As regular readers will know, cricket and comedy are long-standing partners (ones that would undoubtedly collide mid-pitch when looking for a quick single). That may be because the secret to both is timing – or, as in the case of Angelo Mathews’ dismissal against Bangladesh last week, timekeeping. Rarely has a punchline arrived so late, or been so deliciously weighted, as that delivered by Shakib Al Hasan in Delhi.
We have waited in vain (so far) for a RONSBU to disturb this World Cup’s equilibrium, despite occasional warnings from the likes of Mitch Starc; and when Mohammad Rizwan tossed the ball into the stumps with Aiden Markram wandering out of his ground, a la Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s, he then disappointingly held up an apologetic hand rather than laughing his opponent out of town. But the payoff was worth it, as the universe (and Shakib) conspired to serve up the first timed-out dismissal in 150 years of international cricket.
It was a beautifully constructed comic vignette, full of memorable performances: Mathews’ guileless grin when first told by the umpires about what was going down, soon to be replaced by an increasingly furrowed – and furious – expression; Shakib’s arched eyebrow after being asked whether he wanted to follow through, and the faux consoling rub of the shoulder as Mathews tried to plead his case. The post-match press conferences stirred in further righteous indignation, as Mathews accused Bangladesh of the most downright dastardly act in cricket since the Right Hon Cuthbert Fotheringham-Smythe first tried to take a run to the leg side back in 1886.
Should it have been out? Sri Lanka quickly established their own version of the Warren Commission to investigate the incident, producing a dossier of evidence that included split-screen footage, eyewitness testimony, practical demonstrations with Chris Silverwood and a stopwatch – even whispers about the presence of a shooter on the grassy knoll at the exact same moment Mathews’ helmet strap broke.
The Light Roller, in common with most professional cricketers, is concerned with processes rather than outcomes – in which respect, everyone played their roles to perfection. Mathews was both at the crease inside two minutes but not ready to face when the question of being timed out was raised (having apparently wandered off to get a new helmet without informing the umpires). Shakib hadn’t thought of the idea until someone mentioned it to him, and then, realising he was “at war” and ever the soldier of fortune, promptly asked the question he was entitled to ask. Marais Erasmus carried out the business with the grim resolve of an undertaker, and Mathews was both rightfully out according to the Laws and understandably outraged by it all.
At which point, it seems worth remembering something the great Samuel Johnson once wrote: “When a man is tired of byzantine cricket controversies, he is tired of life.” And there’s consolation, too, for Mathews, who might not have been at the World Cup at all had he not been called up halfway through the tournament as an injury replacement – but after 6m 30sec of exquisite inaction, found out it’s never too late to truly leave your mark on the game.
The old ones are the best ones, of course – and therefore welcome back, England, World Cup bunglers par excellence, whose defence of the trophy was described by one of their own players as “crap”. They arrived in India with Jos Buttler declaring they weren’t planning to defend anything – eerily prescient, that one – and then cycled through the various stages of grief, from denying they had a problem, to angrily trying to hit their way out of trouble, bargaining for a Champions Trophy spot instead, and then finally reaching acceptance, as per Ben Stokes’ comment. There was depression, too, although that was mostly felt by the fans watching on. But hold on, because this, really, is what English one-day cricket is all about: elite stinking-it-out-at-the-highest-level. Boys, it’s good to have you back.
Footwork. Technique. Strike rotation. All quaint ideas about ODI batting that Glenn Maxwell crumpled up and tossed into the wastepaper basket during his GOAT innings against Afghanistan. Never mind any of that nonsense, just nail your feet to the floor and swing from the hip repeatedly, like you’re hammering the keyboard on Stick Cricket. In fact, don’t even bother practising cricket shots at all. “I think it has a lot to do with the positions I get myself in on a golf course where I’m stuck behind a tree and I’ve to throw my wrists around or flick it around,” Maxwell said of his ingenious range of hitting. Perhaps that’s where England went wrong – more time playing golf, not less.
As if mercilessly beating up on everyone in front of baying crowds for the last few weeks wasn’t enough – and that while the genius of the BCCI’s ticketing policy means all the other teams play in front of a scattering of fans like it’s an exhibition match – India have taken to trolling the opposition, too. Sure, Netherlands were always unlikely to chase down a target of 411, but what else to think about Rohit Sharma employing Virat Kohli, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav and eventually even himself with the ball? “You want to create options within the team and I think we have that option now. Today, we had nine options,” he said afterwards, as if SKY’s 70kph moonballs might genuinely get a run-out in the World Cup semi-final. Come on, Rohit. We have our dignity, you know. Just take the trophy and skedaddle. (copy By ESPNcricinfo)