GIVE ME A SMOKERS’ RIVALRY TO ODIS ANY DAY!
Confession time. Trying to pretend you’re something you’re not becomes, over time, an intolerable burden, and so, thanks to the wise counsel of close friends and family, I have decided to come out of the closet. No more living a lie. And the relief is overwhelming.
I couldn’t..... (hang on a minute while I try and get the words out).... I couldn’t give a stuff who wins the next one-day international. Nor the one after that. Nor any of them. There. I’ve said it. No going back now. But finally I can look in the mirror of a morning and salute myself, Marlon Samuels style.
Can you remember who England played in the first of last summer’s ODI series? And who won? And by what margin? Of course you can. At least you can if you look it up, as I did, on Cricinfo. It all comes flooding back to me now, or trickling at least. England beat Sri Lanka 3-0, with one tied, and one rained off.
This is not to say that ODIs are not worth going along to watch.You can get a few pints down you, wave your ‘4’ and ‘6’ placards in the air when someone gives it a tonk, and fork out on one of those earpiece things if you’ve overimbibed to the extent you no longer know who’s playing who, and where.
Tune the dial to Sky, and they’ll give you the WASP. Don’t ask me what it stands for, but it tells you who’s winning. Ergo, England have made 650 off their 50 overs, and the West Indies are 29-6 off 12 in reply, the WASP will tell you that the visitors need to up their game a bit if it’s to be a tight finish.
And, of course, it’s all the more jolly when you send matches to places like Bristol, where the boundaries could only be described as difficult to clear if you happen to be staging a Prep School game. An ODI without a six clearing the pavilion roof every couple of overs isn’t really worth the bother.
Furthermore, tickets must change hands for a fortune on the black market when the West Indies are in the field. The ODI genre is said to have improved fielding standards beyond all recognition, but when these boys are performing, it’s the equivalent of Mr Bean meets Norman Wisdom. There are times, it has to be said, when it’s so hilarious you have to put your pint down for a moment to attend to a potentially ruptured spleen.
However, none of this means that we actually care who ends up winning. Unless it’s the World Cup of course. So if we really want to give the ODI some relevance, rather than cricket’s equivalent of a day out at Alton Towers, why not make the series echo the diverse rivalries of days gone by?
I’m talking about the Smokers v Non Smokers, North v South, the One-Legged XI v The One-Armed XI, and, of course, when cricket was so class riven it was the sporting equivalent of Downton Abbey, the Gentlemen v The Players.
The Toffs usually lost, but did so in the kind of style you might expect from the aristocracy. In one game at Lord’s in 1821, having been bowled out for 60 in their first innings, their captain took a look at a scoreboard reading Players 270-6, and announced: “That’s quite enough thank you. We concede the game.” And ’orf they all went for a game of bridge and a pink gin at places like Boodles, and the Groucho Club.
The North v South match had almost as long a history (1836-1961) and after the South hosted the first match at Lord’s, the North welcomed the visitors to their own patch in Leicester. Giving credence to the general belief that the MCC has always regarded the North as beginning
Can you remember who England played in the first of last summer’s ODI series? And who won? And by what margin? You can if you look it up...
somewhere in the region of Newport Pagnell Services.
What a spiffing idea it would be to re-kindle the North v South rivalry in ODI format. The North should get the honour of hosting the first game, somewhere a bit chillier than Leicester, and all their fielders should be required to wear flat caps and stud collar shirts. For luncheon, tripe and onions would be served, and in the unlikely event of no-one turning up to watch, the crowd would consist of two men and a whippet.
The Smokers v Non Smokers fixture might be difficult to arrange in the modern era, as the sight of a ‘Phil Tufnell’ having a crafty drag behind the pavilion is becoming, what with all the health warnings, something of a rarity. In the original game, though, in 1884, the Smokers’ opening pair walked out to bat puffing away on a couple of Woodbines, or whatever the brand of the day happened to be. Presumably, when they got down to numbers 10 and 11, the still burning fag would be handed to the umpire with the instruction: “Would you mind holding this for me ump. I shouldn’t be long.”
As for the One Armed v One Legged game, it was also a one-off. Played at Lewisham in 1848, the scores were, as you might expect, pretty average. The One-Armed XI made 50 in their first innings, and the One-Legged team replied with 32. The One Arms followed up with 41, and chasing – a relative term for a team with only 11 legs between them – 60 to win, their opponents were all out for 44. One not entirely surprising statistic is that of the 76 runs the OneArmed bowlers conceded in the entire game, 43 of them were wides.
All of these matches would be far more interesting than a boring old country v country ODI, and could easily be extended to things like an England Born in England XI v the even more powerful England Born in South Africa XI, a Beards v Clean Shaven XI, and Tattoos v Non Tattoos. And how about West Indies v a One-Armed XI? My money would be on the one-armed lads, if only because of their superior fielding.