New Zealand to take the World Twenty20
Posted: Sep 10, 2012
As one of the odder English international summers continues to peter out in an amorphous sludge of tediously one-sided limited-overs matches, the world is turning its attention to the fourth incarnation of the ICC World Twenty20. Meanwhile, the numbingly irritating Pietersen saga continues to rumble on like the indigestible chimichanga of idiocy that it is, with ill-timed autobiographies and ill-conceived leaks further muddying the swamp. For England fans, therefore, the advent of a major tournament will be both welcome respite from the internecine bickering in the England camp, and a rather less welcome reminder of the cost of that bickering.
The absence of Pietersen might make for a more harmonious hotel, but it significantly diminishes England"s chances of retaining their crown. They are unlikely to win the tournament. Fortunately for England, all of the other teams are also unlikely to win the tournament. Some are more unlikely than others, and one of the 12 sides will overcome that unlikelihood to triumph. The bookmakers have India as favourites, at around 9-2, with six other teams priced between 5-1 and 7-1, suggesting that, as tends to be the case in the World Twenty20, the trophy could end up almost anywhere after the 20-day festival of skied catches, slower balls, even slower balls, thwacks, dab, hoicks, slaps, clobs, and excessive use of the word "unbelievable".
Afghanistan are the outsiders at 1000-1 – only twice as unlikely to triumph as England were at their lowest ebb of the Headingley Test of 1981, so we should not entirely rule them out from completing potentially the greatest story in sport.
International T20 remains relatively scarce, so the pre-tournament form guide is minimal and largely irrelevant. Whether this makes the World T20 entertainingly unpredictable or meaninglessly random, or a bit of both, is down to the opinions and proclivities of each viewer. Personally, as a Test match devotee, I have enjoyed the international tournaments far more than any other T20 cricket, because the schedule is concise enough to create some of the tournament intensity so often wilfully absent from 50-over World Cups, and the teams have identity – Chris Gayle can choose whether to play for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the Matabeleland Tuskers, Sydney Thunder, the Vladivostok Vipers, the Beijing Nincompoops, the Lillehammer Libidos, the Nuremburg Nutcases, the New York Yankees, the Rio de Janeiro Ethels, or any of their local franchise rivals, but West Indies are his only option for the World T20.
The Official Confectionery Stall Prediction: New Zealand to win. I arrived at this conclusion not because I think New Zealand will win (although they have enough potent hitters to reach the semi-final shootout), but by drawing lots from a hat. It seemed appropriate. It will probably be won by a team that (a) finds a streak of form; (b) hits lots of sixes; (c) contains either Shahid Afridi or someone a bit like Shahid Afridi; and (d) gets lucky.
● Among the enduring curiosities of limited-overs cricket are the tactics of fielding captains struggling to defend a small total. It seems to be a universally held cricketing belief that the best way to stop a batting team scoring, say, 90 off 20 overs with eight wickets remaining, is to not put close catchers in, keep the field spread in standard limited-overs formation, and allow the batsmen to accumulate five or six under minimal pressure. Mathematically, this often seems a curious tactic. It seldom works.
With more positive tactics, more attacking bowling and field-placing, the defending team would probably lose anyway. Probably more quickly, possibly in a flurry of boundaries. But is it not worth the non-existent risk to try to force a wicket, rather than accepting a slow grind to defeat like a baby cod turning up to a fish and chip shop with a potato tucked under its fin, saying, "Chop this spud up and put it in the freezer, then pop me in the pond out the back, I"ll be ready to cook in a couple of months"? Why do one-sided ODIs never end in to the backdrop of an umbrella field of slip-catchers desperately hoping for a miracle?
(I once played in a match at school where my team was cruising to a thoroughly merited defeat. The opposing team needed four to win with seven or eight wickets in hand, so we spread out into six slips and three gullies and told our fastest bowler to charge in from the longest run-up possible. The batsman, clearly discombobulated by the unfamiliar field and the sight of a slow-medium trundler rhinocerosing in from the sight screen, promptly edged one to second slip. Who dropped it. The next ball went for four through the vacant cover region. This proves nothing, but it must have looked fantastic.)
● A final word on the Pietersen shambles. A year ago, the England team was a shining example of sporting professionalism and achievement, ruthlessly focused and scientifically prepared. Now it has become a rather overwritten teenage soap opera.
People follow sport, in part at least, for an escape from the bickering and politicking of reality. They do not want sport to start behaving like the children/politicians/untrained puppies they are trying to temporarily avoid. The Olympics and Paralympics have seen the British public ravenously devour sport like a starved dog in an untended sausage shed. Britain has arguably never been happier as a nation than during the last six joyful weeks, when real news has been put firmly on the back-burner, and the back-burner has been firmly switched off. That is what sport can do, and what sport is for. It is, admittedly, not always available in such industrial dosages ‒ which is probably for the best in terms of the economic health of Britain. But if the Pietersen farrago schemozzles its way on much longer, people will start turning to the forthcoming political party conference season for spiritual refuge from the irritations of cricket.