January 19, 2009

Crash bang wallop

Big hitters, helmet alerts in the stands, and a mother's 7000-mile journey

Mama's boy: JP Duminy was rather chuffed to have his mother cheer him from the stands in Sydney © Getty Images

Some mothers do 'ave 'em
An unbeaten half-century in a record chase on Test debut, an epic maiden century to set up a historic win in your next match, two valiant Twenty20 knocks, and a stunning catch in the outfield. What mother would not be proud of her son accomplishing all that against Australia? Junita Bergman, mother of South Africa's JP Duminy, has described her trip Down Under as "out of this world", saying her 24-year-old proudly introduced her to all his team-mates and took her out to dinner at a restaurant by the Sydney harbour and the opera house. "It was out of this world! I had a fantastic time with him," she told Cape Argus. "The best part was watching him on the pitch. He would look at me and wave. He said that having me there made him less lonely and homesick." Bergman's five-day trip was funded by businessman Simon Mantell, who read of her anxiousness to see her son play in his first Test series. Mantell said sending Bergman, a bookkeeper at the Waldorf School in Constantia, was well worth it, and more people should do favours for complete strangers. "You feel like a million bucks," said Mantell. Given Duminy's meteoric rise in Australia, his mother probably won't have to get anyone to fund her future travels.

No, batter, batter
At the end of a 2-0 series win against New Zealand in early 2005, Adam Gilchrist revealed he had been approached by the Boston Red Sox, who were impressed by his clean hitting. In four Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand, Gilchrist had reeled off 113, 121, 162 and 60 not out at a fair clip. At the time, Jon Deeble, the Red Sox first base coach and recruiting agent, said the team had seen videos of Gilchrist's remarkable abilities as a batsman and offered to hold a personal evaluation session with him to see if the ability could be transferred to a baseball diamond. It did not come to pass eventually, and close to four years later Deeble has waved off any thoughts of another Australian turning heads over at the Sox's head office on Yawkey Way. While David Warner amazed all with a stunning assault on South Africa in his Twenty20 international debut at the MCG, Deeble wasn't nearly as interested as he was with Gilchrist. "Michael Jordan could not make the switch from basketball to baseball, and with all due respect David Warner is not Michael Jordan," Deeble told the Herald Sun. "It really is a big ask for someone who is 22 to come over to play baseball. His body is not really conducive to baseball, either. He's a short, stocky-type guy. He definitely has some power swinging the bat, but for him to go out to start a baseball career, I would say he would have very little chance." The bases are clearly not loaded.

Strike zone
Warner's amazing jump from club cricket to New South Wales' limited-overs side to the national team - without a single first-class game - must have excited many a club aspirant capable of hitting a long ball. And quicker than you can say "That's outta here", another slugger has indeed stepped up to the plate.

Buckley Ridges' Daniel "DJ" Watson recently clubbed an unbeaten 193 off just 68 balls in a record-breaking Twenty20 blast at Alex Nelson Reserve, against Springvale South in the quarter-final of the Dandenong District Cricket Association Turf 1 League in Victoria. Witnesses at the ground said Watson's blitz was one of the cleanest exhibitions of hitting they had seen. Buckley Ridges' president and Daniel's father, Kieren Watson, said the innings left most flabbergasted. "It was incredible. Someone said people's mouths were getting sunburnt from looking up to watch the ball go over their heads all afternoon."

Watson, 20, who opened the batting for the visitors, smashed 15 fours and 14 sixes, most of them back over the bowlers' heads. "I had a bit of a look and then just started swinging," he said. "I'm a bit of a slogger." If that hitting and attitude doesn't interest Australia's selectors, it may well draw curiosity in the IPL, whose Delhi franchise signed Warner up without even seeing him bat in front of an international audience. Swing away, kiddos.

"Oye, you in that awful shade of green!" Chris Gayle's hitting had spectators in Napier cruising towards a bruising © Getty Images

Bazooka hits and free beers to ease the pain
Across the Tasman, Chris Gayle's hitting during the fifth and final ODI against New Zealand knocked spectators for six - literally. Fans who braved the gloomy weather that hung over McLean Park in Napier had to look out more for falling leather meteorites than dollops of cold rain. Gayle launched five sixes in his 135, leaving a trail of ruin across the boundary line. One of his hits apparently cleared the boundary fence, bounced on the garage roof of a red-roofed house, and down a driveway before bouncing into a car, 7.2 overs into the innings, reported Hawke's Bay Today, while two struck innocent civilians. A Rotary Club volunteer, Antoine Van Fintejan, who was at work as a steward, ushering ticket-holders to their seats had to go home after the ball hit him in the calf. The 17-year-old Belgian exchange student apparently had little inclination towards cricket, but had been talked into working that day. Meanwhile, former Hawke's Bay rugby player Peter Durham, 57, was left to nurse a fat upper lip. "I took it on the mush and don't remember much," he said. "I thought I'd lost a few teeth." A viewer next to him promptly gave Durham an ice pack from his cooler to stop the swelling, though methinks Durham more appreciated the few free bottles of beer he got from New Zealand Cricket and a miniature bat with the autographs of the West Iindies team.

It happens only in India
Where in the world would you find convicted killers playing a cricket match inside the confines of a prison, with two international players cheering from the stands? Why, in India, of course. The Tihar Jail, one of Asia's biggest prisons, recently had its annual Winter Olympics, and three of the chief guests for their Twenty20 match were cricketers Virender Sehwag, Murali Kartik and Shikhar Dhawan. As Manu Sharma, convicted for the murder of a model, Jessica Lall, and Santosh Kumar Singh, another convict facing a death sentence, ran around on the field, the three players looked on.

"I am overwhelmed by the atmosphere here," Sehwag told the Times of India. "After coming here my perception of a jail has changed. The inmates here roam freely and they play fantastic cricket." Kartik was grateful to the jail authorities for inviting him. "I did not know what a jail was all about. It is a wonderful atmosphere here and an eye-opener for me. I want to thank the jail authorities for giving me the chance to mingle with the inmates," he said. For the record, World Cup bronze medal-winning boxers Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar described Tihar Jail as a "university campus" when they visited.

The match, played between teams of Undertrials Jail 1 and Convicts Jail 2, ended in a tie as both teams made 117. Fitting, given the nature of the players involved. You wouldn't want this lot getting up in arms over a one-run thriller.

Quote of the Week
"I like playing cricket for enjoyment, but I don't think I could have made a living out of it."
Some 200 years after the Brits brought cricket to Switzerland, five-time Wimbledon champ Roger Federer admits he enjoys a knock in his spare time.

Headline of the Week
"Call it Puppy shove".
The Herald Sun reflects on David Warner being discarded from Australia's ODI side after Michael Clarke was passed fit for the series against South Africa

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo