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What We Learned

The science of tension removal

Games with no purpose? You've got to love them

Scott Styris celebrates after accounting for Herschelle Gibbs, New Zealand v South Africa, ICC World Twenty20, Lord's, June 9, 2009
Styris and Co exult in the joy only a game of no consequence can provide © Getty Images

Twenty20 demands a pumping soundtrack, and after a slow start, decibel escalation reached Defcon Four on a jaw-juddering Monday night at Trent Bridge, where the sonic blasts emanating from the DJ station blew bats out of the night sky and shattered sherry glasses as far as Chesterfield. But such aural stimulation would be too much for some of the more elderly MCC members, many of whom have still not recovered from the presence of Alesha Dixon in the Lord's pavilion last Friday.

Fortunately, the crowd brought their own noise. And something else too, beyond the determination to have a party. In the faces and reactions of the Pakistani supporters, there was repressed anger; a stored up electrical charge generated by Sunday's Oval frustration. In the end, the Netherlands crumpled inwards under intolerable atmospheric pressures and all that green-shirted fury evaporated as sighs of relief into the London sky rather than pouring down on the heads of those luckless souls currently charged with upholding the honour of Inzamam, Wasim and Imran.

The tournament then entered a period of limbo with the first of three games that are entirely devoid of purpose. This is something of a triumph for the ICC Killjoy Department, which for many years now has been perfecting the science of tension removal and drama dispersal at international cricket tournaments. Naturally, no effort has been made to explain the bizarre seeding-based qualification system for the Super Eights to the public. Why should mere cricket fans be entitled to understand how the competition works? They didn't put in the long hours on ICC committees, did they.

Still, we got a decent scrap in the second game anyway, a tussle that maybe wasn't final material but would have made a good little semi. Above all, it was the fielding that caught the eye. Like troupes of green and grey formation dancers they swooped, pirouetted and dived, whilst all the time keeping up a rhythm of clapping, shouting and exhortation. New Zealand flung themselves around like rugby players, while South Africa prowled the turf with the intent of well-drilled commandoes.

But what does South Africa's tigerish victory really mean? Daniel Vettori spent the game sitting on the Lord's balcony in his black hoodie, looking for all the world like a geography teacher trying to infiltrate a street gang. Jesse Ryder was similarly hors de combat. Surely South Africa aren't so good that they can defend 128 against a full-strength team in a game that really matters? Are they? Like a 15-part thriller, we'll have to keep tuning in to find out.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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