GIVE ME A SMOK­ERS’ RI­VALRY TO ODIS ANY DAY!

The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - MARTIN JOHN­SON

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.

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