Ever since the twin influences of Sports Psychology andmedia training – not to mention the psychology of media performances – reached a tipping point at some point in the middle of the last decade, after which time cricketers’ pernicious butchering of the language has been near-omnipresent (save an off-the-cuff Swann or two), it has been pretty much mandatory for cricketers to begin their largely banal answers to equally banal questions with a subtly aggressive “look …”. I believe it originates from Ricky Ponting, his way of conveying contempt for implicitly idiotic questions as well as getting his questioner back on the right track. Now it appears that even the cool Waqar Younis is doing it, judging by his interview on the Dubai square with the ever-earnest Nasser about the precise way to go about bowling on roads (“When do you go full, though? I mean, you can’t just float it up there and get driven.” “Look…”). So, look, I say it’s about time we all did it. Look, it’s all about CONCEALING YOUR WEAKNESSES FROM THE OPPOSITION, WHO WANT TO END YOUR CAREER AND EAT YOUR HEART ON TOAST. Look, BE FUCKING STRONG, OK? Say “Look”. Look, now!
LOOK, ENGLAND COULDN’T BAT THEIR EYELIDS
Poor batting generally results from cluttered minds and/or poor concentration. England’s first innings batting smacked of a machista attempt to assert themselves against spin before they’d truly figured out which were good options and which were poor. The crucial thing is that, because the ball wasn’t spitting at them and the wicket threat wasn’t high, they had time to get properly in before quietly making these calls to themselves, putting ticks and crosses against the various shots: sweep, cut, use feet, extra-cover drive. Strauss’s awful pull in the first innings set the tone for the panicky sweeps that followed (tip: don’t sweep on shiny, barely turning decks when guys are bowling wicket-to-wicket). And KP’s moronic hook in the second innings confirmed the temporarily endemic brainmelt. Wipe the humble pie from the lips, boys, and get back to basics.
LOOK, THE VENUE (AND SCHEDULING) IS AN ELITIST FOLLY
Played out in a near-empty state-of-the-art 25,000-capacity bowl, the Dubai match looked just like County Championship cricket played at Test venues: 1000 or so lost diehards forming a fleshy tableau behind de rigueur St George’s flags onto which were stitched the names of clubs from Slipless in Settle. Aside from the amount of clothes they were wearing, the main difference between this Test and, say, Yorkshire versus Glamorgan at Headingley, was the cash flow of the punters: State pensions and homemade butties versus income ‘disposable’ enough to allow one to gallivant to the cricket-playing part of the planet’s must-visit destinations, including artificial and a-cultural communities grown in the Petri dish of the desert (Australia, for instance) yet without the mitigating allure of vice. Anyway, the sight of a stadium speckled with ICC nabobs and a few not-so-Barmy Army – those in Dubai can perhaps be considered a sort of TA, compared to the Marines that got pissed every day for a month Down Under – reminded us of the pressures that Test cricket is facing (which, incidentally, is thesubject of an intriguing new film project by Cricinfo’s camera-wielding pranksters, Jarrod and Sampson [aka The Two Chucks]).
LOOK, BUMBLE IS THE MAN
When not doing chicken impressions, the Accrington anecdotemonger was inspired by the ubiquitous livery of sponsors, Jazz (a mobile phone company, apparently), to mimic the hushed, syrupy tones of The Fast Show’s John Thompson’s Jazz Club. Broadcasting highlight of the year so far, although the competition hasn’t been very strong…
LOOK, AAMIR SOHAIL IS PRICK(LY)
Mr Sohail brought a very aggressive and chippy new presence to the box, I feel. On Day 1, I had the distinct impression that Mike Atherton – not someone you would imagine shirking a rumble – had to bite his tongue (I cannot recall over what) in order to sidestep an on-air brouhaha, which he did dextrously and professionally. Then, on Day 3, when Bumble mildly criticized Adnan Akmal for bringing a hint of village cricket to the international arena by trying the old 20-yard stumping, underarming the ball at the stumps every so often (which clearly annoyed Trott and Prior and caused embarrassed laughter among the elder statesmen of his team), Sohail rasped: “Yaa, but Matt Prior would do same”. Alright, kid; settle down! Bumble went silent for well over a minute. Friction in the box, methinks. On which note, I wonder how Sohail’s getting on with his former opening partner, the altogether more placid and charming Rameez Raja… Anyway, I’ll be keeping an eye on this: paranoid and defensive in the extreme. (Incidentally, A Sohail is not a million miles from “asshole”, and probably quite easy to mispronounce as such.)
“WHAT CHU TALKIN’ ‘BOUT, WILLIS?”
Sat in the charisma-free zone of the Sky Studio with Gower, Professor Yaffle was at his curmudgeonly, droning, joyless worst, a veritable creaking doorhinge of a man. Although I tend to switch off – metaphorically, I mean – when he speaks, this time I listened as he tossed out the accusation that Saeed Ajmal only wore long-sleeved shirts to hide a bent elbow. Tiresome. I’m not entirely sure whether Atherton’s post-match interview with Man of the Match Ajmal – who’d come into the game trumpeting a new delivery, the teesra – contained a Freudian slip when he asked “have you got anything else up your sleeve?” Anyway, with Sky Sports happy to have their viewers subject to Willisian misery as a counterbalance to Bumble’s joy, evidently (especially in the post-T20 world of Dilscoops and switch hits) it truly does take Different Strokes.
Stick to being head-and-shoulders above your contemporaries at cuffing half-decent county seamers about the place, Marcus, because your punditry is woeful: lacking insight, falling back on dog-eared half-truths (“it’s about the mental battle now,” apparently), and occasionally bordering on actual nonsense. There’s a certain category of pundit – ex-players, I mean (not that Tres is retired) – who presumably struggle to articulate their ideas because throughout their life in the dressing room, they would litter their language with profanities. No observation would be proffered without a “fucking” as modifier or intensifier. Given things like broadcasting standards, watersheds and what not, this brings about a certain awkward self-consciousness in our pundit (think Tommo on Sky Soccer Saturday), leaving him inhibited and tongue-tied. I’m not 100% sure this is the case with Tresco, but listening to his contorted attempts to bring some expertise to bear on proceedings, I’m starting to see why Somerset have fallen short so often recently. Waffle.
TEST MATCH SOFA
I haven’t tuned in to the Sofa so far, mainly because I cannot synch commentary to images, but I’d be colossally disappointed if they didn’t have, as the jingle for Pakistani skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, the Clash’s Rocking the Casbah. I would also hope they have a slice of Tchaikovsky for the luxuriantly coiffeused Mohammad Hafeez – funnily enough, a cricketer whose name is exactly what a Turkish guy in an Istanbul nightclub once said to me when I was on the lookout for disco biscuits – on account of his balletic variation on the Saqlain template: a dinky shuffle or glide to the wicket then, in the gather, arms above head in the “fifth position”. I expect to see him in a leotard for the next game.
TREMLETT’S HEIGHT DISADVANTAGE
Ask any of what Jamie Redknapp might call the game’s “top, top” top-order batters what they least like to face, the chances are they’ll say “bounce” rather than pace. (Before you write in and complain, or send me death threats for being “totelee fukin rong”, there’s a good chance the top top top-order batter might use a synonym: trajectory, say, or height – use your fucking imagination.) Bowlers who crash the ball into the splice from pretty much a good length are to be feared for precisely the same reason as an old sash window: it’s easy to get your digits trapped by them. Which hurts. On the benign surface of Dubai, however, the bounce has hardly been steepling, even though, when the ball was hard, it still cleared the bails from a good length for the likes of Tremlett. Consequently, with lbw and bowled being the most likely mode of dismissal, Tremors [which must be the correct orthography, fellow writers and bloggers] has had to pitch the ball further up, duly bringing it into the batter’s driving zone, the overall result of which being that he went wicketless for the first completed innings of his career. So, 1-0 down with two to play, do we need a change? It’s a shame Bresnan has had elbow problems (not connected to chucking, said the unsuspicious Willis of the salt-of-the-earth Englishman) as he’d be very useful out here, bowling straight and reversing it, not to mention chipping in with runs. As it is, the media will speculate aboutthe rapidly improving and decidedly brisk Steve Finn being chucked in, maybe even Monty, but in the end Flower and Strauss will stick with the same side.
I note that none of the current Pakistan side are sporting beards: a veritable Beard Free Zone. Does this mean a lessening of the religious zeal that embraced the team at various points under various leaderships, with group prayers and suchlike? At the risk of bringing a fatwa upon myself for venturing a hypothesis of such infinitesimal significance it might as well be suppressed, there might be an inverse correlation between the degree of a team’s piousness and their capacity to muck in together and accept responsibility: i.e. the more devout, the more submissive, the less likely to be properly accountable, the more likely to look to blame others. To be clear, this is true, I would contend, of any faith. The fact is that the secular ethos that holds we are the architects of our own destiny in the universe, that we must build our own histories, our own institutions, often means taking active responsibility… anyway, I’m no pogonophobe, but is there something in this beardlessness and their improved performance? At the very least, all that hair around the chin in a hot climate cannot help people find a space of comfort in which to perform…
And that’s it. Bring on Abu Dhabi and the excruciating Fred Flintstone gags…
Published with permission from Scott Oliver.