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The Long Handle

From gaudily dressed duffers to crimson-clad superheroes

England had to work hard for their semi-final place, and so did the viewers

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes
Alastair Cook sweeps to the leg side, England v New Zealand, Champions Trophy, Group A, Cardiff, June 16, 2013

Alastair Cook: and you should see him in a maternity dress  •  AFP

Compared to the three-disc-with-fold-out-artwork concept album that is the World Cup, the Champions Trophy is a tight, melodic collection of catchy cricket, with very little filler, a quota on extended bat solos, and a stylishly minimalist ad campaign.
There are a few old favourites in there. Everyone will enjoy the heart-rending ballad about the on-again off-again love affair between English cricket folk and their team. On Thursday, England were gaudily dressed duffers, pie-flingers without a plan. On Sunday evening, they were dashing crimson-clad superheroes. By next Wednesday, well, you know the rest.
The chaps in the tomato-ketchup costumes had to work hard for their semi-final place, and so did the viewers. As we watched reruns of the World Cup, the World Cup before that, the Champions Trophy 2004, the Coronation of Queen Victoria, and the D-Day landings, frustrated Sky customers were kept up to date by a newsticker which updated from "Raining" to "Still Raining" to "Bloody Rain, eh!" and the mischievous "I Can See The Sun! (Not Really)".
We deserve better than this, I complained, to no one in particular. For the amount of money we're forking out every month, surely the assembled cricket experts could entertain us with witty badinage, amusing ties, and chin-stroking technical insights?
Well, no actually. At 3:15pm they got their chance. Play was imminent, which in cricket speak means about half an hour away. With time to fill, Hussain and Doull made the early pace with some mildly diverting chat, but they were running out of steam by the ad break, and after that, Nick Knight and Ian Botham were reduced to playing a panel game chaired by David Gower entitled "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue What England's Batting Line Up Will Be".
Eventually England won, thus proving themselves the undisputed masters of the 24-over format. Alastair Cook scored some runs, and when Alastair Cook scores some runs, two things happen. Firstly, your eyelids start to droop, just a little. Secondly, English hacks hurry forward to heap praise upon him like Roman subjects falling over themselves to compliment the stylishly casual way that Caesar is wearing his toga today.
On Monday, ESPNcricinfo's own George Dobell launched into several hundred words of Cook-worship, including an eyebrow-raising paragraph in which he claimed that Alastair of the Immaculate Conception could, if asked, give birth, "smoothly, brilliantly and without fuss". Religions have been founded over less, although if he gives birth like he bats, then I suspect his labour would in fact be long, painful to watch, and oddly unmemorable.
The beauty of this streamlined, soon to be defunct 50-over bonanza is that just when the thing is in danger of outstaying its welcome, ta-da, we're already in the semi-finals!
I say we, but not everyone can be in the last four. On Monday, Australia had been set a particularly difficult task. They had to beat Sri Lanka, make sure they did it in a certain number of overs, bring Cerberus up from the Underworld, clean the Augean Stables, fetch the Golden Fleece, climb Everest backwards, watch a whole episode of The X Factor, and count to ten in Albanian. As it is, they couldn't even do the beating Sri Lanka bit, and in their failure, they rather clumsily barged New Zealand out of the competition.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here