“Jbut when I thought I was out… they were pulling me back in.” – growls Al Pacino’s aging thug Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III. The one-time mob boss made every effort to legitimize his path and go straight, but an attempt on his life made him realize that his efforts to stay on the right side of the law were futile. Once a mobster always a mobster.
When Virat Kohli plays one of them, Pacino’s scenery-chewing words emerge back foot strikes for six on the ground. They’re at it again when New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips – a man with the name of a big band leader but the athletic grace of a prima ballerina – hauls in a gravity-defying diving catch. They have been repeated for the last two weeks since the start of the T20 World Cup.
Just when I thought I couldn’t care less – couldn’t – in fact, this exciting tournament dragged me and no doubt many others back into the clutches of T20.
There is too much cricket. Everyone knows this, but the number of matches, competitions and global tournaments swells like the cheeks of a gluttonous hamster. Keeping up with all of this can be difficult, even if your job requires it. There doesn’t seem to be a day in the calendar when there isn’t a game of cricket, someone is off somewhere and another is having a day to forget with only 22 yards separating them.
The danger with this Augustus Gloop approach is that everything starts to blend into one big, undefined extravagance, where one short-form game tends to become indistinguishable from the next. Take the recent (and historic) T20 series between Pakistan and England, with seven matches played in quick succession before they head to Australia for T20 World Cup. Trying to remember matches from just a few weeks ago becomes like cricket’s version of Kim’s game or an assembly line round in the Generation Game.
“There was one with Babar’s fifty and Rizwan’s fifty, the one where Babar and Rizwan made fifty, Rashid got a 3-fer, Moin ponged a huge six, the one where… “I’ll have to rush you …” “… Hales bowled, the one where Masood dropped the anchor, Moen ponged a huge six, Babar got a fifty…”
The number of largely context-free bilateral series and franchise tournament gates are beginning to lose meaning, the success or lack of Originals, Invincibles, Supergiants, Tallawahs, Tuskers, Tombliboos or Pontipines causing little more than a shrug. Test cricket has also faced this, and the introduction of the Test World Cup is an attempt to give some context and element to the competition and cyclical completion of the outflow of the longest format, even if you have to be a Bletchley codebreaker to understand how it works.
Over the last year, I have taken a backseat to shorter games of cricket. Players are increasingly avoiding certain formats to prolong their careers, focusing their time and energy on others that suit them better. It seemed like a decent strategy. Decide to specialize, hone your focus, you can’t do it all. Cherrypick to preserve energy, creativity, mind. Paraphrasing Neil Young’s famous quote, when it came to a lot of short stuff, I figured it was better to let it fade away than burn.
This is not particularly new thinking, the oft-quoted line of KL R James from Abroad in 1963 stated: “What do those who know only cricket know about cricket”. James hinted at the impossibility of understanding cricket without reference to its social and cultural context, and suggested that one cannot understand West Indian history and culture without cricket, one of its defining activities.
I have always interpreted/adapted the quote to mean that it would be good to indulge other interests to inform or even better understand cricket to bring something else to the table.
There’s no one right approach, each to their own and all that, but it was interesting to hear Josh Hazlewood “admit” that he’s far from a badger. “I hardly ever watch cricket” the world’s number one T20I bowler said in these pages last week. On both sides of the border, some live and breathe the game, while others take a more casual approach.
Talking to Jack Russell last week about his art was entertaining and informative. He mentioned that he had a quiet conversation with his captain Michael Atherton while on tour to suggest that another training session would do him no good. “Atherton,” says Russell gleefully, “then he’d say, ‘Go fool around with your brushes and paint, see you in a day or so,’ and Russell would do just that.” I come back refreshed to stay behind the stumps for a long time again.
All this is fine, but when cricket is as entertaining, interesting, controversial and even life-affirming as the T20 World Cup, it demands attention. You can’t help but fall into it.
From The epic of India and Pakistan (some suggest the greatest T20I ever). West Indies sad early exit to New Zealand got their first win in Australia this tournament was the best in more than a decade, and it barely entered its prime. There will be another in a year or so, it is not for the ICC to think that global tournaments should be fleeting or final, for them they are more fritters than a white truffle, albeit with the money-making potential of the latter.
All that for another day while I type England on their way to defeat by Ireland at the MCG. The gaze is lifted from the page to the scenes unfolding on the screen, a moth to the flames burning in Melbourne. As Pacino’s Michael Corleone knows well, the game will get you in the end.