Mar 03





T he Ghanaian Times 03.03.2015

The reason why I am returning to the subject of cricket today is that the matches that have been played, so far, in the ICC World Cup tournament of 2015 taking place in Australia and New Zealand, have provided excitement that is far in excess of what even the most ardent cricket fans would have hoped for. In their wildest dreams at that!

But enough of the cliches. What has actually happened?

First on my list would be the maddening unpredictability of the West Indies batsman, Chris Gayle. He is a big, tall man (six foot four), who bats with his left hand. When he gets going, few bowlers can survive his onslaughts. He just constantly sends cricket balls out of the park, hitting bowlers for six very often, and – when he is being relatively merciful – collecting fours off them as if boundaries grew on trees.

Gayle, who will be 36 in September, was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and bats with such power that his nicknames include “Gayleforce,” and “Gaylestorm”. In other words, when he gets going, it’s as if the opposing team has been hit by a ”Force Nine” gale!

Gayle excels in all forms of the game – Test Matches (in which the contest can last up to 5 days!); One-day Internationals (50- over matches that last most of the day); and Twenty-20 Matches (20-over matches that take half a day or less.) To those who do not yet know too much about cricket, an “over” is the number of balls bowled by any one particular bowler at a time. Six balls normally constitute an over. But an over can consist of more than 6 balls, if the bowler makes certain mistakes — known as “wides” or “no-balls” – in which case the bowler is punished by being made to bowl the ball again, thus giving the opposing batsman an opportunity to hit more runs.

Gayle is the only player in the world to to hit a triple century [300 tuns] in Tests, a double hundred in One-Day Internationals as well as a hundred in Twenty-20 Internationals. And last week – 24 February 2015, to be exact — he crowned his achievements by scoring a record 215 runs against Zimbabwe in the World Cup. Whole teams of batsmen were being bowled out for less than 200, yet he alone made 215.

You may say, “Ah, but that was against Zimbabwe, who are regarded as ‘minnows’!” Okay then, answer this: is Sri Lanka, former World Cup One-Day Champions, also to be classified as a ‘minnow’? The answer is No, of course. And yet it was against Sri Lanka that Gayle scored his Test Match triple century (333) in 2010! He had preceded that with another triple century against another ”non-minnow” – South Africa. Gayle’s score against that country was 317. That was in a Test in 2005.

It was also against South Africa that Gayle set the first world record for the highest innings in a Twenty-20 International, scoring 117 against South Africa in the 2007 World Twenty-20 Tournament. Gayle’s innings was not only the highest score but also, the first century in international Twenty-20 cricket.

Add to that the fact that in 2008, Gayle, playing for Royal Challengers of Bangalore, in the newly-created but incredibly competitive Indian Premier League (IPL), scored a 30-ball century (the fastest across any format by any batsman) finishing the match with the highest individual Twenty-20 score of 175 not out – and you can see the scale of Gayle’s star status.

And yet…. and yet! Yes – and yet – as so often, having written himself into history with that monumental score against Zimbabwe, Gayle could only make a paltry three runs – repeat: three runs only 3 days later – against his old ‘doormat’, South Africa, on 27 February 2015! South Africa, having so easily got rid of the “Danger Man”, then demolished the West Indies by 257 runs! Supporters of the West Indies had been taken to the summit of Mount Everest, and then dumped down again into the valleys below – without a parachute! And yet, they knew they could rise again and sail back to the top. If only Gayle….!!

The only person I can liken Gayle to is the Ghana Black Star goal-merchant, Edward Acquah. Gayle is almost the same size as Acquah, and like Acquah, he tends to fumble trying to get his huge feet into position before he dispatches a ball. Acquah would stumble, steady himself and let go. And he scored more goals for the Black Stars and the Real Republikans than I care to count. Gayle does not have that luxury – if his feet are too slow to help him balance his body, the cricket ball goes past him to hit the stumps, or to hit one of his legs that would be firmly planted “before the wicket” and which causes him to be dismissed “lbw” (leg-before-wicket). Gayle’s first ten minutes or so at the crease are therefore always crucial. Once he gets settled, expect fireworks. But if he doesn’t, then he gets out pretty early. And his team often collapses spectacularly after him.

So now that you know about the uncertainties connected with good performance in cricket, you can appreciate why cricket is so scintillating. You can never take anything for granted when it comes to that game. Okay, there are upsets in football as well, I know. But can you realistically imagine say, Argentina, thrashing Brazil in a World Cup match, and then being taken to the cleaners by a margin of, let’s fancy, 9 goals to nil by (say) the Congo Democratic Republic? Bizarre wouldn’t it be? Well, in cricket, that can – and does – happen. I remember Viv Richards, another amazing West Indies batsman, sitting, annoyed and disconsolate, on a concrete step (as if doing penance!) after being bowled by Devon Malcolm, a Jamaican-born bowler who was playing for England. And the supreme batsman of the West Indies, Brian Lara (who holds the record for the highest number of runs ever scored in a Test match) was once hit very painfully on the helmet with a ball by the Pakistani fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar (known as the ”Riwalpindi Express” because of the lightning speed at which he bowled).
You may remember that in my earlier piece, I reported that Ireland knows the measure of England when it comes to cricket? Well, Afghanistan, which until last year, was fighting a deadly war against the United States and Britain, with bombs and drones killing scores of people each day, managed not only to put a team together to show up at the World Cup in 2015, but also to beat Scotland by one wicket! An Afghan batsman, Shenwari, nearly made a century – he was knocked off with only 4 runs shy of 100 – at a titillating 96!

For cricketers “Down Under” (that is in Australia and New Zealand) I wouldn’t be surprised if the World Cup Final was seen as having come “early”. For certainly, the match between the two countries in Auckland, New Zealand, on 28 February 2015, must have counted as one of the most thrilling so far. New Zealand won the match by just one wicket. Australia lost with 161 balls remaining, which makes it their second-biggest defeat in ODIs. The “Kiwis will be laughing and laughing and laughing till their sides ache. But there is a theoretical possibility that both sides could reach the Finakl – and meet each other again! That would be the Mother of all Finals, for sure.

England, which like Australia, was regarded as one of the “big fellows” going into the World Cup, has been experiencing what the BBC calls “a horror” World Cup run. Defeated earlier by both Australia and New Zealand – defeats that, for once, would have united New Zealand and Australia in poking fun at the “Old Pommies” – then went on and lost to Sri Lanka.

It wasn’t the loss to Sri Lanka that has disheartened England supporters, but the size of it. England made 309-6, while Sri Lanka lost only one wicket in a 312-1 victory, secured in 47.2 overs out of the scheduled 50 overs – that is, Sri Lanka won with sixteen balls to spare. Two Sri Lankan batsmen made centuries: they were Thirimanne (139 Not out) and Sangakkara (also 117 Not out. Sri Lanka thus won by the enormous margin of nine wickets England’s blushes were somewhat saved by the fact that one of its batsmen, Joe Root, made 121 runs.

According to the BBC, “England will almost certainly be eliminated if they lose either of their final two games – against Bangladesh and Afghanistan.” Lucky for England that their two last matches won’t be against either Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. Bangladesh can create surprises, however, so unless Afghanistan brings about the most apocalyptic upset ever to take place in international cricket by managing to beat England, it is Bangladesh that England will have to worry most about.

India, Pakistan and South Africa have all maintained a fair level of success so far in the 2015 Tournament, though Zimbabwe gave Pakistan a fright that Pakistan will not easily forget. I know dumsor is making it difficult for even those Ghanaians who possess satellite TV, to watch the World Cup. But anyone who tries, whenever there is an opportunity, to watch any of the
matches, or even to listen to a sound streaming of it on a computer, will find that it will help to soothe away the dumsor-induced blues that hangs on Ghanaians like a wind that blows no-one any good.



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