Archive for category Zimbabwe
Martin Guptill is a man who demands nicknames. This would be true even if he weren’t a sportsman existing in an environment where everyone must be referred to by nickname (even if, as with England a lot of the time, said nickname is pretty much just the player’s actual name with a ‘y’ tacked on the end.) For one thing, there’s his unusual last name; for another, the fact that the man has only 7 toes. My old nickname for him, therefore, was ‘Guppy Two-toes’ – which, if not exactly supremely imaginative, was at least a hell of a lot more so than ‘Cooky,’ ‘Belly,’ ‘Straussy’ and the rest of them, as if the England team were made up entirely of cutesy singing dwarves.
That is a nickname of the past, from a time when the New Zealand team – and especially their batting lineup – were either plucky underdogs who never quite made it happen for themselves, or a straight-up punchline. Their bowlers were mostly immune from the criticism, on account of not sucking at their own jobs and regularly picking up the slack after each inevitable batting collapse. Practically every set of photographs taken of Daniel Vettori from that time has a couple showing him, jaw set and brow furrowed under his helmet, padded up and striding out with an air of angry resignation to bail his team out of trouble by batting for a couple of hours (in a style apparently learned from a coaching manual printed by Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks).
But things, it seems, are different now with New Zealand. Their Atlas, Vettori, plays only Tests now, and their team lineup is suddenly bristling with fresh-faced players not old enough to know what audio cassettes are. But it’s working for them. Zimbabwe might not have been the most challenging of opponents (though they have the capacity to be much tougher than they were during this last series), but New Zealand demolished them, over and over again, at every venue and in every format. To my obvious delight, one of the main architects of New Zealand’s dominance was none other than Chris Martin, 37 years of age and in the bowling form of his life, perhaps invigorated by reducing Phil Hughes to a bloody smear on the ground in the Australia series. This may in some part explain why one of the search phrases used to find this blog recently was “cricket the back of Chris Martin’s head,” but that’s something I don’t really want to think too much about except to assume that someone out there has a thing for graceful bald men who can swing a cricket ball, which is fair enough.
The other standout Kiwi was, of course, Guptill. He’s always been a superb fielder, so much so that he manages to stand out in a side that is primarily known for being a uniformly excellent fielding unit. He was the third part of the Hughes b. Martin equation in addition to flinging himself all over the place taking catches and stopping runs, and when he wasn’t doing that he was batting like he’s never batted before. He’s showed flashes of this ability in the past, but never so consistently, and now he resembles a man who has ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing constantly in his head and has entrenched himself so deeply into The Zone that he probably cuts his food and puts on pants with exactly the same intensity and optimal use of technique. It showed clearly in today’s T20, the one that kicked off the start of the South Africa tour (a.k.a. the real test of the new-and-improved-now-with-40%-more-BADASS New Zealand side). After a spectacular runout of Hashim Amla that ended with both players and several stumps tangled up in a heap on the pitch and had everyone and their grandmother instantly referencing the legendary Jonty Rhodes moment, he then proceeded to carry his bat through the New Zealand innings and score most of the runs – except the winning ones, which he graciously left to James Franklin. The man seems unstoppable.
However, he is also possessed of facial hair and bone structure that, especially when he’s wearing a helmet, makes him look uncannily like a less-Asiatic Ghenghis Khan. It’s actually distracting. Yet, it might just be the source of all his powers, and so should be accorded due respect. Thus, his new nickname will now be the Toeless White Mongol. It’s not short and snappy, like good nicknames should ideally be, but I think it’s the name he’s earned. Go forth, TWM, and conquer.
There’s been a trend in recent years of younger men captaining their national sides. The current captains of India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Bangladesh are all in their twenties. (I am going to leave Pakistan out of this equation because their captaincy issues – well, issues in general – are myriad, and give me stress headaches when I think about them.) England and Sri Lanka have guys in their early thirties, and Australia has either a 28-year old or a 35-year-old depending on what format they’re playing.
Chris Gayle and New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori have a couple of things in common – they’re both national captains, they’re both 30 years old, both are key players in their respective IPL teams, and they both put in an all-rounder’s version of what is usually called a captain’s knock in ODIs this past week – Vettori’s a fighting 70 off 49 and 2-43 from his ten overs against Australia, and, against Zimbabwe, Gayle’s an 88 off 111 and 1-25 from his ten (he also took a catch and was instrumental in a runout.) Gayle’s performance helped the West Indies win, Vettori’s wasn’t quite enough to allow New Zealand to do the same.
Here are ways in which they are different. Gayle has a carefully cultivated image as Mr. Cool, all shades and bling and diamond earrings; while Vettori is occasionally bearded, laconic, and wears prescription glasses – you know, like a geek. Gayle loves his lucrative high-profile endorsements and his million-dollar-deals; Vettori, presumably content with the not-inconsiderable revenue from his own IPL contract, is known for commercials promoting sunglasses for schoolchildren, New Zealand Libraries and Visique Optometrists. Despite both being key batsmen for their sides, Gayle is a top-order striker of skill and elegance, where Vettori comes in at number eight with a small and homely repertoire of shots that somehow brings him lots of runs.
Those don’t really matter very much, though; they’re just interesting tidbits of trivia.
Here are the important differences.
What he just about failed to do the other night, Vettori does all the freaking time. He’s New Zealand’s rock, a man who started out as a bowler of finger-spin in a country filled with quicks because of its fast seaming wickets and made himself one of the best in the world at that, and then worked on his mediocre batting with single-minded focus that couldn’t make it any prettier to look at but did quadruple its effectiveness. He’s now New Zealand’s talisman, their beardy lanky Superman who does it with his glasses on. The side has suffered in ODIs, where they are usually strongest, with the loss of people like Jesse Ryder and my beloved Grant Elliott to injury, but it’s Vettori’s presence or absence that makes or breaks this team. Ever since he took on the responsibilities of national selector, coach-of-sorts and Lord knows what else, the jokes have been coming thick and fast – it’s only a matter of time before the ‘Vettori for PM’ shirts hit the market. They already have ones reading ‘Give Dan More Jobs’ – in what I can only assume is a fatalistic attempt to see just how many things can be dumped on him before he cracks, like a reverse game of Jenga with weights added instead of bricks taken away…and, you know, a real-life dude instead of a toy tower. (Or, as Dave Tickner has pointed out, a really sadistic real-life version of Buckaroo. Crickaroo?) The sight of him coming in late in the game, face set in concentration, to save the innings and take New Zealand home, has become so familiar it’s a wonder they haven’t come up with ‘doing a Vettori’ as verbal shorthand for it, like the way ‘being Mankaded’ came to represent being run out by the bowler because you backed up too far in anticipation.
The reason I’m mentioning all this is to explain why, despite Gayle’s performance and the fact that it was the only thing that saved the West Indies from another in a long, long string of emphatic and embarrassing defeats, I haven’t written a post praising him, and don’t plan to. He doesn’t deserve it. The contrast between him and a man like Daniel Vettori is significant because of their many similarities in age, IPL-involvement and all-round ability, but there’s another comparison I can make that’s even more telling: with Bangladesh’s captain. Another man who this week has had, like Vettori, to be key bowler and batsman for his side while also serving as their leader, only to fall agonizingly short of victory (in his case, to England.) And having done that, to face the international press with grace, optimism and a relentlessly positive attitude.
His name is Shakib-al-Hasan. And he is 22 years old.
So this, Chris Gayle, is why you don’t deserve to be praised. You don’t get to come in after months of fuckery and think you can make up for it with one game. Not enough. You’ve been put to shame by a No. 8 batsman and a kid barely out of his teens – in my humble opinion, they are twice the captains, twice the cricketers, and, yes, each of them is twice the man you are. It’s clear you have an extremely high opinion of yourself; well, take off them shades, boy, I’ve got a photo to leave you with.
This is Daniel Vettori the other night, in the process of trying desperately to take his team over the line. Fun fact: Dan’s got chronic back issues, stemming from an incident in his teens when he actually broke his back; an injury to his bowling shoulder that he’s opted not to have surgery on because that would mean not being able to play for up to 12 months; and on the morning that photo was taken, a stiff neck that almost forced him not to play in the match at all.
Yes, that is him diving. After having spent the first session in the field, and already having batted for an unknown period of time. That’s commitment, Chris. (It might also be stupidity, but it’s certainly not stupidity on the level of some of the stuff you’ve come out with.)
Look it up.
And when you’re done, go talk to young Shakib and take notes on how to be a real man.
As anyone who is acquainted with me or has read this blog knows, I am not a fan of T20s. (If you didn’t before, you do now.) I don’t hate them – I had contemplated buying this shirt, but eventually decided I didn’t want to walk around with any statement emblazoned across my chest that I didn’t fully support – but they just don’t do it for me. I hate the manufactured drama, I hate the damn cheerleaders, I hate the fact that it’s about cheap spectacle and devalues the game. Given how much I love the game (here’s a hint – A LOT) that last one is the most egregious sin of all.
So I don’t usually write about them.
But the universe has been sending me nudges that turned into prods that turned into giant neon signs reading ‘HEY DO WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION YET’ and I have finally caved. This post will be entirely about T20s. And not just one, either.
First, I must address a small but devoted fanbase. In the last month or so, people have been led to Long (Way) Off by typing the following terms into search engines:
‘Tim Southee’ – Yes, I’ve mentioned him. I believe I called him adorable, which he can be if his hair isn’t being alarming. I have thought him an extremely promising bowler since watching his performance against England in ’08, but have not wanted to jinx him by being all ‘OMG here is the KIWIS new superstar !!!!11!!’
‘Tim Southee single?’ – I have no idea. If he is, probably not for long. And if you have to Google that, you probably don’t have much of a chance. (Sorry.)
‘I love you Tim Southee’ – Aw, that’s cute. But if I can offer some entirely well-meaning advice: he’s probably unreachable by this point. Go for the nice guy who opens the door for you at school or awkwardly compliments your perfume.
‘How old is Tim Southee’ – Dude. Do I look like your personal ReferenceBot? Also, if you’re trying to figure out if he’s legal, that is really, really creepy. (Run, Tim! Run!)
‘Tim Southee hot’ – Um. Wouldn’t go that far. Attractive boy, but he’s a kid still. Hotness might come later.
Ok, now that that’s dealt with, I can properly give plaudits to Tim for his performance yesterday. As I’ve said, he’s very young, and that was not a young man’s performance. He’s showed glimpses of that kind of nerve and maturity before, but the control he showed yesterday in the last part of the innings, and then in sealing that final over, was pretty extraordinary. Fortunately the batsmen – Brendon ‘You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’ McCullum and my favourite imaginary superhero, Martin ‘Guppy Two-Toes’ Guptill didn’t let him down. Other people have described Baz’s unreal innings much better than I could, so I’m just going to record what flashed reflexively through my head when I saw it:
I refuse to comment further on Shaun Tait than to say: that was super-classy of you, Shaun, and look how well it worked!
And then, just when we thought the day had been action-packed enough, there was the match that hardly anyone even knew about, let alone was planning to watch: West Indies v Zimbabwe.
I am a staunch Zimbabwe supporter – when Grant Flower announced his plans to return and be their new batting coach, I was overjoyed – so I was actually pretty keyed up for this. That lasted all of ten minutes into Zimbabwe’s innings, and by the time they’d crawled painfully from 0-3 (yes, you read that right. 3 wickets, ZERO RUNS) to 105 all out, it was extremely late and I figured that even for a cricket masochist of my calibre, battling exhaustion to watch them be further humiliated wasn’t going to be worth it. So I went to bed.
My reactions on waking up this morning:
On the one hand, YAY Zimbabwe! Bloody hell, that was a spectacular comeback! Grant Flower’s still got his work cut out for him, because damn if that wasn’t some pretty abjectly pathetic batting, but still!
On the other hand: Are you freaking kidding me?!
Good God, West Indies. I mean…I have no words. (Suleiman Benn, you are exempt from this, you did a great job. Congratulations. I’m sorry this is the team you’re saddled with.) I hope to God that Chris Gayle was sitting out for even a remotely legitimate reason, because I already think he’s a tiresome arrogant ass who thinks he’s far cooler than he actually is and would hate to have to expend the energy to dislike him even more.
Ottis, I like you. I do. I do believe you’re doing your best. But if Grant’s got a tough job ahead of him, yours seems positively Herculean. I’m not exactly likening the West Indies cricket team to the Augean stables, but at this point, they both do seem to be equally full of shit.