Look for the quality to predict your T20 World Cup winner

2010-04-10 00:00

CRICKET’S next significant event is the T20 World Championship (WC). Admittedly all sorts of odd things will happen in the intervening weeks. Already this season the first delivery of the English first class season has been bowled in Abu Dhabi; and the ball was pink. In the old days county players used to loosen their muscles against the university lads. Often it was wet and once it snowed. Players wore enough wool to keep the shearers working for a week. Now they take guard in an oil kingdom and under burning sunshine.

Some counties spent the pre-reason in India or Cape Town. Some players are taking part in the IPL, where Paul Collingwood, Kevin Pietersen, Ravi Bopara and others are trying to show that Englishmen can play T20. As a rule they are better at inventing games than playing them. Mind you, a friend from that neck of the woods once confided that he had wanted to be an inventor, but “unfortunately everything has already been invented”.

Before long the county championship will be underway. In the past counties were strengthened by overseas players who were available because no cricket was played elsewhere in the northern summer, but the IPL has put an end to that. Nowadays the counties cannot be confident their own players will be around. Cricketers chasing the dollar will try to combine representative cricket and IPL. Domestic matches no longer interest them.

Nor is the Persian Gulf the only unlikely setting for modern cricket. New Zealand and Sri Lanka have just arranged to play full international matches in the USA. Cricket tends to be portrayed as a game for stuffed shirts and colonial types, all stiff upper lip, cucumber sandwiches and hypocrisy. History tells another tale, identifying it as amongst the most daring and adaptable of recreations.

But these activities are mere sideshows to the T20 WC. Certainly these tournaments seem to come around with disconcerting regularity. Altogether, Australia have played about thirty T20 matches, but have taken part in three WC’s. They did not take the format seriously till the Zimbabweans beat them in Cape Town, whereupon they realised the time had come to wipe the smiles off their faces.

Till then they let all sorts of jokers play. Now they have chosen a team of specialists consisting mostly of fast bowlers — anyone wanting to watch some sizzling pace bowling had better watch the IPL because these blokes hardly appear elsewhere. Another thing modern coaches talk about all the time are young batsmen able to rotate their hips. Elvis Presley has become as much a role model for batsmen as Brian Lara.

For all the jargon, though, and the new techniques, cricket does not change that much. Choose a team from the current IPL competition and try to leave out Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis or Anil Kumble. Even Shane Warne has started landing them — his idea of preparation is to play as many poker hands and eat as many toasted cheese sandwiches as possible so it generally takes him a few matches to get going.

Plus ca change plus ca meme chose as the garlic lovers put it. They can use pink balls, play five-over matches, introduce powerplays, talk about swinging hips and bat speed and still the same fellows will reach the top.

And the reason is simple. Nothing lasting can be built unless the foundations are strong. Tendulkar and Kallis have superb techniques. Warne and Kumble could land the ball on a youth leader’s brain. All of them are constantly striving to improve. Audacious newcomers will continue to attract attention because the fresh is always more exciting than the familiar. But they will remain inconsistent because their games are built on sand.

The difference between the professional and the amateur goes beyond payment. The professional does not rely on anything except his wit and skill, and can be judged not on his best days but his worst. If Malcolm Marshall ever felt sore he did not let it show. Allan Border collected more ugly hundreds than Imelda Marcos did pairs of shoes. Both concentrated on getting the job done. Conversely, the amateur can soar or sink without consequence.

Anyone seeking to find a T20 winner might consider counting the number of great players in each team. Admittedly the strategy did not work so well in the first few seasons, but then the giants had not awoken. Now they realise the format has a huge following and that the stakes are high. Accordingly they are bringing method to the madness. Pietersen, too, will work it out. Watch out for him.

It’s simple; the world is divided between good cricketers and bad cricketers, and the rest is waffle.

* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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