Shehan Karunatilaka – How to bluff your way through the World Cup

The World Cup is nearly on us and most of India have already begun celebrating – but there will be a few of us who are dreading this next month of cricket mania. Fear not, Shehan Karunatilaka shows you the path to bluffing the World Cup…

How to bluff your way through the World Cup

I have a friend who moved to England and became a fan of West Ham. Not because he had any affinity with cockneys or liked the exotic flavour of pie and mash, but simply because he got sick of ‘being left out of conversations.’

In the next month, if you happen to be from one of the colonies that took to wielding a bat in between making the Empire rich, you may find that conversation steers to such philosophical musings as whether a Super 8 format is preferable to the knockout stage.

Here’s a crash course on what to soundbite when you’re watching the middle order pick up singles during the so-called boring overs.

There is no favourite

From 1988 to 2010, Australia lost a test match by an innings on 3 occasions. In the last 2 months, the team that dominated the last 3 world cups has been humiliated by an innings thrice in its own backyard. This is the cricketing equivalent of Manchester United being relegated.

The cricket world order has changed and about time too. All the host nations will fancy their chances. Even Bangladesh. India has a great team on paper, but judging by the last world cup we know how meaningless that can be. Sri Lanka’s well-balanced attack may not have room for a Murali. England suddenly has the best spinner on the planet, a stable of swing bowlers and their best batting line-up since the Thatcher years.

The smart money is still on the Aussies with game-changers like White, Clarke, Watson and Haddin, hungry to avenge wounded pride. South Africa have a formidable line-up, but haven’t they always? What new and creative ways will they find to implode?

And write off Pakistan at your peril. I’d even put money on them if I had a good enough lawyer.

No Balls

An enduring image of the last 12 months does not feature a bat or a ball, but a British-Pakistani bookie caught on camera before a table full of money like Mel Gibson in the movie Ransom.

If a test-playing nation succumbs to Canada, there will be fewer raised eyebrows than you think. Match-fixing has mutated into something microscopic called spot-fixing. Millions of dollars ride on insignificant details that have no bearing on a game’s outcome like a no-ball on the first delivery of the third over.

Three Pakistanis have been sentenced to a year of appearing before committees, but the most memorable no-ball for me had nothing to do with bookies as far as we know. Suraj Randiv chucked one down against India to deny Sehwag a century in the attempt to salvage a teeny-weeny victory in a 6-wicket thrashing. It was schoolyard spoil-sportsmanship at its finest.

Dark Horses

Bangladesh white-washed New Zealand’s Black Caps and finally possess a world-class batsman in the shape of Tamin Iqbal. They’re also playing at home and in no one’s top 5. Ominous.

Even though the Windies’ players and administrators have been debating on who gives less of a crap about cricket, they do possess match-winners like Gayle, Bravo and Pollard. And if you’re scoffing at the prospect of the Kiwis and the Zimbabweans making an impact, just remember that the Irish are still in the mix.

Sachin the Immortal

50 hundreds and a one-day double century. But he’s not the only player to watch. South Africa have Smith and Amla in the runs and Dale Steyn staking his claim as an all-time great. Sri Lanka have an army of players whose names begin with the letter M: Mahela, Mathews, Malinga, Murali and Dilshan if you count his middle name. And England have managed to issue visas to talents like Morgan, Prior, Trott and of course, Pietersen.

Add to that Pakistan’s Afridi and Gul, India’s Sehwag and Raina, South Africa’s Morkel and Peterson and New Zealand’s Ryder and Vettori – who’s been given every post in New Zealand aside from Prime Minister, and you have enough to see you through the 35th over.

Knock Out

The fact that we go straight from first round to knock-out stage means that any team that can string together 3 consecutive wins could take the cup. While it may seem a dubious way to crown a world champion, it does mean that every match will mean something.

And that, in an era that has seen India battle Sri Lanka every Tuesday for the past 12 months, is something significant.

One-Day vs T20

Is One-Day cricket still relevant? The purists have test matches, which have seen a renaissance, post-Ashes and post India-South Africa. The non-fans have 20/20, which packages the highlights and passes them off as entertainment. Do we still have the inclination to sit through half a day of a format that is neither here nor there?

The answer is, without a doubt. The One-day game is less of a lottery and allows enough room for drama and for fortunes to switch sides. There’s enough time for an innings to be built, for an absorbing spell of bowling and for spectators to pace their drinking over the course of an evening.

In the end the World Cup will belong to the spinners, the batting side that can navigate north of 300 and the team that bowls the least no-balls. And if you’re still stuck for conversation when Holland battles Ireland, just mention Ponting and tantrums and watch everyone’s eyes light up.

Shehan Karunatilaka has written advertisements, rock songs, travel stories, and basslines. Chinaman is his first novel, published in February 2011 and priced at Rs. 499.

The Penguin India Blog

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