Against the Spin presents another guest post by G. We can’t afford Andy Zaltzman, so this is the next best thing.
Popular wisdom states that a watchable cricket match requires at least one of the following three ingredients:
a) Good batting.
b) Good bowling.
c) A streaker, or a general smattering of attractive scantily clad people in the crowd.
Societal norms and subcontinental musculature being what they are, the chances of deriving any enjoyment from (c) are obviously pretty limited as far as this World Cup goes. Viewers are thus required to get their jollies from the actions of the assorted leather flingers and willow wielders plying their trade.
Given that this is the WORLD Cup (unlike with cricket’s American cousin, the modifier actually means something here), ostensibly featuring the best that this great game has to offer, one reasons that this cannot be the worst thing. This rationale serves particularly well when contemplating some of the league matches featured in this tournament. Consider, as you are watching the tantalizing Canada vs. Zimbabwe game this Monday, the fact that the players involved represent the cream of the world’s cricketing crop, and would be among the first names penciled onto a team sheet if cricket-playing life were ever to be discovered elsewhere in this universe, and then invited over for a friendly 121-a-side game.
I must admit, though, that this thought does little to assuage a growing desire to rip my right arm off for want of something to throw at the screen right now, about 30 overs into the Australia-New Zealand game. At this point, New Zealand are 144 for 7, with Vettori and McCullum-the-younger at the crease, which would ostensibly point to a comprehensive demolition job by Tait and Lee and company. In reality, the bowling has been supremely mediocre. The best bowler on show, Lee, hasn’t had a wicket up to this point, while Johnson has two despite bowling his regular allocation of absolute tripe. The scoreline owes primarily to some absolutely pedestrian batting from the Kiwi top order, fishing outside off and generally displaying all the situational awareness of lemmings on meth. With the exception of a couple of snorters from Tait, there have been no incredible displays of skill, no exquisite cover drives, no searing Shastri-sanctioned tracer bullets threatening to rearrange teeth or toes.
What makes it all the worse was that the writing was on the wall as early as the fifteenth over, current cricketing mores being what they are. With five wickets down for 60 odd within the second Powerplay, in the face of some average Aussie bowling and with a decently deep if not hugely talented Kiwi batting lineup, even the least astute of viewers could have figured out that NZ would just look to last the fifty overs from there, maybe try to hang around and post around 200, and that Australia would be content to let them, reasonably secure in their ability to chase down the runs. There would be no stirring counterattacks, no fightback worth the name, no real attempt by either team to really force the pace. A classic case, in all, of a reasonably resistible force meeting a sufficiently moveable object, and then both of them sitting around going ‘meh’.
I don’t think I am alone in saying that I would much rather watch an absolute batting capitulation for a double digit score, or a wanton 400+ run fest, than a game like this, headed for mediocrity within the first hour itself. Hell, I would rather watch the Australia team of the early 2000s murder the Happy Nappy Nursery XI than a supposedly even contest like the game today, purely because it is much more important to me that there be high-quality cricket on display than two teams be ‘evenly matched’ (the confluence of both obviously being the ideal). Nor does the format matter, really; ultimately, cricketing skill transcends the format. One of my most enduring cricket memories is still from the first match of the 2009 IPL, when Shane Warne landed the perfect legspinner to Dravid in his first over, just missing the outside edge of his textbook forward defense. Dravid looked down the pitch at the bowler with a slight nod, and his Tubbiness shrugged and walked back up to his mark. Two supremely talented artists in the twilight of their careers, strutting their stuff. The stuff of legends.
A first innings target of 207 could yet set the tone for an entertaining enough second innings chase. To be completely honest, I yearn for the early 1990s when 200-250 was a decent score, and generally guaranteed an interesting run chase, and this game definitely fulfils that particular requirement. Whatever the scorecard might say though, there was no contest here in the first innings, no fight, no high quality bowling to rip the heart out of a batting lineup before a stirring rearguard. It was merely one team batting poorly at the beginning, and then the other not really trying to press on, both just getting on with their jobs and drawing a day’s wage. Just another day at the office. Ho hum.
Hopefully Australia will either make absolute mincemeat of this, or the Kiwi bowlers will fight back to claw their way back into the game and set up a tight finish. Not really holding my breath though, Australia should chase this down solidly, sensibly and above all tediously, with time to spare.