Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Scottish Saltires v Kent Spitfires

Now don’t get me wrong; cricket was never my gig. Any sport that requires you to take a week’s holiday to watch the damned thing is a non-starter as far as this busy entrepreneur is concerned. Factor in the small matter of Scotsmen aspiring to represent England in addition to the frustration of watching grown men scamper towards the pavilion at the first signs of precipitation and the dice were stacked against cricket right from the get-go. Let’s put it this way: if you offered me a choice between a prime seat for the final day of a finely-balanced Ashes encounter or an equivalent ticket for Waiting for Godot : The Musical then I’d most assuredly have said : Hook me up with a box seat for the Sam Beckett/Rogers & Hammerstein spectacular, amigo!

Still, as Scottish football and rugby burrowed on relentlessly beyond previously charted depths it seemed churlish to refuse to embrace a scintilla of sporting success emanating from La Belle Écosse. So, a couple of years back, when the Saltires blew into the NCL like a scirocco my attention was aroused. The arrival of Rahul Dravid sealed the deal. I was hooked.

To cut a long story short, my wife and Champions League football have, finally, bonded: both had great difficulty prising me away from the pleasure of watching South Africa and West Indies parsimoniously sacrifice a couple of wickets a day at St. John’s, Antigua. What you don’t realise, Darling, is that if they could only find a way to extend this to a 10-day contest we’d have a better than even chance of a clear-cut result!

So, it was with feverish anticipation, or at least a sensation in the same general neighbourhood as excitement, that I greeted the arrival of the new cricket season. The minor inconveniences of a washout in the first game, followed by an entire day’s play inexplicably lost to glorious weather in the next, merely whetted this born-again cricket aficionado’s appetite. Just as any football fan will tell you that the seldom-sighted interloper Triumph cannot be truly savoured without first having made a friend of Failure the equally masochistic cricketing cognoscenti will avow that gratification is illusory unless preceded by interminable delay.

And anyway, I’ve just invested in a new MP3 player. What exactly is the point of having a 60GB state-of-the art player if I’m going to squander it on a football match? 90 minutes (plus half-time) is barely capable of scratching the surface of my music collection. Football’s instant gratification and tribal identification (who cares if the Saltires are all from South Africa, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Oz?) are so passé. What I need is a leisurely game of cricket. I’m with the old guard on this issue: one-day encounters are a venal corruption of the classic form of the game. And don’t even get me started on 20/20, that veritable Whore of Babylon! I’ve got at least 4 days worth of tunes on this baby and I’m just itching for the opportunity to use them. Sadly, until that glorious day when Scotland are invited to compete in the County Championship I guess I’ll just have to settle for Cricket-Lite.

I’ve got it all worked out : saunter down to The Grange, pull up a chair, put my new gizmo on “Shuffle” and hope that Dame Chance will throw up a sublime juxtaposition of music and cricket such as Every Little Thing S(he) Does is Magic just as Majid Haq downs a Spitfire with a deceptively-flighted delivery. Well, I guess it might have been possible…if I liked The Police...and if Mr. Haq had deceived anyone during the dozen deliveries he’d been allocated.

What actually happened was the following : It’s likely that I imagined Ella Fitzgerald extemporaneously exclaiming Howzat! , during a characteristically irreverent reading of Satin Doll, as adopted Scot Paul Hoffmann clattered adopted Englishman Geraint Jones on the pads plum in front of the sticks. I punched the air playfully: a restrained gesture of post-modern patriotism syncopated to the polyrhythmic beat of Mr. Basie’s band.

I’ll spare you the details of the MP3/cricketing interface for the remainder of the Kent innings but, suffice to say, I thought both Paul Hoffmann and Craig Wright bowled economically, without ever really threatening to rent Kent’s deep batting line-up asunder. Their excellent line and length segued rather smoothly with my musical accompaniment. When Robert Key struck an off-note by sending a Wright delivery skyward and, eventually, into Colin Smith’s receptive gloves I sensed the Spitfires might be on the verge of losing the Battle of Britain. No such luck: batsman-friendly spinners Watson and Haq were soon deployed to predictable effect and Arafat and Butt’s final few overs went for far, far too many. From my vantage point, on the grassy knoll of Relative Ignorance, I’d say the Saltires are at least a couple of quality bowlers short of a complement capable of applying sustained pressure to opposition of this quality. Luckily we’ve got Blain, Brown and Hamilton waiting in the wings for the World Cup qualifiers.

The run chase was on but someone forgot to tell Dougie Lockhart. I was hoping for an opening partnership of some substance and, in the context of previous performances, 32 represented a comparatively prodigious yield from our openers. As far as partnerships go, though, it wasn’t exactly Burt Bacharach and Hal David. More like George Michael and the other bloke from Wham who’s name I forget. Watts, at least initially, gorged himself on runs while Lockhart distanced himself from the feast with the disdain of an anorexic teenager. Two runs from 24 balls isn’t so much pedestrian as immobile. We only had forty five overs to start with so Lockhart’s decision to spend four of them trying to avoid hitting the ball was, at best, questionable. Dougie wasn’t so much playing second fiddle to Watts as an unobtrusive third fiddle behind Extras.

Sadly, the Saltires’ batting line-up proved to be as shallow as Kent’s was deep. Watts, Watson and Smith seem to be the only batsmen capable of cutting it at this level (let’s hope the counties release Brown, Hamilton and Coetzer for those qualifiers) but Fraser, once again, fell in the 20s and Watson’s uncharacteristically circumspect knock didn’t yield as many runs as we might have hoped.

After Ryan’s departure, the steady stream of incoming batsmen was such that we needed an air traffic controller rather than an announcer. From the subliminal to the ridiculous: just as I’d finished my cheeseburger and started masticating on a slightly tougher conundrum ~ How could an all-rounder who’s not been given a bowl in all the times I’ve seen the Saltires, and who’s only rated good enough to bat at number 8 in this line-up, have amassed 147 caps? ~ the Incoming Greg Williamson became the Outgoing Greg Williamson. It’s an immutable law of nature that all living things shall grow, mature and, finally, expire but the ephemeral life-cycle of the Scottish Batsman makes the Mayfly seem like Methuselah. If only one or two of them could hang around for three score minutes and ten!

I almost forgot to mention that we traversed the broad spectrum of Scottish weather from sun to hail and, inevitably, rain. As Butt and Hoffman scampered towards the pavilion, during the afternoon’s second brief shower, I headed towards the exit.

Nevertheless, wife permitting, I’ll be back next Sunday.

eugene ionesco