A South African friend of mine once summed up his nation’s attitude to sport thus: “It’s not winning that matters, it’s humiliating the b**tards that really counts!”
At 4.48pm yesterday at Edgbaston, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth raised his middle finger – albeit behind his back – to the crowd seated in the Barnes Stand. That gesture said more about humiliation than any South African ever could.
The previous over, Sreesanth, a fiery and competitive young man, had reminded us that India were there to compete rather than to supply half-volleys for Cook and Bresnan to slap to the boundary, by threatening to throw down Cook’s stumps on his follow-through.
The crowd had
responded with derision, and a wag behind me reminded him loudly that this is a far more appropriate gesture when the opposition are 80 for 7; not 680 for 7. Well, he didn’t put it quite like that, but that was the sentiment.
Warming to his theme and basking in the glow of his audience’s encouragement, the wag persevered when Sreesanth returned to field in front of us at Third Man. After a drink – ditto my friend behind, albeit of the alcoholic variation – the Indian bowler went through an elaborate stretching routine. As such, it almost suggested that his wicket-less tally and the 150 runs which his military medium bowling had contributed to the English total were attributable to a niggling back injury.
“There’s nothing wrong with your back!” yelled the wag. “Your bowling’s shit!” he added a little unkindly. Sreesanth unwisely responded by raising his middle finger.
“You’re shit – and you know you are!” chanted the wag, un-sportingly. Then he stood and urged the crowd to do likewise: “Stand up – if you’re Number One…“Stand up – if you’re Number One…ENG-A-LAND… ENG-A-LAND…
By this time, Sreesanth had retorted by working his way through all of the obscene gestures that he had learned from his culturally varied cricketing travels, even the archaic pumping of the arm whilst slapping the bicep with the other hand.
This was, however, the single most interesting confrontation on a day when the cricket had been as absorbing as reading the Comprehensive History of Health and Safety.
Sure, Morgan had reached a hundred, crouching, poking, and occasionally stroking a glorious extra cover drive for four, to record the milestone of three figures.
Bopara came and went in the manner of a man as surprised to find himself on the England team sheet as were most observers of the game, LBW to the likeable Mishra for 7.
The only real surprise of the day – other than that lunch was taken five minutes early following the second rain break – was that Tendulkar managed to hang onto a top-edged attempted pull from Prior, thus ending the Indian obsession with grassing simple chances.
Earlier in the afternoon, the sumptuously refurbished Edgbaston had experienced a technical glitch in the form of non-functioning electronic scoreboards. There was speculation that the disappearance of Bell, who had been pedalling furiously on his static bike on the pavilion balcony, may have had something to do with this.
However, of greater concern was the failure of the flood-lights. The four giant pylons with lights fashioned in the letter “E” – presumably for Edgbaston rather than Entertainment – had been on since late morning to brighten the gloom of a typically glum August day.
When these and the scoreboards failed, play ambled along aimlessly for some time until Messrs Davis and Taufel adjudged that the light was too bad to continue. The fact that spin was coming from both ends mattered not a jot. It was at this point that I noticed that power to the scoreboards had been restored so, presumably, the lights could be turned back on.
Apparently the Laws state that if the lights have been turned off, they cannot be turned back on until the light improves sufficient for them not to be required. Now, if that piece of legislative nonsense isn’t a good reason for a riot, I don’t know what is.
But cricket folk don’t riot, they just plod off to the bar muttering how ridiculous everything is; how this wouldn’t have happened in their day when no-one wore helmets and when play went on uninterrupted by darkness, hail earthquake or monsoon.
I reached the “food village” to find, to my surprise, the big screen showing that play had re-started. Some sort of compromise must have been reached as the light had got worse, if anything.
Armed with an over-priced pint of Pedigree and a bag of crisps that I could have manufactured cheaper myself, I returned to my seat to watch the England innings grind on…and on…and on…and on.
What was the point, we wondered, in this? England long since passed 500, then six hundred, and as they headed towards 700, with a lead of over 450, even the most optimistic Indian supporter wouldn’t have given his side a poppadum’s chance in a fat boy’s mouth of survival.
There could only be one reason for not declaring: to allow Alastair Cook to pass Gooch’s landmark 333 against the Indians at Lord’s in 1990. And then, perhaps, Wally Hammond’s 336 against New Zealand at Auckland in 1933…and then maybe Len Hutton’s 364 against Australia at the Oval in 1938? Bookmakers were giving 25-1 on Cook passing Gooch’s 333 that morning and, by tea this was beginning to look a good bet.
Being a Friday, it wasn’t the official fancy-dress day, but Batman chasing Mr Blobby along the lower walkway of the Eric Hollies stand was much more entertaining than Cook’s faultless shot selection. But Bresnan, to his credit – now considered more of an all-rounder than Broad – livened things up a bit with a couple of huge straight drives for six.
Unfortunately, one narrowly missed a bloke sitting a few rows behind us who had been trying to contact his mate, Dan, by yelling to him in the Hollies stand. He obviously hadn’t worked out how to use a mobile phone, and so we all joined in to help him, in the hope that he might eventually find him and shut up.
And then, as Cook moved into the 290s, it dawned on me that there was another reason for Strauss keeping the hapless Indians in the field for two days: this was all about humiliation; here was greatest Indian subjugation since the days of the Raj.
But at ten minutes to six, having occupied the crease for 12 hours and 47 minutes, the unthinkable happened: Cook played a wild shot and was caught in the deep by Raina, six short of his triple century. England immediately declared and it was no surprise that they removed Sehwag – for his second first-ball duck of the match – to complete their utter domination. Humiliation completed.
As an aside, but one that I suspect may have occurred elsewhere that evening, I made the mistake of discussing English dominance and Indian ineptitude rather too enthusiastically with the waiter in the Indian restaurant where I ordered my take-away some hours later.
Now I wonder, could that possibly have had anything to do with my urgent dash to the toilet at 2am…and again at 3am…and again at…4am?
Humiliating the opposition is occasionally a necessary part of every sport. But we’re not used to it in England, and perhaps that’s a good thing. For now England have been moved to the top of the class, but let’s not take all of our books just in case we’re returned to the back in humiliating fashion– as we were after the ‘06 Ashes – before the end of the lesson.
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