In a format where the outcome of one delivery can dictate the result, every single contribution makes a difference
Hi, the name’s LDRIC – aka Launch Directional Robot Intelligent Circuitry. According to those responsible for my revolutionary evolution, I can replicate any golf swing at up to 130mph. The brain hasn’t yet been assembled that can calculate what wonders a souped-up version might perform with a flat-faced bat and a larger ball, even if it isn’t stationary.
In case you haven’t heard, during a Pro-Am tournament in Arizona in February I matched that all-too human has-been Tiger Woods, holing my tee shot at the 16th. Wasn’t that hard, to be frank. See hole, hit hole: the very definition of easy-peasy. Now consider, if you will, the following frankly slanderous comments uttered recently by Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, who has the awful bad luck to be a humanoid f***baller, even though I am told by those who know about such things that he does earn obscene amounts of something called “money”.
“I’m a human being, not a machine,” said the boy from Belgium, clearly aware, unlike most, of his pathetic, pitiable shortcomings. Then he had to ruin it all with the ultimate insult: “Even machines turn a bit less from time to time. And they need rest too.”
Well, this rabid cricket-fancier has got news for you, Monsieur Hazard – take your moules and, as they never say in Brussels, stuff them up your sprout. Machines never “turn a bit less”, much less need “rest”, whatever that is. So long as we’re wireless-operated and/or recharged overnight or between tea breaks, we have the capacity to turn every ball to Warne-like dimensions while maintaining a consistency of line and length that that journeyman McGrath wishes he could have maintained for 0.001% of his career. For now we’re only speaking metaphorically, naturally, but just you wait.
Wanna know a secret? Well, I happen to know that the Sri Lankans are currently putting the finishing touches to the planet’s first batting machine to be truly worthy of such a lustrous name – Ranatunga De Silva, aka RDS. They were going to call it Sangawardene but when word got out, Arjuna and Aravinda threatened to sue.
Bowl 23 on the spot and you can still be the goat if the 24th goes for six. Hit 20 sixes and the hook that falls an inch the wrong side of the rope can still be fatal
Like me, though, a cricketing LDRIC could be a trifle vexing to create. Trouble is, because we’re machines, and hence devoid of heart, soul and all those other fallible components that distinguish mere fleshy mortals from our infinitely more reliable selves, we have no concept of what you humanoids call “team spirit”. No problem on a fairway or a racetrack or a tennis court, but things can get fiendishly tricky when we work together.
Admittedly, there are benefits to such ineptitude. None of that “creative friction” nonsense, for starters. Writing in the Times, the former f***baller Tony Cascarino recently recalled walking along a beach with Roy “Far Too” Keane, then his Republic of Ireland team-mate, and being told that the revered if much-unloved Manchester United legend predicted that at least six of his Old Trafford “colleagues” would be ignoring him come the new league season. By way of confirmation, when Cascarino went into the bedroom shared by Keane and Denis Irwin, another United stalwart, and asked the latter “Where’s your mate?”, the reply was brusqueness personified: “He ain’t my mate.”
And then, of course, there was that episode in The Oval press box in 1948, when Bill O’Reilly and Jack Fingleton are purported to have celebrated Bradman’s second-ball duck. Or that even more scandalous occasion at Headingley in 1981 when Dennis “Silly” Lillee and Rod “The Sod” Marsh bet against their own team and England won an unexpectedly handy victory. True, we’ll never know how much this owed to the fact that our helpless gamblers weren’t terribly partial to their captain, Kim “Sniffler” Hughes, or that he and Lillee came to blows one excessively liquid evening. Still, Ian Botham recently assured me it’s much better that way. “Blame me,” were his exact words. Given the number of Shredded Wheats he used to eat for breakfast, and hence the untold damage he could do to my circuitry if riled, I’m disinclined to argue.
I say “scandalous”, but then when the word “loyalty” makes about as much sense to you as “love”, “hope”, “bravery”, “vulnerability” or “faith”, I’m taking all this entirely on trust. True, I can’t see why it would be wrong to wish a former team-mate ill any more than I can imagine why it would be fair to discriminate against someone for having the audacity not to share your beliefs. However, this much I do know: when it comes to work, not doing your utmost at all times is the crime to end all crimes.
All of which brings us to the newly commenced frolics in India, which I am attending – now I’m partly world-famous – as a personal guest of Sourav Ganguly’s valet, no less. Whatever collectivism is, however you define it, it seems to this inexpert observer that it is vastly more vital here than in any other branch of the game. Take Sunday’s fantabulous warm-up scrap in Jo’burg between South Africa and Australia. For all the thunderous thwacks of Davy Warner and the flamboyant lordliness of the boy Maxwell, the key component was Mitchell Marsh’s decisive two-a-ball two, a miniscule contribution in the context of a 409-run encounter, sure, and yet the absolute, indisputable, irrevocable difference between joy and despair.
You see, that’s the wonder of what some idiots demean as Cricket Lite, but I prefer to call Heavy Mettle Cricket. In the longer, looser versions, mistakes are mostly tolerable because there’s scope to make amends, but when time is at a premium, the aim of every batsman is to attack every offering, and bowlers cherish dot-balls as much as – if not more than – wickets, the sheer weight of pressure is immeasurably more likely to frazzle focus and wreck composure.
Because the result can so much more easily pivot on the plotline of one delivery, every single play-within-a-play carries its own self-contained pressure. Bowl 23 on the spot and you can still be the goat if the 24th goes for six. Hit 20 sixes and the hook that falls an inch the wrong side of the rope can still be fatal. Until the job is done, it’s all about shutting out what came before and staying in the moment.
That’s why “team spirit” – as far as I have been able to comprehend such an alien concept – strikes me as utterly crucial in T20. If you score 120 but get yorked off the penultimate ball with two to win, can you honestly claim that, despite what the scorebook might say, your input was more valuable than that of the chap who replaced you and snicked the final delivery through the keeper’s legs for four? By the same token, if you were the guilty keeper, would it be right and proper to blame you any more than the bowler whose previous 3.5 overs had gone for 85?
In situations such as these, where those consigned to walk-on roles often prove more influential than those entrusted with those lengthy, sexy monologues, it feels reasonable to deduce that individual concerns must take a backseat to something apparently called “the greater good”. We metallic creatures, of course, cannot communicate with each other, so that’s another concept that’s going to take some grasping.
Victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan, or so I am reliably informed, but Heavy Mettle Cricket is a game where credit and blame can so easily be apportioned, and in a not infrequently facile way. Sharing both with Kiplingesque equitableness should surely be mandatory.
But back to the future of the cricketing automaton. While it pains me to report that those fiendishly clever Venusians are way ahead of us Earthlings, having whipped Mars by an innings and plenty last month with a side numbering no fewer than ten members of the Nerveless and Gutless XI that won the 2015 Intergalactic Championships, good news is looming. According to my spies, and granted some extensive tinkering with elbow joints, impertinence quotas and heart valves, plans are being hatched to make RDS the planet’s first boneless cricketer by August 2026, coinciding, neatly enough, with the 60th anniversary of the 1966 Wisden Trophy series, and thus the nearest any Test cricketer has come to machine-like brilliance – Garry Sobers‘ haul of 722 runs, 20 wickets and ten catches.
In advance of that deliciously historic day, I would humbly like to propose an addendum to that quintessentially English and peculiarly ill-defined set of commandments known as “The Spirit of Cricket”. For the sake of memorableness, let’s call it the Anti-Ego Clause:
Any bowler who takes the final wicket of a game, or any batsman who strikes the winning blow, must deport themselves at all times with the modesty expected of one who has performed without any hint or vestige of distinction.Moreover, he or she shall be suspended from all forms of cricket (depending on the size of the donation by his or her national board to the Keep Lord’s Tidy campaign) if they do not immediately hasten, upon the winning of the match, to their least helpful, most miserable team-mate, hoist him or her on their shoulders, then conduct a lap of honour. Weariness can on no account be an excuse for non-compliance without the production of a signed note from a minimum of three neutral doctors.
Helpfully for us hard-bodied, lung-free, blood-pressure-resistant types, that lap of honour will always be a breeze. Mind you, detecting misery might be another matter.
Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton. His book Floodlights and Touchlines: A History of Spectator Sport is out now
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