January 6th, 2008

New Zealand

Cricket: one billion Indians can't be wrong!

I remember I once made a remark that the quickest way to kill interest in a blog entry is to mention International Relations theory in the opening sentence. I have no doubt that "Australia achieve 122-run victory in a thrilling Test as India lose their last three wickets in five balls" would actually be more effective. Especially if you're like me and the vast sweeping majority of the people reading your journal are Americans without the foggiest notion of how cricket is played. For shame, people. For shame!

But, well, the second five day Test match between India and Australia has to be one of the most memorable I've ever watched - no matter whether you look at the quality of the play over the entire five days, the absolutely unbelieveable ending, or the umpiring controversies. I'm sure that in the public consciousness, the umpiring will stand out as the aspect most widely remembered, but for me, it's got to be the final over, when despite all my gut instincts as a Kiwi who "supports two teams: New Zealand and whoever's playing Australia", I cheered an Australian victory. And at that, a 16th consecutive Australian victory, equalling the record consecutive wins - and by a team captained by Ricky fucking Ponting!

Yes, I really did watch all five days of that game. And what a five days! I almost gave up on it after the absolutely disgusting umpiring on the first day that undoubtedly gifted Australia 100-150 runs. Two blindingly obvious nicks to the wicketkeeper/slips were not judged out by the umpires, who were the only people in the entire world to believe that the ball missed the bat. To be honest, my opinion of Andrew Symonds slipped a little when he failed to walk after being caught. I can understand why he stayed, as he was the last recognised batsman in the line-up, but to use a very appropriate saying, it just wasn't cricket. Ah well, I couldn't help but get sucked back into the game, especially after fantastic centuries to VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar and it became apparent that India had wrestled the initiative away from Australia and were in with a chance of winning.

And then it came down to the final day. Rather than roaring, the Indian bowlers wimpered and took far too long to take the wickets they needed to take. Australia had the initiative back, and while India could have chased the total down, they had Rahul Dravid opening, who seems to have an attitude of scoring as few runs as humanly possible. Even with a minimum of 65 overs left in the day, they had enough wickets in hand to make a reasonable go of it; if they'd batted with the perspective of a one dayer and held onto their wickets, they may just have gotten within striking distance. Batting for a draw didn't work, as they lost wickets, lost initiative, and slowed to such a crawl that the beach cricket tournament on Channel 10 featuring past greats such as Dennis Lillee and Sir Richard Hadlee was far more entertaining. The hopelessly inconsistent umpiring in the Test didn't help, and I ended up getting so frustrated with the snails' pace batting from India that my allegiances wavered.

And then came what proved to be the final over. India were 7/210, with the game scheduled to end after two overs or at 6:45pm, whichever came later. India simply had to hold onto three wickets in the space of twelve balls and the draw would be theirs. So Michael Clarke is given the ball. He'd bowled just a single over in the entire game, but here he was, bowling at the death. First ball? Harbhajan Singh sends the balls to the slips. 8/210. Second ball? RP Singh trapped leg before wicket and the umpire offers a good decision for a change. 9/210. Clarke is on a hat trick and the Indians have a single wicket left as Ishant Sharma comes out - with two right hand gloves! Surely a tactic to slow down the over rate and reduce the amount of balls he and his fellow batsman, Anil Kumble, had to face. So to a chorus of boos, a left hand glove is brought out for him and he takes the strike. Third ball of the over? Clarke is denied the hat trick; dot ball. Fourth ball? Another dot ball. Fifth ball? Sharma chips it up to first slip and that's it, India all out for 210 and Clarke's claimed 3 wickets in five balls! Australia wins by 122 runs. After how frigging dull India's attempt to force a draw had been, you had to cheer the result, even it was the bloody Australians.

And yes, it is a sign of how bored I am that I just spent an entire entry chronicling a cricket match. Tomorrow, Axver reviews the colour of his carpet ...