Thursday, September 11, 2008

We're only in it for the money

Antigua – November 2008.

England bowler Stuart Broad runs in to bowl the final ball of the match to Stanford batsman Chris Gayle. England made 170 for 6 off of their twenty overs, and West Indies are 169 for 5. Two runs are therefore required to win in the unprecedented, multi-million dollar winner take all extravaganza.

The ball is slightly short of a length and Gayle rocks back and pulls it towards the deep midwicket boundary. The packed crowd in the floodlit stadium roars in anticipation as the white ball flies through the humid night air towards the rope.

The West Indies players on the team balcony rise up as one and watch the ball on its flight over the rope. In that instant all of them have similar thoughts, with some slight variations. Some think of the new Porsche they’ll be buying, whilst for others it’s the choice of luxury over speed and a Rolls Royce in the driveway. Talking of driveways, others think of a new house overlooking the sea on their native island – Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica. One is even thinking of the big charitable donation he’s going to make to the orphanage where he grew up.

Out in the field, the English fielders watch the ball in the air and have an entirely different set of emotions. Some of them are thinking – ‘’What an idiot that guy Broad is – he’s just cost me half a million quid. So much for that new house in the country, or the motor cruiser I was going to buy – or the money I was going to use to enhance my retirement fund.’’

Never mind the handy twenty Broad made in the last couple of overs of the England innings to help take them to a competitive total after the top order had self destructed….

- or the superlative catch he took early on to dismiss Sarwan…

- or the diving stop on the boundary in the previous over that stopped a certain four…

- or the two yorkers he’d speared into Gayle’s leg stump earlier in this last over that prevented the batsman getting the ball off the square…

To all the England fielders, Broad is now the villain – although all of them will, of course, mouth the standard ‘all in this together’ platitudes when faced with a TV camera or radio microphone after the game.

However – with his Garneresque height, Broad has brought the ball down from over nine feet onto the hard pitch and it has therefore risen off the length and come off the bat slightly higher than Gayle had planned. As everyone watches the ball, they suddenly realise that its parabola is slightly steeper than they’d appreciated and the ball is flying on a direct course to the England fielder standing on the boundary. Durham quick bowler – Steve Harmison.

Earlier a lot of the England fielders were having the same thoughts about Harmison as they subsequently did about Broad as his first two overs were wildly inaccurate and had gone for twenty five runs. Now though, they know that Harmison has a safe pair of hands and start daring to dream that maybe the house in Devon or motor cruiser might not be lost after all.

On the West Indies balcony, hearts are in mouths as thoughts of luxury cars dissipate, to be replaced by those of angry relatives and friends who have been promised a share of the spoils and will no be disappointed.

Stunningly though, Harmison loses the ball in the lights, and it’s onto him before he can ready himself. It falls through his hands, bounces off of his shin and rolls off in front of him.

In the middle of the pitch Gayle and Ramdin are standing stock-still staring at the tableau playing itself out on the boundary edge. As Harmison drops the ball they realise that they’ve earned a reprieve, and start running.

One run is completed and the scores are now tied. The batsmen turn and start the twenty two yard dash towards mega-riches.

In a blind rage on the boundary Harmison has managed to pick the ball up and thrown in a return to the wicket. Matt Prior is waiting behind the stumps, he takes the ball cleanly and, in a fluid motion, removes the bails as Gayle dives for the line.

As the dust settles the players and crowd are momentarily silent as they all turn to the umpire. Simon Taufel stands up from his crouch, shakes his head and slowly his hands move to describe the outline of a television screen.

Out on the pitch everything is oddly still, like the epicentre of a tornado, as the England team huddle together and the two batsmen stand slightly apart staring at the screen.

Up in the TV studio, a Sky executive stares at the various replays on the monitor in front of him. It’s his job to feed the images through to the third umpire sitting in the officials’ booth next door. Shots from two camera angles clearly seems to show that Gayle has made his ground and he reaches over the press the button to send the pictures through, but he pauses for a second as a third, less clear picture seems to suggest that the bat was above the ground when Prior removed the bails.

Behind the Sky man stands a representative from Sir Allen Stanford’s organising committee. He hasn’t said a word to anyone all day but has simply sat there - a sullen, slightly intimidating presence. He’s now watching the same replays as the TV man. He leans forward and points to the third screen where Gayle’s bat, obscured by shadow, seems to hover above the crease.

‘’Send that one through and it’s a tie. That means there’ll have to be a re-match tomorrow. Think of the extra revenue!’’

5 comments:

Homer said...

Quite brilliant!!!

Rob said...

Excellent.

Naked Cricket said...

Mark - you've just written a full feature where the action time is barely a minute.

The choice of Broad bowling the last over, misgivings of the shot, shattered dreams, glad i experienced this one. Be back for the rematch.

Ceci said...

That was SO exciting I had to read the end before I'd read the middle bit in case it had an unhappy ending.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece of writing, Mark.

Your thoughtful writing is what makes this a great cricket blog.