Ball One – Sydney Sixers, Brisbane Heat, Melbourne Stars, Sydney Thunder, Adelaide Strikers, Melbourne Renegades, Perth Scorchers and Hobart Hurricanes. Not, as one might imagine, the last six notches on Tiger Woods’ bedpost, but the eight franchises to contest the Big Bash League. Of course it’s easy to be a little precious about sport, but, even in a format as new as Twenty20, context matters and where is the history, the rivalry, the stakes that matter more than money, in the BBL? The crowds and television audiences will answer those questions – not this year, but in the two seasons that follow.
Ball Two – While Test matches’ fragile (but paradoxically enduring) place in cricket is under assault yet again this week, the players, to their credit and as they so often do, continue to show that they care, even if the administrators and casual fans have their attention elsewhere. Though a one-off Test between Zimababwe and New Zealand in Bulawayo would give the BBL’s marketing men palpitations with its unsellability, the two sides were locked in combat for five days with all four results possible well into the final session. The two Taylors, (Ross of NZ and Brendan of Zim) deserve enormous credit for their positive play, leading by example and arriving at a fourth innings target that gave both sides an incentive to go for the win. If I could have chosen anywhere in the world to spend the last week, it would have been Bulawayo – not something often heard these days.
Ball Three – While Pragyan Ojha is making a decent case to be considered India’s first choice spinner, two other challengers for that role met head to head in the Ranji Trophy’s Punjab vs Uttar Pradesh match. Harbhajan, striving to re-discover his mojo, went wicketless for 28 overs and Piyush Chawla (still only 22) picked up four wickets in 44 overs of toil – not for the first time, his batting outshone his bowling. With Ravindra Jadeja helping himself to a triple century on what seemed a flat pitch, and Suresh Raina continuing his good form on home soil with a double, I have a feeling that the combination of workloads and pitches is making life too tough for Indian bowlers these days. Flat-track bullies can win limited overs internationals played on the sub-continent, but it’s wicket-taking that matters most away from those formats on those pitches – and India need to find some wicket-taking bowlers.
Ball Four – Not quite so impressive an advert for Test cricket is the Pakistan vs Sri Lanka match (in its fourth day at the time of writing). With Pakistan one-up in the three Test series and a draw sufficient to secure an extraordinary victory in the circumstances, they are in no hurry to get through the overs. Sri Lanka, not safe yet in the match, are struggling to get beyond a strike rate of three an over in order to give Dilshan options on the last day. It looks like a draw, but – such is the joy of Test cricket – a clatter of wickets or a batsman getting in and getting on, and anything could happen on Day Five. That Misbah though? What a find as a batsman and leader.
Ball Five – The current fashion for having wicket-keepers open the batting in limited overs matches places a tremendous burden on their bodies and, especially, their minds as there is no chance for the brain to ease off the concentration between innings. Spare a thought then for Parthiv Patel, who had the gloves on while Bengal (including media star Sourav Ganguly) piled up 560-6 in 172 overs and then batted 70 more overs for his 143. That’s hard work in anyone’s book. (As an aside, with Wriddhiman Saha making 167* for Bengal, have two keepers ever made more than 310 runs in a match?)
Ball Six – The Hong Kong Sixes is a lot of fun (and, if I couldn’t have been in Bulawayo last week, I’d have liked to have been in Kowloon putting a few beers away), but having Abdul Razzaq to call upon is hardly fair now, is it? If ever a man was born to play that tournament, it’s him, though he only really shone in the final. Congratulations to Pakistan on the win.