Thursday, April 26, 2007

More from Brian

Brian Micklethwait here, Michael's Pommy Friend who likes cricket, no matter how crap England are.

I haven't been watching much of the Cricket World Cup live on TV, because I don't have Sky, and because so few London pubs seem to be bothering with this tournament. But I have been watching and recording the hour-long BBC1 TV highlights, and I did chance upon England against Bangladesh on a pub TV. I arrived just at the moment when Bangladesh had lost their sixth wicket for very little. At which point it got dull, as it tends to when the side batting first is "rebuilding" after early catastrophes, and I went home to combine listening to it on the radio with other things. Bangladesh didn't really rebuild properly, but England only limped to victory by ... four wickets, was it?

England's end, when it came, was mercifully quick. We were spared complicated mathematics involving impossible wins against much better sides. One day, if England beat South Africa, England would be in the semi-finals, despite having been crap throughout, on account of South Africa having had a few cock-ups. (England may well have been dire against Bangladesh, but South Africa contrived to lose against Bangladesh. The difference being that Ashraful batted properly against South Africa, but not against England.) And then when South Africa beat England, that was that. Listening to the England batting on the radio was like watching a car crash in slow-motion. You could tell England were doomed after the first five overs, after which it was about 6 for 1 or some such foolish score. After 10 overs, England had scored 17, for two wickets I think it was, and it went downhill from there. The South Africans knocked off the 150 or so they needed with contemptuous ease. At no point were England fans teased with even the faintest hope of winning. All hope ended as soon as the match began. The horror was greatly mitigated by the knowledge that the purpose of the match was to determine whether South Africa would be beaten by Australia in the second semi-final, or England trampled like a bug.

In my only other posting here so far, I was right to note the absence of spectators, although sadly clueless about why it was happening. My understanding now is that the tickets (a) have been too expensive to West Indians, and (b) were all purchased by Indians, but not made use of after India lost in the first round. They needed to find some way of filling seats, even if owned by Indians now in India, and only gradually have they worked out how to contrive this.

I understand all the complaining about the Super Eight thing, where everyone half good played everyone else half good. But at least it resulted in what was for me the most enjoyable game of the entire thing so far, namely West Indies versus England. In this game, two perfectly matched sides, both bad, had a wonderfully seesaw game, with lots of slogging, big stands, collapses, and finally victory to England off the second last ball. By one wicket as I recall. Two of the more conspicuous batting failures of the tournament, Gayle of the Windies and Vaughan of England, both batted decently. And lots of other good stuff happened that I have now forgotten about but which I greatly enjoyed hearing about at the time. And since nothing about this game really mattered, neither my nerves nor the nerves of any of the players were shredded.

The low point of the game, for me, was not so much the running out of Lara for 18 in his very last international innings, but rather the unseemly and unthinking manner in which this horror was celebrated, by the brute who committed it, Kevin Pietersen. He ran about like a mad thing, as if he had run out, I don't know, Ponting, after just another Ponting innings, instead of having just ended one of the great international batting careers. What a twat. And then Pietersen scored an excellent century without which England would have lost rather badly.

No matter. Lara duly got his big goodbye. And the Windies, captained by Lara with his usual ineffectual incompetence, although beaten, were not humiliated. There was something old fashioned about this game. A touring team and a local team played a one-off game against one another that both, on the day, took seriously, but which neither really needed to worry about. It was not part of a tournament, because both had been ejected from the tournament that gave rise to it. It was just a game of cricket. Great fun and a great day was had by all, not least because whoever is in charge of these matches had finally worked out that great fun for all ought to be at least one of the objectives. Quite a lot of peopole were allowed in, and then allowed to enjoy themselves.

Today (probably yesterday or the day before yesterday by the time Michael posts this), it was South Africa versus Australia, and if Michael hasn't yet told you all about this game, he no doubt soon will. Sadly for a neutral, it was all over as a contest by the end of the tenth over, bowled by McGrath, in which South Africa lost their fourth and fifth wickets with their score on a mere 27. South Africa wriggled on the hook for the rest of the game, but never got off it. They were hooked at the beginning because they were trying, in this tournament's commentating clich├ęs of choice, to "make a statement" by having a good old slog from the start, "taking it to the bowlers" and "imposing themselves". But, Smith and Kallis missed with a couple of slogs and got bowled, and it was downhill from there. South Africa then "rebuilt" for the next thirty something overs, which was all very dull, and then the Aussies were able to knock off the runs at their leisure, in the course of losing three wickets rather carelessly, but without any great fuss.

The Aussies are just a really, really good team, and all they had to do was do their thing, and watch the South Africans self-destruct by following one of those clever plans that frightened people destroy themselves with, when trying to avoid being destroyed by the other fellows.

The commentators are now all saying that Sri Lanka are the team to test the Aussies. I hope they're right but I can't see it happening. I think the Aussies now are as far ahead of the next three as the next three are ahead of England, the Windies and the other Subcontinentals. After all, it's not so many days ago that Sri Lanka contrived to win against England with only the last ball of the game and by only two runs. Remember that game? Well, probably not. Why would you? Sri Lanka had a poor day batting, and England had that game well in hand, then threw it away, and even then nearly won, thanks to Nixon and Bopara.

Speaking of Nixon and Bopara, it says a lot about England's current ODI incompetence that two of England's least ineffective players were two of those with the least experience of one-day international cricket. This makes me speculate that ODI experience with England in recent years has been to experience merely how not to do it. There is something about Duncan Fletcher, the departing England coach, that seems to suit the grind of test cricket but not the gung-ho exuberance of ODIs. Vaughan talked about "putting pressure" on the opposition like it was the Ashes. But is there time for all that? The English counties surely contain more muscular enthusiasts like Bopara, if only they looked. James Benning of my own Surrey springs to mind, and there have to be others. Also, as all the commentators are saying, having the same rules for English domestic ODIs as for internationals would be a start. I only discovered about "power plays" when this tournament began, and judging by how England set about playing their games, it seemed like it was the same for them.

Anyway, one more game to go. An anti-climax would of course be an anti-climax, but I am afraid it would not be a surprise.

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