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Hello, cricket fans, and welcome to issue nine of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. I am Andy Zaltzman, and I am a better cricketer than WG Grace. Currently, anyway. Admittedly the good doctor has been dead for 95 years, but then I wasn't alive when he was at his peak, so I guess it's even-ing out now.
This week, I ask: can the IPL retain the attention of the cricket world now that it is up against the English County Championship, which starts this week? Can Andrew Strauss ever get his place back in the England team after they absolutely whitewashed Bangladesh in his absence? And does Michael Clarke's brilliant form in the Test series in New Zealand suggest that all cricketers should consider ending long-term relationships in order to boost their performance? Never did Bob Dylan any harm. Musically, I mean. The master of the break-up album. Didn't really impact his cricket to be fair, positively or negatively.
There, I've asked the questions. Now for the answers. Yes. Yes. And Yes. And if you got all three right, you have won this week's star prize - the chance to spend five seconds thinking about Tendulkar's catch at Lord's in 1990. Enjoy them... And that's your lot.
Later in the show, a very special interview. But first, the County Championship begins this week. Britain is an ocean of excitement, although the launch has been slightly overshadowed by the early sparring in the British general election campaign. Such bad luck for the championship to be overshadowed by an election. Or is it? Is this not merely the latest example of English cricket slavishly imitating the IPL?
Luckily, unlike last year's election-shunted South-Africa-based IPL, it seems that the Championship will not have to move overseas due to its clash with democracy. Although the ECB did apparently have contingency plans in place to shift the entire tournament, all 144 four-day matches, to the Ukraine. Which might have bumped crowds up a bit.
As it is, a large swathe - about half - of the championship will be played in April and May, in other words, not in summer. Which will no doubt help further boost the number of draws in the championship. Forty-three of 72 Division one matches last year ended in draws - 60% − but the ECB is convinced it can bump that number even further up. Only champions Durham won more than four of their 16 games in Division one. A leaked statement revealed plans to ensure that all County Championship games end in draws by the year 2023. Possibly by reducing all games to just 20 overs a side.
So who's going to win? Well, I've not checked the long-term weather forecast, so I don't know. But you can be pretty sure that the leading wicket-taker will be a legspinner. It has been for six of the last seven years. That means on recent evidence there is an 85.7% chance of a legspinner topping the wickets tally. Admittedly, 71.4 of those per cents are down to Mushtaq Ahmed, who led the way for five years in a row up to 2007. But the point stands. Sign legspinners, counties. Any legspinners. In fact, an all-legspin attack is the surest way to win the title. Statistically speaking.
Still, there is talk of little else in the pubs and clubs of Britain - it's County Championship this, County Championship that, which promising young English players, or promising young formerly South African players, might be the next to break into the international side. And can anyone break Denis Compton's record first-class haul of 3816 runs in 1947? Well, no. And they probably won't do what Compton apparently did at the Old Trafford Test of 1955 - he turned up to a Test match with without his kitbag, cheekily borrowed an antique bat from the museum, and scored 158 with it.
I do hope that story is true. Who knows - I read it on Wikipedia, so it may well be false. Although the joy of the internet is that you can, if you want, publish on Wikipedia that you have a Test batting average of 65.3, and until someone edits it, it's basically true.
More than that, I hope it was a really antique bat - the oldest bat ever found, a fossilised mammoth tusk retrieved from an archaeological dig at an ancient cave, which had been carved into cricket-bat shape and had the logo of a major bank etched onto the back with a flint, in case the caveman was lucky enough to score a 50.
Another week, another controversy rocks Pakistan cricket, as international batsman Nasir Jamshed, has been arrested. What now? Taking Shahid Afridi's ball-eating example one step further and eating an umpire? Learning and developing from Shoaib Akhtar's lead and kebabing a team mate in the thigh with a cricket stump? Well, no. Cheating in a school exam. He allegedly got someone else to write his answers for him. Which is, I should add, not allowed. Although, to be fair, Pope Julius II got Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel for him, so one rule for one, another rule for another.
What possessed the young man? Did he simply think: (A) I am sitting an exam. (B) I am a Pakistan international cricketer. Therefore (C) I'd better do something exciting?
Interestingly, he keeps a large collection of fruit-based preserves in a wooden structure in his garden, so in effect, Nasir Jamshed has a jam shed. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you.
In other Pakistan news, the PCB have announced the latest in their weekly rounds of player bans. This week, they have banned all male cricketers from representing the national team for the next 18 months.
A PCB spokesman said: "The national team has been embarrassed and humiliated in recent months - all whilst using men in the team. So it's time for change - we'll be competing in the World Twenty20 and our Tests against Australia in England with an all-women team. And if results don't improve, we will then ban all Pakistani passport holders from playing for Pakistan."
IPL news now, and it's not going well for my team, the Deccan Chargers, whom I chose to support in the last podcast because I use a charger for my mobile phone, whereas I, for example, drive too carefully to be a Daredevil, have never met, let alone Challenged, any members of the Royal family, have not even Ridden a horse, let alone piggy-backed on a Knight, who presumably would be riding his own horse.
Therefore, in the light of the Chargers' disappointing 3-6 record* so far, I will be auctioning off my support to the highest bidder at the forthcoming IPL supporters' auction. I am prepared to fanatically support any franchise for a cut-price $50,000 per tournament. And get my kids to support them too.
There were a few comments on my last blog about my negativity towards the IPL. Including this entertaining contribution from a gentleman known only as The Coder, who wrote: "I think I see a pattern in all the articles recently published in Cricinfo. Every single one of the has a gripe about IPL. I don't like apples but I don't go around shouting at the top of my voice to my friends: 'I don't like apples, because it's got a stalk at the top.' The apple has to have a stalk at the top, people, or else there won't be an apple. And more than 500 million Indians like apples. You don't matter. Hard, but true too."
A fine missive, indeed. I should say that I was not meaning to slate the IPL from a journalistic point of view. For a start, I am not a journalist, which is good news for me, and even better news for journalism. I was merely relaying that, as a neutral cricket fan, it hasn't engaged me. I understand its popularity, I appreciate its qualities, I acknowledge it is having a positive impact on cricket in some ways, as well as a negative impact in others.
If I were to respond to The Coder with my own apple analogy, I would say that I love apples, stalks and all, always have ever since I was a child and I saw Ian Botham making an absolutely incredible apple pie on television in 1981, when it seemed there was no chance of anyone getting any pudding. And Botham didn't just make the pie, he ate it in one mouthful.
But I prefer some types of apple to others, and have slight misgivings about the orchard being overrun with the new genetically-modified super-shiny enormous yielding Incredibapple. I personally just don't find the Incredibapple as tasty as a good old Cox's Orange Pippin.
I guess, as a Test cricket lover already worried about how the five-day game is being run, I feel about the IPL very much like a 16th-century father must have felt on hearing that his daughter was going out on a date with Henry VIII. Slightly wary about the long-term prospects of something I dearly love.
A special world-exclusive interview now. Sir Scruton Wole is the world's oldest living first-class cricketer. He is currently aged 105, made his first-class debut at the age of eight in 1913, almost persuaded the ICC to give full Test status to the Vatican City, and attempted to start a stud farm on his Yorkshire estate to breed fast bowlers. I talked to him earlier this week.
AZ: Sir Scruton, thank you very much for joining me on the WCP.
SW: The pleasure is all mine, young man. You know, the first interview I ever did was with WG Grace himself.
SW: Yes. I was five years old at the time, and I interviewed Dr Grace for the International Journal Of Five-Year-Olds.
AZ: What did you talk to him about?
SW: What he did when he was five.
AZ: And what did he do?
SW: He couldn't remember. Mostly jumping up and down and messing about with fake beards I think.
AZ: So, how was it that you made your first-class bow at the tender age of 8?
SW: Yes, I first played for Middlesex quite by accident on the day I turned eight. My father once saved Plum Warner from being eaten alive by a hippo whilst on safari in the Ocovango, so he called in a favour and booked Lord's for my birthday party. But there was an unfortunate administrative blunder and the venue was double booked. My party, and Middlesex against Yorkshire in the County Championship. Anyway, we tried cohabiting peacefully, but after Stanley Jackson had laced a cover drive straight through a game of pass-the-parcel, incapacitating my young sister Mildred who was in the process of divesting the parcel of its final, climactic layer, it was clear a solution had to be found. In the end I was allowed to play for Middlesex as a compensatory birthday present, replacing Jack Hearne, who spent the afternoon entertaining my young play-mates with his famous array of farmyard-animal impressions - notably, of course, his renowned cockerel being eaten by a fox, with which he famously serenaded Warwick Armstrong to the pavilion after dismissing him on his Test match debut.
AZ: How did you do, then, as an eight-year-old in a county championship match?
SW: Quite well, since you ask. I scored a pugnacious 41, aided, it must be said, by the fact that the umpires were my Uncle Ferdinand and Auntie Petrolia. The Yorkshiremen said they had never seen a player survive so many convincing shouts for clean-bowled. Eventually I retired because I had to go to my violin class, accompanied, I must say, by some most ungentlemanly language from my northern opponents.
AZ: That was your last taste of top-level cricket for some time, though, wasn't it?
SW: Indeed it was. For some 20 years, until I played for and against Rhodesia in the winter of 1929-30.
AZ: Hang on, how did you come to play both for and against them in the space of one season?
SW: Not just one season. It was in the same match. It was a game between Rhodesia against the touring Argentinians, as I recall. I was just passing through Salisbury on business. I believe it was on the way to buy some live rhinoceroses to decorate the cake at the Duke of Nantwich's wedding. Rhodesia were at the time skippered my old friend and hunting adversary Bouncy van Schlykensvyk, whose moustache I still have in pride of place on my mantelpiece. A fine cricketer, and an even finer exponent of the pogo stick. As anyone who saw his one man Swan Lake could testify. I stepped in when one of his team was electrocuted during a team-building wire chewing expedition. I opened the batting, made a sprightly 15, then gave a catch to cover, ran back to the pavilion, shaved my beard off, then sneaked back onto the pitch pretending to be a gaucho from just outside Buenos Aires. In my best pidgin Spanish I persuaded my captain to let me have a bowl, and promptly took 5 for 14, before my original team-mates finally twigged. We all had a terrific laugh about it. I did it again, even more effectively, in the second innings. Hit myself for consecutive sixes, then, in a rage, bowled a bouncer at myself and had to retire hurt. A splendid game. It's all in Wisden if you don't believe me, young man.
AZ: Did you ever lock horns with the greatest of them all?
SW: What, Chris Tavare? No, I'd retired by the time he strode onto the scene.
AZ: No, I was thinking of Don Bradman.
SW: Yes, I did play with Mr Bradman on one occasion. It was during the Bodyline Series, when the MCC and the Foreign Office asked me to go on an undercover mission in the Australian dressing room. I knew that Aussie opener Jack Fingleton was terrified of moths and fascinated by bicycles, so I lured him back to my hotel with the promise of a go on a vintage penny farthing, then cornered him in the lavatory with a giant mechanical moth. I dressed in Fingleton's clothes and played for Australia in the third Test.
AZ: How did you do as Fingleton?
SW: Brilliantly. Caught Eddie Paynter out to reinforce my cover, then got myself out for nought in both innings. Then leaked details of the little verbal altercation between Bill Woodfull and Plum Warner to the press, almost brought England and Australia to the brink of war. Fingleton didn't play another Test for three years and had a lifelong spat with Bradman. Classic piece of spy work.
AZ: Sir Scruton, you are now into your 12th decade of cricket. Which would you say has been the best?
SW: Oh, the 1950s.
AZ: Wasn't the cricket a little, well, slow in those days?
SW: Oh yes. It was a quite marvellous decade for the game. Almost no one ever hit the ball off the square - it was considered awfully impolite to do so, as it could rather interrupt the conversation. You could chat away to the batsman for a whole afternoon, really get to know him and his family, and he'd walk off 20 not out. Everyone had a lovely time. I remember one match in particular, when I was playing at Trent Bridge for the Roving Slaphammers against the Strangely Shaped Ramshorns, and I was bowling to old Reggie Fustcombe. He played out 54 consecutive maidens whilst he regaled me and the close fielders with tales of his stunning escape from a Burmese prisoner-of-war camp.
AZ: Daring stuff...
SW: Not really. He hadn't been there during the war. He popped in as a tourist in '53 but got locked in the gift shop and had to tunnel his way out. Proper cricketer.
AZ: Sir Scruton, thank you very much for talking to us.
SW: Not at all, young man. Now if you'll excuse me I've got some IPL dancing girls to audition.
AZ: Really? What franchise are you involved with?
SW: Never you mind, young man. That's my business. Clear off. And don't say a word to anyone.
The World Cricket Podcast will be taking a break for a while. I'll still be doing the Confectionery Stall in the meantime, so if you find you simply cannot live without the podcast, you could just ask a friend or family member to read that out to you as a bedtime story. Whilst impersonating me. I'm not saying I'm advising that. I'm just saying you have that option.
In the meantime, I will play you out with some more Lies About Cricketers.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer