Confectionery Stall blogger and comedian Andy Zaltzman's audio show

'What Test cricket needs is more draws'

The Daryl Harper Umpire Nannying System, the Wonder from Wondai, and some crystal-ball gazing (15:24)

January 9, 2010


Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast

'What Test cricket needs is more draws'

January 9, 2010

Hello cricket nuts, and welcome to issue 3 of Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. I am Andy Zaltzman. If you cut me open, I bleed cricket. Well, my blood is roughly the same colour as a cricket ball. Does that count?

And this is my World Cricket podcast. And what a world cricket is right now. Easily the best world in the world, I'd say, on the evidence of this week's Test matches. Pakistan absolutely thrashed Australia, for three days, before absolutely thrashing themselves even more absolutely on day four.

And England's 10th wicket pair clung on yet again for the draw in Cape Town - exactly as predicted by no less a soothsayer than me, in my Confectionery Stall blog, written at the end of the first day of the match. With these exact words: "I fully expect Graham Onions to bat England to another fingertip draw in Cape Town on Thursday." So listen up and listen good, because this podcast may contain the truth about the future.

England hanging on for a draw with one wicket to spare at the end of a Test match - it's like London buses. Only four come along in 142 years, then three turn up in the space of six months. Uncanny.

That's right, four such rearguards in their first 886 Tests, and now three more in the last eight. That's gone from 0.45% of all Tests, to 37.5% of Tests in the last 6 months. I'm telling you, it's a sign of the apocalypse. War, famine, pestilence, earthquakes, false prophets (does Daryl Harper qualify?) and a sudden unexplained increase in the regularity of nail-biting Test match draws.

England have drawn seven of their last 13 Tests dating back to Antigua in February. Four of those draws have gone down to the last wicket, and in another one the West Indies clang on in Port of Spain with two wickets left. Of the six games that have resulted in a result, so to speak, and excluding draws, which are themselves a result, although not for the purposes of this sentence, of the six games that were won or lost, three have been by an innings, one by 10 wickets, and two by over 100 runs. Which all goes to show, that draws are now more exciting than positive results. And what Test cricket needs, is more draws. There. I've said it.

Among the talking points arising from the Cape Town Test were:

1. Is it logistically possible for Graeme Smith to play an elegant shot? Physics suggests not. Smith is without question, a very good batsman. He's skilful, powerful, and cussed and he delivers when it matters as often as a top-grade midwife. But he does all that, while looking like he's trying to open a can of tomatoes with a sledgehammer.

2. Ian Bell coming of age. For the third time in his last four Tests. A crucial first-innings 70 at The Oval, a superb 140 in Durban, and a match-saving 5-hour rearguard at Newlands. Pretty good work for a 'bottler'.

3. The ball tampering allegations farrago. Stuart Broad gently trapped a moving ball under the sole of his boot. Strauss said that it had probably "looked a lot worse than it was"... well, in which case, it was not even slightly bad, because it didn't look bad. And it wasn't. If anything, Broad looked like he was trying to trap a worm under his foot, without killing it, so he could put it in Jacques Kallis' spaghetti as a prank. Just to see if he could make him smile. And judging by the movement of the supposedly tampered ball, if England were tampering with it, they need to practice tampering harder. Because it had less effect than Chris Martin's batting coach.

4. The Umpire Review System ... which next week will be officially renamed the Daryl Harper Umpire Nannying System ... The system is much improved but still flawed. If the umpire gives the batsman not-out on an lbw shout but Hawk-Eye shows he was slightly wrong and the ball was fractionally clipping the stumps, the not-out decision is sustained in favour of the batsman. If he gives the batsman out but Hawk-Eye shows he got it slightly wrong and the ball was fractionally missing the stumps, the out decision is overturned, in favour of the batsman. And it has added to the encyclopaedia of needless delays that are currently blighting cricket, alongside bad light, umpires talking about bad light, players badgering umpires to talk about bad light, rotating sight screens that inevitably break, batsmen with 125-separate-mannerism preparations before facing each ball, general dawdling, drinks breaks, lunch, tea, the close of play, night-time, and bedtime.

5. Dale Steyn's spell to Collingwood. Certainly the best spell of 0 for 13 I've seen for a while.

6. The mental strength of England which enabled them to hang on for a draw. Made possible only by the mental weakness that saw them collapse twice on a flat pitch in the second innings after tossing their wickets away in the first. It can be a fine line between what the media praise as heroic resistance and what they slam as gutless surrender. As fine as the inch between the penultimate ball of the match and Graham Onions' gloves.

7. Paul Collingwood's slow scoring resistance. 40 off 188 balls. 21 runs per 100 balls faced. Out of all the innings of 40 of more in England's Test history for which the number of balls faced has been recorded (and that, my Statsguru-worshipping friends, is 2141 innings), Collingwood's was the 11th slowest. And the 27th slowest of the 10,500 innings played by anyone.

Paul Collingwood has been a key man in all three of England's recent escapes, scoring a total of 140 runs for twice out from 532 balls spread over 13 hours at the crease. That is the kind of batting I used to dream of when I was a boy. I would kiss my Chris Tavare poster goodnight and drift off into blissful slumber, hoping that that night I might in my sleep score 35 in five-and-a-half hours, just like my hero did in the Chennai Test of January 1982. I once scored 6 in an hour and a quarter. Four of them were an edge between the wicketkeeper and first slip. For my liking, Collingwood was a little bit cavalier.

This leads into a new feature...


If you think Collingwood's innings was slow, try running that idea past the poor godforsaken souls who had to watch the South Africa v England series in 1956-57. This was the slowest scoring series of all time. 1.79 runs per over five Tests. And bear in mind that legendary South Africa stodgemaster, Jackie McGlew, only played one Test due to a mixture of a shoulder injury, a coma induced by watching himself bat, and a pathological fear of zebras that was heightened by the stripy face paint that England bowler Johnny Wardle wore during that series. In fact McGlew was a batsman so boring that his career stats were used by pioneering surgeon Christian Barnaard in the world's first heart transplant in 1967.

The slow-scoring star of that series was Trevor Bailey. Not only did the Barnacle blast his merry way to 259 runs during the 1,391 fun-packed minutes he spent at the crease during the Tests, but he also conceded just 1.22 runs per over in the 142 overs he plonked down in the series. Schoolchildren at the time were advised only to watch Bailey bat through a mirror, for fear that, if they looked at him blocking with the naked eye, they would turn to stone. Miraculously, both cricket and humanity survived the ordeal.

To Australia, now, and in Sydney, a remarkable Test match ended with a spectacular win for Australia, as Pakistan imploded like the cricket supernova that they are. Now, I know since this podcast began way back in, when was it, December 2009, I've been promising you other people than me on the show. Well, next time. I've come close this time though. Australian comedian and fellow cricket lunatic Justin Hamilton couldn't come on the show, but he did email me some thoughts on the action, inaction and reaction of the momentous Sydney Test, which I will now read out in my best Australian accent. And you can hear the real Justin Hamilton, next time. Or the time after that. Availability permitting.

The View From Down Under, by Justin Hamilton

Having smashed the West Indies 2-0 and now taking a commanding 2-0 lead over Pakistan, Australia are ready to reclaim their No. 1 ranking in the world. Not only have we smashed the 6th and 8th ranked Test teams in the world but Idiot Man Child Ricky Ponting has shown that while he may baulk at a rising delivery he will never have problems with smashing an opinion over extra cover.

On the opening day of the second Test against Pakistan Ponting looked at the green pitch and realised it would be perfect to bowl so immediately chose to bat first. Were these the demons of Edgbaston 2005 coming back to haunt Ponting as he dared not choose to bowl?

"What are you talking about? I'm not some kinda sheila," Ponting remarked as he walked back to the pavilion. He certainly isn't and Ponting choosing to bat first only proved what many people have thought before: Aussies are born with two red gleaming balls.

Subsequently when Australia was bowled out in the first innings for 127 Ponting was still looking on the bright side.

"At least Watson didn't get out in the nineties again."

Nice one Ricky. The pitch was seaming one way and another, flip-flopping like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar trying desperately to think of a last-second excuse to get him out of trouble. There was no way Pakistan could bat on this wicket! The nation waited for them to be bowled out for no more than 5 runs.

333 runs later Ponting still hadn't blinked.

"This is why Test match cricket is the best and most exciting cricket in the world," he yelled to the tens of people at the match. "This might be the best side I've ever captained against, we have a battle ahead of us but as the diggers used to say: 'What the Hell am I doing in France? I just signed up to meet Mel Gibson!'"

The following day the Aussies took their mark against the fearsome bowling attack of Pakistan. As Watson was dismissed for 97 Ponting chuckled. "Now that's more like it."

With Mr Jiminy Cricket Michael Hussey making an unbeaten 134 and Australia all out for 381 Australia knew they were in the box seat with a lead of 175 big ones. When asked about the many chances Pakistan gave him by dropping him three times in his innings all Hussey could say was, "I'm just happy to be out with my mates." Has there ever been anyone more true blue than the Hussey?

On day four all Pakistan had to do was survive the blistering spin bowling of Nathan Hauritz. Forget the spin kings of Warne, MacGill and that other guy from the 80s, Hauritz is the man they all fear. With his gentle tweakers and suggestion of spin Hauritz unravelled the greatest enemy Australia had ever faced on a Test pitch and dispatched them back to the middle ages.

Now it was Ponting's turn with the journalists. "Put up your hand if you said it was a mistake to bowl first? Go on. I dare ya. I double dare ya. None of you want to admit it but I'm the king around here and I'm better than all of you. You all suck."

Ah Ponting, you've done it again. How great it is to be back on top as the No. 1 cricketing nation in the universe. And when we say No. 1 we mean No. 3 … by a whisker over Sri Lanka … but whatever, we're the best. So there.

The words of Justin Hamilton. And for more about Justin, check out his website.

Another thing Ricky Ponting said in his post-victory glow was, "I don't think anyone in the world, other than the blokes inside our dressing room, thought we could win." Well, that is not true, Ricky. I think most people in the world would have had a look at the name of the opposing team and thought, well, anything can happen. Even with Australia effectively 30-odd for 8, seasoned Pakistan watchers would have thought, this is a 50-50 game. At best.

Since regaining the Ashes at the start of 2007, Ricky Ponting has a lower batting average than Daniel Vettori. In that time, Vettori has also taken 84 more wickets than Ponting's no wickets. In fact, including only players who have played in five Tests or more in the last three years, the baggy green captain has the 41st best average. Behind the likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Ravi Bopara and Neil McKenzie.

And Nathan Hauritz taking five wickets in a first-class innings. There's another thing that's like London Buses. You wait 28 years for him to do it, and then he does it successively in back-to-back Tests.

Hauritz has now taken 47 wickets at an average of 30.3 in his 12 Tests. In his other 43 first-class games, he's taken 76 wickets at 50.1. Meaning that statistically, he raises his game on the big occasion more than any other cricket in history. Probably.

He is certainly silencing some critics. The Wonder from Wondai (an appropriate birthplace for a bowler who had to wait so long for success... Wondai, Wondai), has now taken more wickets in his first 12 Tests than the following legends of spin bowling: Shane Warne, Daniel Vettori, Abdul Qadir, Riche Benaud, Ian Salisbury, Bishan Bedi, Hedley Verity, Kevin Pietersen and Russell Arnold.

So, the two Test series are heading towards their climaxes. And here are the two things I would most like to see happen in the final Tests:

1. In the now dead third Test against Pakistan, I'd like Australia to pick Don Bradman. Dig up his coffin, put it on casters, strap a bat to it, push him to the crease, wait till he snicks a boundary, then let him retire very hurt, with his average bunted up to 100.

2. In the final South Africa v England game, I want to see England clinch another last-wicket draw. Just to see the look on Graeme Smith's face. Nothing personal, but if Graeme Onions blocks out the last few overs again, I can quite easily envisage Smith charging after him with a knife and fork, screaming, "Let me win my game. Or I'll eat you. I'll cook you, Onions, and I'll eat you. Devon Malcolm wouldn't have done this kind of thing. Why should you?"

So, all in all, in terms of the overall hierarchy of Test cricket nations, all the teams in action over the past couple of weeks have shown strengths and weaknesses. And India have probably extended their lead as cricket's top dogs without actually playing.

So that's it for this edition of the World Cricket Podcast. Thanks again to Justin Hamilton for his contribution. Next time, there will definitely be a real guest. Maybe even two. Honestly. I wouldn't lie to you. In the meantime, long live cricket.

And I'll play you out with some new bits of Cricket Jargon. Bye bye.

A Wenceslas - a confident lbw appeal surprisingly turned down by the umpires. So called because, like Good King Wenceslas in the famous Christmas song, it "looked out".

A divorcing wife - an outswinger that carries on swinging after it passes the batsman... "it left him, and then moved further away"

Chased by a giant wolf - wrongly given out by an umpire ... in other words, dismissed by a massive howler.

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