Posts Tagged fans

…aaaaand we’re back.

Well, that was anticlimactic.

My training is scientific, so it’s impossible to watch this New Zealand side play without my brain almost involuntarily formulating a giant experiment to evaluate how they perform under different levels of expectation. Is there really something to this wretched underdog thing that Shane Bond hates so much? Test it! Send them into three series deciders, one as favourites, one as 50-50-too-close-to-call competitors, and one as these-jokers-haven’t-got-a-hope-in-hell rank outsiders. Repeat several times to get a decent sample size, play the same 11 every time at the same ground against the same opponent (preferably a consistent side – Lanka? SA?) to reduce the number of variables. It would make a fascinating research study, albeit one that might be a little bit hard to get funding for.

Normally I wouldn’t advocate treating international-level sportsmen like lab rats (even though it would be frankly awesome to see Alastair Cook frantically trying to find his way though a giant hedge maze to the Maybelline stand at the other end) but honestly, there might really be no other way to explain this NZ side.

This is not to say that the NZ setup should feel badly about this series. They performed far above anyone’s expectations – so much so that the third test shitshow was even more bizarre because of the gritty fighting that had come before. Verily, New Zealand cricket, you are a mystery wrapped in an enigma sprinkled with really hot men.

I know I’m probably supposed to be writing about the Ashes, but everyone else in the known universe, along with their great-aunt and their great aunt’s cocker spaniel, seems to be providing fairly comprehensive coverage already, so I will abstain. I will say, though, that of all the members of the England Test side, I would never in a million years have thought that Tim Bresnan would be the one with the most rhythm.

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On Expecting the Expected

Ever since it became apparent on the second day of the first Test in Ahmedabad that New Zealand weren’t in fact going to be crushed into dust by India, as everyone and their grandmother had predicted, I’ve been giving Dileep Premachandran a hard time for this article. (Mostly because he called Chris Martin “ready for the knackers’ yard” and anyone even casually familiar with me or this blog probably knows that suggesting Chris Martin is anything less than completely awesome is, in my opinion, punishable by torture and execution.)

But.

Truth be told, I was predicting the same thing everyone else was. I believe my exact words were “Vettori’s 100th Test appearance for New Zealand is going to be a nightmarish, bloodstained massacre.” If I felt any ambivalence I disguised it well.

I love New Zealand (yeah, not news, I know). I have a massive amount of faith in their players. I know that they have an uncanny ability to come good when appearing totally down and out. The fact that the spellcheck on WordPress still doesn’t recognize ‘Zealand’ as a word AS IT IS DOING RIGHT THIS FUCKING MINUTE sends me into a mini rage spiral. Still.

It was impossible not to. One of the oldest cliches in cricket is that anything can happen, but that’s sometimes just not true. Put Canada into the field with Australia and there’s a 99.99% chance that you could correctly predict what would happen. It’s like the lottery: technically, yes, there is a chance of winning, but you have a greater chance of being struck by lightning, twice, in the same place on your body at the same time of day while wearing the same 6 items of clothing. After the Bangladesh tour, with India coming off beating the mighty(ish) Australians 2-0, it would have just been unrealistic to think that the Kiwis – in a Test series no less (statistically the format in which they have been least successful in recent times) – would be anything other than woefully outmatched. They no longer had Bond or O’Brien. Their batting lineup was shakier than a house of cards on a seesaw in an earthquake. They had just emerged from a series in which they had failed to win a single ODI…against Bangladesh.

If the New Zealand team were a horse, it would have been taken behind some sheds and shot as an act of mercy.

There is very rarely anything nice about being proved spectacularly wrong, but (as England fans who were around in the 90s and early Aughts will attest) there’s nothing better than the team you love winning when you had prepared yourself for them to lose. It’s SO much better than an expected win. It more than compensates for the contrasting feeling – losing when winning should have been a foregone conclusion. It may in fact be one of the best feelings there is for a sports fan.

Shane Bond has said publicly that he’s always hated the ‘underdogs’ tag New Zealand have long been saddled with for this very reason, that they were expected to lose and winning was a bonus. And I agree with him. It’s not healthy for the team to think that way. It’s probably more than a little pathetic for the fans to constantly think that way. But it’s so hard not to, when it means that you occasionally get to experience this feeling. Because, for real, it feels fucking fantastic.

Or maybe I’m biased and the feeling is heightened for me because my long-beloved Chris Martin took 5 for 63 when certain people-who-will-not-be-named-except-that-their-first-name-rhymes-with-Felipe-and-their-last-name-is-Premachandran had written him off as old and past it. It’s possible.

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Ah, poetry

Today was a grey day.

Literally, because the weather gods, having well and truly lost their marbles, decided that pouring rain, thunder and lightning were exactly what this corner of the Middle Eastern desert needed this week. And metaphorically, because young Shakib-al-Hasan and his valiant Bangladeshi tigers once again almost won a cricket match before having it slip away agonizingly at the last minute – this time courtesy of an England player who isn’t even English. (Although, half the England side are, you know, South African, so I’m not sure what the deal is with all the fuss being made about Eoin Morgan being Irish. I just figured I ought to mention it.) I would mention his excellent steely-nerved hundred, but I kind of wish he hadn’t made it because it was the sole reason that England ended up winning, so it may take a few days for the rawness to subside before I can appreciate it for what it was.

But, courtesy of the wonder that is Twitter, I have found the key to brightening up any day – even if you’re a Bangladeshi supporter and have had to install extra drainage on account of your house being constantly awash with your own tears, and extra handrails because the constant abrupt swinging back from the edge of victory to the grim depths of defeat is making you dizzy and prone to falling down a lot.

I have linked to Dave ‘The Bard’ Bird’s cricket poetry website already – it’s over there at the right-hand side of the homepage – but one of his more recent mad genius offerings deserves special mention because he produced it totally out of the blue and it just happened to be a tribute to one of my favourite players of all time.

I have reproduced it in full below, with Dave’s permission:

Ode to Lance Klusener

-David Bird

Klusener could whack it, yes Lance,
To spinners, down wicket, he’d dance,
No defensive tricks,
He smote them for six,
The same for the quicks without prance.

Sometimes he could bowl pretty quick,
Sometimes the batsmen he’d trick.
Gave balance to the side,
Served country with pride,
All without ever being a prick.

His best score V England, remember?
Our bowlers he got to dismember.
Zulu hit it so high
Way up into the sky,
It didn’t come down ’til November.

Dave adds, as a side note: ‘Lovely Long-Limbed Lance was, challenged only by Jonty Rhodes, my favourite South African cricketer for YEARS.’

Mine too, David. He wasn’t even second to Jonty – or anyone else for that matter – in my book. I even have the song ‘Impi’ on my iPod because of him. I may go hunt down highlight reels of him playing to help me get over the match result today.

The rest of you, get on over to David’s site and immerse yourself in mad limericky genius. Go on. Why are you still here??

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You win, Universe.

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:

DAMN, boy.

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.

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*Shameless Plug Alert!*

Well, not quite. Maybe? Anyway, while I have still not got around to writing about the Afghanistan v. U.A.E. game for the half-dozen people who would have been interested to read it, I have put up some pictures from the match – of the action in the middle as well as of the fantastic fan presence – on my photo blog. You can see them here.

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I give in.

As a subcontinental cricket fan, there are certain things you tend to do almost without realizing why you do them. Loathing Pakistan (if you’re Indian, vice versa if you’re Pakistani), loathing Australia, and wilfully ignoring Anil Kumble’s mountain of achievements and general awesomeness are among those that come to mind. I , personally, never did the first, and believe that if found guilty of the last you should be soundly beaten, with your own shoes, by a mob of intense, moustachioed men in spectacles. I will, however, admit to having been guilty of the second.

The Australians have been hard to like, none more so than their grizzled veteran Captain Ricky. Like the team he’s led with distinction for so long, he’s turned out consistently brilliant performances, and accepted victory after victory with a confident (some would say arrogant) grin, a man claiming what was rightfully his. There is much to admire about the man, not least his complete and self-driven turnaround from the early days when he might easily have become another Andrew Symonds. There are still many things I don’t like about him – dude needs to work on not getting riled by the media, for one thing – but in recent months, my resistance has been steadily worn down. It was dealt a death-blow when Ricky made the declaration that will probably endear him to me for ever, even if it emerges at some point that he enjoys drop-kicking puppies in his spare time and takes twice-daily baths in the tears of orphans.

Ricky Ponting loves ODIs. 50-over cricket. Not 40-over cricket, not ‘modified’ 50-over cricket, not sexed-up-glamorized-ODI-cricket. ODI cricket the way it’s been played all along. No caveats.

I freaking LOVE him for this.

Last night, when he admitted that had he been the fielding captain during an incident like that which befell poor Khalid Latif, he would have considered leading off his team, I realized that, dammit; I may be a Ponting fan. A reluctant, I-will-still-probably-support-any-team-that-plays-against-Australia-instead-of-them kind of fan, but a fan nonetheless. I give in. You win, Ricky. I say this with extreme reluctance, but I will still say it: you, sir, are maybe kind of awesome.

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A shocking lack of patriotism

…displayed by me, an Indian, while watching the Dhaka test today. Or, rather, while determinedly not watching the Dhaka test today.

I have been supporting Bangladesh throughout, because I usually support Bangladesh. It’s not that I don’t love my country, it’s just that I care more about Bangladesh. And yesterday, while I was rooted to the screen, Bangladesh were steadily and methodically dismantled by Messrs. Dravid and Tendulkar. (As I’ve said, I LOVE Rahul, but it still hurt. Rahul has nothing to prove any more; the Bangla boys do.) As Stephen Fry will tell you, this was not a coincidence, because any time your team does badly, it can only be because you were stupid enough to be watching them. You must do anything else – go watch some paint dry, feed the cat, feed the cat some more, take the opportunity to safely groom and/or bathe your now bloated, confused and immobile cat; anything. Just do. not. watch. Rule #1.

So, today, I didn’t. Neither, evidently, did several thousand other people, some of whom, like me, instead watched Australia take Pakistan apart (again). As absorbing as that was, pretty soon incredible news started to filter through from the Shere-e-Bangla stadium: somehow, Bangladesh had stormed their way to 218 for the loss of just one wicket, and even more incredibly, Tamim Iqbal had just reached 150 in the company of Junaid Siddique, on a more modest but still impressive 54. Suddenly viewers were switching over, keyed up at the prospect of watching an upset unfold. Go Tigers!

…and then Siddique got out. And then, less than two overs later, so did Tamim.

*facepalm*

It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t even that Zaheer was bowling really well (although he was, I mean to take nothing away from the boy.) It was ours. We’d forgotten Rule #2 – when your team is doing well, do not alter your behaviour a single iota, because you will SCREW IT UP. If you are on a treadmill, stay there! Full bladder? Too damn bad, princess, suck it up and hold it in. This is more important than you.

Sorry, boys. Our bad.

Still, bravo, Tamim. Today, you were a colossus. Let’s hope it wasn’t in vain all because we lot were stupid and forgot the rules.

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