - it had looked like India would need to use an industrial digger or heavy artillery to extricate him from the wicket... you got the impression that if Amit Mishra had bowled Amla a ravenous man-eating crocodile, he would have covered his off stump and gently knocked the slavering reptile safely into the leg-side before staring his stoical stare back at the bowler, as if to say, "Is that all you've got? Go on, try a boa constrictor next, or a tank of piranhas, I am in form."

A fine win for India after their first Test spaghetti-ing, set up initially by Zaheer and Harbhajan's bowling on day one, then decisively by the extraterrestrial brilliance of Sehwag, whose unfeasible scoring rate again bought India just enough time to win, with milliseconds to spare on day five. So it's all set up magnificently for the third, fourth and fifth Tests... oh... oh... what do you mean there's no third Test? Is there a fourth Test? No? They're jumping straight to the fifth? No. That's it? Oh. What a shame. So this two-match series proved what exactly? Nothing. Other than that both India and South Africa can both play very well, and very badly.

You had to feel sorry for Amla. In fact, here at the World Cricket Podcast, we have received a leaked full transcript from the official ICC dressing-room stenographer (there is one in every international dressing room now to transcribe all conversations as part of the anti-corruption drive). Here's what Amla said when he made it back to the South Africa dressing room.

"You lot owe me a strongly worded apology. Preferably in writing. In fact, a bunch of flowers and a condolence card might do the trick. I've just become the fifth player to score twin hundreds at Eden Gardens, after Weekes, Gavaskar, Gary Kirsten and Dravid... and do you know what they've all got in common guys? Do you? Can you guess? No, it's not that their favourite band is Bon Jovi, no. Yes, I am sure of that. Anyone else? And no, it's not that they've all been on a date with Condoleezza Rice, no, that was just Gavaskar and it was a business meeting. I'll tell you what they've got in common: they all scored two hundreds at this ground, just like I've just done, and none of them ending up on the losing side like Muggins here, who's just batted for 12 hours in the match whilst the rest of you muppets forgot which end of the bat you're supposed to hold. Well, thank you very much.

"Hey, Ashwell, do you know what this is? It's a bat. That's right. And what do we use it for? Is it (a) snooker, (b) cooking, (c) hitting the little red ball or, (d) smashing ourselves in the head in frustration when our team-mates leave us high and dry after one of the finest batting displays of recent years? Any guesses. Time's up, it was (c), and (d). Smash, ow, smash, ow, smash, ow..."

Thus concluded another compelling but odd and frustratingly short series, in which South A began by scoring 776 for 7 wickets, then lost their next 8 for 43. Funny old world. They scored five centuries, but aside from the five centuries, their specialist batsmen together averaged just 12. Smith, Prince and Duminy each averaged 10 or less for the series, and, strap in stats fans, I've been digging, I found a nugget, and I've polished it into a 18-carat statistic...

That is the first time a non-Bangladesh-or-Zimbabwe Test nation has had three of its specialist batsmen average 10 or less since India went to New Zealand for a two-game series in 2002-03 and Ganguly, Sehwag, Laxman (and Bangar) all stank the place out big time: 117 runs at average 7.3. Ye-ouch. New Zealand weren't much better. In fact, only two players in the series averaged over 26. Mark Richardson topped the averages, and can go to bed happy every night for the rest of his life, safe in the knowledge that he once outscored Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Ganguly in a Test series. And that is something I, for one, am unlikely ever to do. Although, to be fair, I haven't really had the opportunity.

To discuss this, and other goings on in the cricketosphere, I talked to Alex Bowden, King Cricket himself.

Interview with His Majesty, King Cricket

Incidentally, the latest proposed new global Twenty 20 franchises include the following teams:

The Ahmedabad Armadillos

The Nagpur Nincompoops

The Somerset Sausages

The Western Australia Kidney Failures

The Port Elizabeth Pencil Sharpeners

The Wellington Chunderers

The Barbados Biddies

And the Colombo Snouts

So here's a funny little cricket story. I was playing in a game down in the picturesque village of... hang on, it's stats time, the story is off.

  • VVS Laxman averages 101 from 14 Tests in Delhi and Kolkata. In 36 Tests at India's other grounds, he averages just 33. It's about time the selectors started to take notice, and either play all their Tests in Delhi and Kolkata, or drop VVS everywhere else. You can't fight statistics.

  • Look out, here's another one. Of the 111 batsmen who have opened the batting in 10 or more Tests since 1980, Virender Sehwag has the highest strike rate, obviously, by miles, at 82, and the highest average as an opener, 54.88. Good player. Better than you, better than me. But if you're looking for your opener to stick around and wear the bowling down, look elsewhere. The average Sehwag opening innings lasts 67 balls. The average Chris Tavaré effort was 105 balls. Sure, Sehwag might hit a few more fours and sixes, but the opener's job is to see off the new ball. Give me Tavaré.

  • Oh no, I can't stop the stats. JP Duminy has now quacked out three golden ducks in his last six Test innings. Since 1980, around the time people started bothering to write down how many balls batsmen have faced, no other top-seven batsman in the world can even come close to matching that. The closest, in fact, is Greg Chappell, who managed three first-ballers in 10 innings, spaced over a year.

  • Another golden-duck stat: no family has contributed more golden ducks to the Test record books than the Waughs. Seven by Mark, and six by Steve. Both, therefore, totally useless players. Until they'd survived ball one.

  • It's a Geneva fountain of statistics. Hashim Amla broke the world record for most balls faced in a two-Test series. 1033 − that's one ball for every glare Curtly Ambrose glared at Mike Atherton in the 1994 West Indies v England series.

  • Someone put me out with a hose, I've caught statistics fire. In the space of his last four Tests, Amla's average has rocketed up like a 1980s Pakistani umpire's finger to an Abdul Qadir lbw appeal. It's risen from 39.8 to 47.3, waving at Ashwell Prince's average heading the other way, like two old acquaintances passing on a pair of station escalators but not wanting to talk to each other.

  • He became the ninth player to score two centuries in a match and find himself on the losing side. Andrew Strauss did it 14 months ago in Chennai, so it seems that these days, India are never more dangerous than when someone is smashing them for two hundreds in one match.

  • Holy bananas it's a Vesuvius of stats. There were an incredible 11 centuries in this two-match series, but only two more scores over 50 - 11 out of 13, 84.6% in old money. That's the highest conversion rate of 50s to 100s in any Test series in the entire six-billion-year history of the known universe.
  • Stop the clock. I can't go on.

I'm going to have to end the podcast before I am drowned by statistics.

I haven't even had time to give my thoughts on the absolutely thrilling Australia v West Indies one-day series that some people claim has been going on. Who says there are no surprises in cricket? Everyone had that down as a 5-0 whitewash to Australia. Who could have predicted that one of the games would be rained out and it would only be 4-0? Thrilling, edge-of-the-seat stuff.

But no time for a full meteorological analysis of exactly how it all went wrong for the Aussies. That's it. I'll be back with another podcast in a couple of weeks, and more Confectionery Stall blogs in the meantime.

Until then, may cricket guide you well, listeners. And I'll play you out with some more lies about cricketers.

  • Moustache-wielding Australian ex-captain Allan Border won't leave his house in the morning until he has correctly guessed the outcome of five consecutive coin tosses. During a run of bad luck, he spent the whole of 1998 stuck in his front porch, calling heads.

  • On nights out, New Zealand stalwart Kenny Rutherford sometimes pretends he is in fact nuclear-physics whizz Ernest Rutherford, and goes round bars offering to split atoms for cash.

  • 1950s South African wicketkeeping legend John Waite is a massive fan of Roman emperor Tiberius, and sometimes wears a toga and makes his pet lizards dress up and fight like gladiators.

  • Former Indian wicketkeeper Kiran More cries whenever his mobile phone runs out of charge. He thinks it's a metaphor for life.

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