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World Cricket Podcast
'One-over cricket is the future'
March 4, 2010
The reincarnation of Phil Tufnell, the age at which cricketers average the highest, and a super one-question quiz
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Hello, cricket nuts, and welcome to issue seven of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. I am Andy Zaltzman, and if I could eat cricket for breakfast I would. In fact, if someone made cereal in the shape of Garfield Sobers spanking one through the covers, I'd buy it. And if they also made an egg with a square yolk, so that when you cracked it and fried it, it looked a bit like an aerial photo of a cricket pitch, only white and yellow instead of green and less green, well I'd buy that too.

Just me in this week's podcast, and, well, I and the rest of my nation are breathing a sigh of relief after England's narrow escape against Bangladesh in the second one-day international.

England's South Africans didn't fire, they can't legislate for that, but their Irishman bailed them out. Eoin Morgan's outstanding maiden hundred prevented Shakib al Hasan's team registering their first win over England at the 10th attempt, and, excluding their 3-0 whitewash of a West Indian third-and-a-half XI last year, only their ninth triumph against a Test nation other than Zimbabwe in 143 one-dayers.

I didn't see much of the game, but it did provide further evidence that Bangladesh are now regularly losing games by quite small margins, very small in this case, and their feisty and stylish batting could cause England's erratic bowling attack some real problems on this tour.

Could England find themselves retrospectively changing their excuse for not taking their captain with them from "he needs a snooze", to "we couldn't risk our captain being psychologically destroyed so close to the Ashes"? Probably not, but having left Strauss at home to hibernate for a while, they really have to win all their games.

What particularly impressed me about Morgan's innings was the fact that, having hit the winning runs, he appeared blissfully unaware that the game was over. I understand the scoreboard in Dhaka might not have been providing the kind of bang-up-to-the-minute information in which cricket scoreboards generally specialise, but I prefer to think it was the mark of a man so engrossed in his batting, so in love with his sport, that he just didn't want to have to go off.

I remember playing in a school match when I was a boy, in which the opposition's star batsman was on about 40 not out when he hit the winning runs. His teacher was the umpire, and he made us all stay out there fielding until he had reached 50. This being an under-10 school game, 50 was a big deal. And he got edgy. Those nervous 40s really dragged on. He got there in the end, but I do hope he received a letter from the ICC confirming that his half-century was invalid. I don't think even Javed Miandad or Graeme Pollock got quite that level of assistance from their home umpires.

Craig Kieswetter's two-ball innings was a highlight for the cricket nostalgic. First ball, edged through the wicketkeeper's fingers for four. Second ball, same shot, same edge, different fielder, caught by slip. It was as if Phil Tufnell himself had strode to the wicket and rolled back the years one last time.

Australia's trip to New Zealand has begun with a flurry of spectacular finishes and home wins. Could the mighty Australian façade finally be cracking after a period of total cricketing dominance stretching back, oh, three months? Too soon to say.

But the Super Over that decided the Christchurch Twenty20 match was a glimpse into cricket's future. Inevitably, as the world's attention span shrinks shorter and shorter, the 20-over game will come to be seen as a relic of a more leisurely age, when people could afford to spend three whole hours watching a game of cricket.

One-over cricket is where the game is heading, friends. And even at a funereal over rate of say 10 per hour, that could mean an entire international tournament - round-robin and knockout stages - could be staged in a single afternoon. Imagine the excitement of being able to see all the world's top players walk on and off the pitch a few times. In fact, they could go further - the World Twenty20 in West Indies will take place less than a year after the last one in England. But with the one-over game that proved so exciting in Christchurch, it is even possible that they could stage two World One1 tournaments in a single day. Featuring up to seven different Pakistan captains.

Of course, this all brings memories flooding back of last year's inaugural ICC Coin Toss Championship, which took place in India. It was won by Australia, after Pakistan captain Younis Khan wrongly called heads in the final at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in front of a feverish crowd of 35,000.

The Australians had beaten strongly fancied South Africa in the semi-final, after the Proteas' skipper, Graeme Smith, called "Legs" in the semi-final, condemning his team to yet another embarrassing self-inflicted exit from a major tournament. Will they never learn?

Stand-in Australian captain Michael Clarke dedicated the thrilling victory to Ricky Ponting, who missed the final after rupturing a thumb knuckle tendon in practice.

ICC chairman David Morgan said the tournament had captured the imagination of the advertising executives. "From a revenue point-of-view, we've cut out the problematic cricketing phases of cricket," he explained.

Well, the waiting is over. Well, it is for those of you who read my last blog about Sachin Tendulkar, and wanted to know the answer to the question posed in it - what is the highest-averaging age for Test cricketers? Is it, say, 24, when they're still in the first flush of brilliant cricketly youth, eyes sharp, muscles primed, confidence undimmed by the dead hand of failure? Or perhaps 31, when the wisdom and insight of experience allies itself to the final flush of athletic prime? Well, let's find out, I have the winning age in an envelope here...

The age with the highest Test batting average, since the end of the Second World War, counting only top seven batsmen to remove the possible skewing influence of bowlers generally being younger than batsmen... the highest-averaging age for Test batsmen is... 39.

39. Can that be right? Yes it can. I was surprised when I found that out too. There's hope for me yet. It's four years until I hit my peak as a Test-match batsman.

All 39-year-olds combined in Test cricket, batting No. 7 or higher, have a collective batting average of 44 since the war. Next highest: ages 37 and 38, each averaging 40. All ages below 28 have an average of 36 or lower. Ages 28 to 39 all average 37 or higher.

I guess what this could show is that, if you're still playing in your late 30s, it's becuase you're a very good player. Or it could show that England should now recall 38-year-old Mark Lathwell, who failed in his two Tests in 1993, and retired from first-class cricket in 2001, but should nevertheless according to these statistics be ripening nicely into a world-class Test batsman round about now.

So in conclusion, all batsmen aged 0 to 36 (and 40 to 120) should be instantaneously dropped. Statistics tell us that is unarguable.

Now for the latest in my Annoying Things About Cricket series. And I'm focusing on the minor irritants that just slightly raise my cricketing hackles, not the really annoying big issues affecting the game. Petty things I should be big enough and old enough to let wash over me, but which nevertheless often cause me to shout at my television whilst watching cricket alone at home on my own.

I've mentioned a few of these in past blogs. A particular irritant is when umpires confer about the light, but do so by walking towards each other so slowly, that by the time they meet, night has fallen.

Here's another one. Why do they deduct overs between innings in Test matches? Can't they add 10 minutes on at the end? Is that too much hardship? I looked on the Lord's website for tickets to the England v Pakistan Test this summer. £90 for the day. That is a pound an over. 16.66 pence per ball. So between innings I would be paying £2 just for the privilege of watching the heavy roller. No, thank you. Hang on, I'm not done yet. With 30,000 people at cricket HQ, assuming three two-over deductions in a match, that is £180,000-worth of cricket that is not being played. You might set yourself up as an IPL franchise and hire Paul Collingwood.

Aaah, that's better. Best to get these things off your chest.

So, here's an interesting story about how the bails came to shaped in that funny bobbly way of theirs... hang on, I can't stop it, there's a stat coming... I'm like King Canute trying to stop the sea, there's no way this stat isn't getting out...

And it's coming in the form of a one-question multiple-choice quiz:

Question 1.

Who has hit more sixes in his last 30 Tests: (a) Kevin Pietersen, (b) Jacques Kallis, or (c) The Archbishop of Canterbury?

Let's mull this over before we leap into a hasty answer. Who could it be? Pietersen, the all-guns-blazing, no-holds-barred formerly badger-haired shot-innovator and batting whirlwind, who at The Oval in 2005 hit seven sixes whilst playing for a draw? Or Kallis, the man who at Port Elizabeth in 1999 scored 85 not out off 260 balls in six excruciating hours with four fours as South Africa pressed for a declaration? Or could it be Dr Rowan Williams, the beard-sporting professional archbishop who's got a cassock and isn't afraid to wear it? No, it's not him. Obviously. That's not his style. Or his job. So it's Kallis, or Pietersen.

Can you guess? I'll give you a clue: it's not even that close.

Time's up, pens down.

The answer is: Kallis, the Cape Town Technician, the High Priest Of High Front Elbows, the Crown Prince of Coaching Manuals. And he wins by a 16 sixes to 12 margin.

Yikes. What's happened to cricket? What's happened to Pietersen? Hearing that he's been hitting fewer sixes than Kallis is like hearing that Warren Beatty has been sleeping with fewer women than Elton John. Roughly.

In fact, Kallis is eighth on the all-time Test match six-thwacking chart: 71 maximums he has smote over the years. And they can't all have been mishit forward defensives. More sixes than Ponting, more than Botham, more even than Manoj Prabhakar or David Capel.

And Pietersen isn't quite the six-clouter he once was. He hit 32 sixes in his first 18 Tests. He has hit just 17 in his last 40. In that early part of his career, he scored at 72 runs per 100 balls; since then, he's been ticking over at 58. He hasn't hit two sixes in a Test innings since May 2007. His average, well it's stayed the same, at 48.

It's happened in one-dayers too. He cleared the ropes - well, cleared the padded advertising - 34 times in his first 32 ODIs. But has threatened people's picnics just 25 times in his last 65 games. Again, he began his one-day career blasting along at 98 per 100 balls. In the last 65, his strike rate has been 81.

With responsible haircuts has come responsible batting. Dye it blue again, KP. Sculpt it like a triceratops. Shave it to look like Graeme Smith's face. Anything. Bring back the old KP. Stop batting like an Englishman. And stop aiming towards midwicket when you try to block straight balls. That'll help too.

Here's something to drop into your next conversation about sixes, wherever you have it - in the pub, at a café, in a queue for a bus, on a first date, at a funeral, in the witness box for a court case about a man who allegedly murdered his next-door neighbour's rabbit by hitting a six into its hutch... Chris Cairns scored 15.7% of all his Test runs in sixes. But not as good as his daddy, Lance, who spanked 18.1% of all his runs without bothering to let the ball touch the outfield. Say what you like about the Cairns family, but they liked a neatly mown outfield, and they didn't want to spoil it with a bouncing ball. And they clearly hated advertising hoardings and wanted to smash them to pieces.

But the proportion of sixes king is Michael Holding. He scored almost a quarter of his runs with maximums. Presumably thinking, "I run a hell of a long way when I'm bowling. Seems a bit silly to run any more when I'm batting."

That's it for this week's World Cricket Podcast. I'll be back in two weeks' time to witter on about, well, cricket, I suppose. The first Test in Chittagong will have taken place - can Bangladesh extend their run of Tests in which they haven't been beaten by an innings to eight, equalling their record sequence of not being beaten by an innings?

And I will tell you exactly what will happen in the first New Zealand v Australia Test. A ball-by-ball prediction of all five days. In rhyming couplets. And there will have been another couple of hundred one-day internationals to pick over. Or ignore.

Until then, farewell, cricket fans, and I will play you out with some more lies about cricketers.

  • When Douglas Jardine was a little boy, he used to catch frogs in his garden, paint little cricket pads onto their legs, and glue miniature cricket caps to their heads, before releasing them back into the wild.

  • 1980s Australian legspinner Bob Holland once claimed that he was the reincarnation of physicist Marie Curie.

  • Sri Lankan batsman Sidath Wettimuny, on arriving at the wicket, would ask the umpire for middle-and-leg, whilst impersonating Elvis Presley.

  • To make good players seem less intimidating, South African spinner Hugh Tayfield would imagine batsmen wearing a nurse's outfit as he ran in to bowl.

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

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