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Russell Jackson

Whatever happened to the wacky warm-up?

Back in the day, World Cup warm-ups used to be played against obscure and exotic teams

Russell Jackson
Russell Jackson
13-Feb-2015
An airborne Corey Anderson attempts to take a catch,  New Zealand v South Africa, World Cup warm-up match, Christchurch, February 11, 2015

New Zealand beating South Africa is the most exotic we can get today  •  Getty Images

In the interests of pushing esoteric World Cup discussions into new realms, I tender to you the theory that no sporting contest has offered up as many exotic warm-up fixtures over the years as this tournament.
This year, of course, it's been understated in all senses other than a few eye-catching results. Sadly the appearance of up to 15 players per side has been as wacky as it has gotten, but what I'd pay to set a time machine to 1992 and watch rookie Victorian legspinner Shane Warne taking on and eventually dismissing Sachin Tendulkar in the Victorian country town of Benalla. Actually, I'd have been there for the sight of Sachin trapping stocky opening batsman Paul Nobes in front alone.
As in most other senses, the 1992 World Cup really delivered when it came to obscure practice games. The Peter Anderson-led Queensland 2nd XI thrashing Zimbabwe at the Gabba, anyone? The Manly President's XI, with a bowling attack boasting Phil Alley, taking on Sri Lanka? GA Gooch's XI v AJ Stewart's XI at the Village Green? The Bradman XI against the South Africans in Bowral?
Back in 1987 there were tune-ups for which not even the darkest recesses of the internet can retrieve scorecards. What transpired when South Zone B took on the Indians in Madras? Did the West Indians overcome the might of the improbably named Samsonite XI in Lahore? How did Sri Lanka fare against Sind Chief Minister's XI in Hyderabad?
There was fun to be had in 1983, too. Perhaps Australia should have foreseen their shock loss to the unfancied Zimbabweans when the latter contemptuously dispatched both the Birmingham and District Cricket League and Midlands Club Cricket Conference sides. How stiff an opposition did Sri Lanka really expect against the Combined Services in Portsmouth, though, and why a two-day game? By the time the tournament itself rolled around, Zimbabwe had played eight practice matches in the space of two weeks. It's a wonder they even had energy left to knock off the Aussies.
They may be glorious statistical oddities, but warm-up games are actually a pretty dubious method by which to judge the chances of each respective team. Pakistan couldn't buy a win during their elongated preparations in '92 and then stormed home to take the Cup. For misleading warm-up results, though, it's hard to go past the efforts of Ian Chappell's 1975 Australian squad on their way to the final of the inaugural competition.
"We started off a little too friendly and things got out of hand," was how Chappell described it. His team had just fallen to a truly calamitous defeat, one that's now largely forgotten on account of taking place during a five-game stop-off in Canada en route, an assignment that should have posed no problems for Chappell's then-buoyant side.
Worse, Australia were beaten not by the full Canadian national side but by Eastern Canada, a regional gathering of amateur players. Only three days earlier Chappell and his men - his brother Greg, Doug Walters, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh among them - cruised to a 153-run victory over a British Columbia Cricket Association side. Now at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Hurling club - admittedly not a hotbed of international cricket action - some of the best professional cricketers in the world were being thumped by a side whose most accomplished player was Franklyn Dennis, free that Saturday from his day job as a welder.
"I'm not afraid of Lillee," trumpeted Dennis after compiling the unbeaten 57 that guided his side home for a five-wicket victory. Even at 52 for 3 batting first, the Australians might have assumed that one of their star batsmen would eventually fire and set up a healthy total. Instead, wickets fell at regular intervals until the superstar tourists had been routed for 159.
Only Rod Marsh held firm with 55 as paceman Robert Callender and Ugandan-born spinner Jitendra Patel claimed four wickets apiece. "You could spend $100,000 promoting cricket in Canada but it wouldn't mean half as much as this victory," crowed jubilant tour organiser Ed Bracht.
In the 2015 warm-ups so far we've already seen Zimbabwe beat Sri Lanka, Scotland thump the better-fancied Irish, and New Zealand obliterate South Africa. What does it all mean? Nothing much, probably, but even as you sat in a near-empty MCG watching Michael Clarke play himself into form against the UAE bowlers on Wednesday, it was hard not to feel excited by the sight of cricketers you'd never seen embarking on such a momentous event in their lives. The Aussies probably provided a little better competition than the Manly President's XI, too.

Russell Jackson is a cricket lover who blogs about sport in the present and nostalgic tense for the Guardian Australia and Wasted Afternoons. @rustyjacko