Last year’s World Twentysomething bash kicked off with splendid high farce as England slipped and slithered against Netherlands. This year’s edition began with one of those rare and happy events in which, if it were possible, you would like both teams to win. Let’s be honest, anyone who doesn’t like the way Sri Lanka play the game has a malfunctioning cricket gene.
And who could have a bad word to say about the chaps in black, everyone’s favourite semi-finalists, who have long been the acceptable face of the antipodes? It is true that (with the exception of big Jesse and the Welsh allrounder Scott –y – Styris )* they have the physiques of Olympians and, like their cousins in yellow, display a remarkable fondness for the tedious chore of catching the round leathery thing.
But there has always been something fragile and reassuringly human about the men from down under and along a bit. Like most of the rest of us, they know that they probably aren’t going to be successful and so they don’t get too carried away. Perhaps it is the black shirts, but they sometimes remind me of a collection of Church of England clergymen who have perhaps spent a little too much time in the vicarage gymnasium.
For a while it looked as though Reverend Vettori’s men would disappoint their congregation on a pitch that had the consistency of a Dundee cake and upon which Mendis, Murali and Jayasuriya had lots of fun. Mind, they didn’t always adopt the most sensible policy. I’m not sure, for instance, that the Jessescoop, a shot in which the batsman dances five paces to his left and blocks the ball with the toe of his bat, will ever catch on. But near the end, big Jake smote a couple of sixes, the grip of the blue-and-yellow constrictor was loosened, and McCullum the Lesser smote the winning six at the end of two overs of typically thrilling Twenty20 mayhem.
This tournament has also seen the welcome return of the Sky collective to the Hughes living room. Today’s studio guests were as comfortable and reassuring as a good long suck on a Murray mint or slipping your feet into a pair of old slippers. There was good old Sergeant Major Alec Stewart, sitting bolt upright and answering all questions directly and in a bracingly positive fashion. And to his right, Captain MA Atherton (Cantab) lounged in his easy chair, disagreeing with most of what his colleague said and generally regarding the whole event with an air of detached Wildean amusement.
And there was Nasser Hussain, on hand at a crucial point during the Sri Lankan innings to offer advice to Tillakaratne Dilshan, who was batting with the fluency of a man who can’t remember which way up the bat is supposed to go. Dr Nass recommended that Dilshan should just have a big old-fashioned mow at the next ball. Mere seconds later, Dilshan followed his prescription to the letter and was bowled playing a shot of such ugliness that even the local seagulls had to look away.
Welcome back, Nasser.
* This is, I believe, the first ever Celtic language joke to appear in the Long Handle. And quite possibly the last.
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England