Friday, 6 March 2015

Column 4, 2015 – Unearthly ability

Printed in The Cricket Paper, issue 107, Friday March 6, 2015.
[Full text below]

Some years ago we played a Saturday league game on scruffy council pitch in the middle of a housing estate somewhere north of Salisbury. They were a side formed from several merging entities, so we knew a few faces, but hadn’t met them as a team before, and had no warning their number four would be anything special.

It was probably around three quarters of the way through his double century that we began to suspect.

We later discovered that he was a mate of a mate, roped in at the last minute. It was his first game for them – his first for anyone in a year. Since his Hampshire trials, in fact, with his flatmate, James Vince. By the time we got to the pub that evening to report back, he WAS James Vince.

That same year we played a big club who had a 19-yr-old with a chip on his shoulder. He’d been dropped from the firsts to open for the thirds. It was unclear whether he’d been dropped because he had a chip on his shoulder, or he had a chip on his shoulder because he’d been dropped. Anyway, he was cross. Cross enough, and good enough, to race to a ton, including a venomous flat six straight back over the bowler’s head and through the pub window 100 yards away like an anti-tank missile.

These instances felt iniquitous at the time, but they are part of cricket’s fabric. It is, as the cliché goes, a team game played by 11 individuals, and the colossus among the pigmies is the norm. Most teams have one guy who could easily play at a higher level, and, if he comes off, can win it on his own.

It just feels a bit unfair when they’ve literally dropped down from a higher level.

In top flight cricket, by definition, there isn’t a higher level to drop down from. And yet the casual observer of this World Cup would be forgiven for thinking that’s exactly what’s happened.

Chris Gayle’s double ton against Zimbabwe was arguably an actual different league: a second XI attack with no answers to the finest cow-corner slogger on the planet. But two others defy such convenient explanation.

Last weekend Brendon McCullum dismantled arguably the best pace attack in the world like he was the local pro bringing upstart kids down a peg or two, charging 90mph quicks from ball one and slapping them into the stands with open contempt.

And the way AB DeVilliers eviscerated the West Indies looked not so much a different level as a different game. A game where one routinely sweeps fast bowlers for six from a yard outside off. On one knee. With one hand. Without so much as a by-your-leave.

With apparent precognition and inhuman reflexes, it’s as if DeVilliers and McCullum have dropped down from The Gods XI, to show the mortals how it’s done.

And yea, they did smite them.

- ends 491 words -

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