Cricket is a serious business. No, it is. You have only to examine Andy Flower’s furrowed brow and two minute warm up before answering questions as mundane as “were you pleased with Steven Finn’s bowling in the first innings?” to know that the world’s greatest sport is not something to be mocked.
But the first test between England and Pakistan at Trent Bridge last week had everyone in stitches. From the moment Kamran Akmal missed the easiest catch off Strauss on the first morning all the way to the finish when Kaneria and Asif were giggling through their tenth wicket stand, this match has had more laughs than a pack of hyenas with a particularly heightened sense of humour watching a baby elephant tripping over a stray beach ball.
The figures of fun, in some kind of order, were Umpire Tony Hill And His Amazing Shoulder Pads - inspiration for a prog rock band name if ever there was one - Matt Prior And His Mislaid Tactical Brain, Kamran Akmal And Just About Everything About Kamran Akmal, and The UDRS And Its Effect On Previously Cocksure International Sportsmen.
Let’s take a closer look at the brand new reviewed and improved UDRS. It all started so well. A tiny inside edge from Trott onto his pads was missed by the on field umpire and LBW was the verdict. Trott referred to the third umpire immediately. Hotspot showed the edge, Trott was reprieved and justice was done. However, thereafter we were treated to a litany of madness. Two almost identical deliveries, both adjudged to be hitting the top of off stump, were referred, one by the fielding side and one by the batsman. Both were turned down so one man was out and the other was not. This set the tone for the ensuing brain melt evinced by batsmen, bowlers and keepers alike.
The most intriguing and unwittingly amusing consequence of the UDRS is how the decision to refer to the third umpire is made. For batsmen given out it involves a rather sulky trudge up the wicket to the non striker. We can only guess at the exchange but it looks something like: “What do you reckon? It didn’t feel out to me.” To which the response is usually “well mate, I dunno”, the subtext of which is “on yer bike, I want to save that referral for when I’m given out”. This was most in evidence when Azhar Ali was talked out of referring his caught behind decision by Umar Akmal despite there being no evidence of an edge. Umar was in the front line again when he used up a ludicrous referral on a straight ball, hitting the middle of middle stump on the last day, only for his brother to be given out erroneously 20 minutes later - but bereft of any referrals, he had to toddle off. Fraternal relations will have been strained to the max by that cock up.
As for fielding side referrals, England take the biscuit. The usual procedure is for a batsman to miss an intended sweep off a sharply turning and bouncing delivery from Swann. Swann bounces on the spot and screams for all his worth. Umpire turns him down. Swann struts towards to Strauss. Strauss turns away and starts sniggering. Swann teapots. Strauss gives up as if to say “ok then, if it’ll shut you up”, and replays confirm the ball is going over and past leg stump by about five inches. It’s as if England’s skipper is happy to be rid of the damn things so he doesn’t have to go through the rigmarole of talking his bowlers down.
As for Kamran Akmal he is now teetering on the brink of eliciting sympathy, so hilariously bad is he at keeping wicket. He’s the Benjamin Button of test cricket. The more he plays the less experienced he seems to become. Pakistan were largely outplayed throughout the test, but on the first day his missed catch off Strauss and stumping off Collingwood halted his side’s momentum. He had the commentators both on the Sofa and Sky rubbing tears of laughter from their eyes. Only Asif’s comical run out to end the first innings rivaled his errors for Carry On value.
And then we had to endure the farcical sight of watching Matt Prior’s senses depart for another continent. Having just smashed Kaneria for two sixes to take him to the 90’s, he then settled into a curious regime of taking a single from the first ball of six consecutive overs, and watching an inexperienced number 11 block five balls. Why didn’t he just refuse the single until the third or fourth ball, hoping, not without justification, for a full toss or long hop from which to score a boundary? The result was initially frustrating but after 30 minutes, hysteria took over both at the ground and in my sitting room. What didn’t he understand about the simple mathematics of his situation and England’s obvious need to be bowling in the late evening at Pakistan’s top order?
To cap it all Kevin Pieterson told us that this was Prior’s best century for England. Given the other two were in 500 plus first innings totals against the West Indies, this is akin to describing him as the best wicket keeper in the match. But you can be sure of one thing; KP wasn’t laughing. He alone was, as always, deadly serious.