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Cape Town cricket mayhem in real time – and a united world

In London right now, it is an hour or more past 9 am. But in Cape Town, South Africa, just over an hour ago, it was 11:11 am, on the 11/11/11 (November 11th 2011), and South Africa needed 111 runs to win the international cricket match that they were playing against Australia. South Africa, sadly, were not 111-1, chasing 222. They were 126-1, chasing 236. So, time and date oddities aside, a cricket match is drawing to a calm, even predictable end. Right? Well, yes. But yesterday, 10/11/11 or 11/10/11 or whatever you call yesterday, it was very different.

Those baffled and/or repulsed by cricket and its arithmetically obsessed followers like me should probably skip the next few paragraphs. Summary: this has been one weird test match. But now, skip down to where it says: “Okay, here is my serious Samizdata-type point.”

Okay cricket nutters, on we go with the story. Here is the sort of thing that was happening in Cape Town yesterday:

W W . 4 . . | W . . . . . | . . W . . . | . . . 4 . W | 1 1 . W

At the end of the first day of this test match, Australia had reached a rather meagre 214-8, but on the morning of the second day, yesterday, they did better, getting to 284 all out, thanks to more excellent batting by their new captain, Michael Clarke, who was last out for 151. South Africa then progressed to 49-1 at lunch. So far so normal.

About an hour later South Africa were all out for 96 having only just avoided the follow-on, the above WW stuff being a slice of that action. Australia then went into bat, and at the tea interval were themselves struggling on 13-3. Then, in no time at all after tea, they had slumped to a truly catastrophic 21-9. They then recovered, if that’s the right word, to the dizzy heights of 47 all out. Another action slice:

W . . 3 . . | . . . W . . | . W . W

The South African Vernon Philander, playing in his first test, took five wickets for fifteen runs, bringing his total for the match to eight. Quite a start. Earlier Shane Watson had taken five for seventeen for Australia.

A Cricinfo commenter suggested that Australia should declare at tea time, setting South Africa two hundred to win in very adverse conditions. He didn’t say, an hour later, that Australia should have declared at tea time. He said it at tea time, when Australia were 13-3. And they probably should have! Australia having batted successfully in the morning, South Africa began their second innings and ended this bizarre day with similar batting success, reaching 81-1 by the close. Today, they began needing only a further 155 to win. If South Africa do win, they’ll be thanking their last wicket pair, Dale Steyn and Imran Tahir, who added thirteen and saved that follow-on. Take away that stand, and South Africa might have lost by an innings by now. As it now stands, and given that they have made a fine start this morning, South Africa now look sure to win.

If, despite being a cricketphobe, you read all that and would like to know approximately what it means, think of it as the cricketing equivalent of a world cup soccer quarter-final match between, say, Italy and Germany, where the scorecard after half and hour was 0-0, but by half time it was Italy 6 Germany 0, and then about fifteen minutes later it was Germany 8 Italy 6, followed by twenty entirely goalless minutes with Germany looking favourites to play out time and win it, 8-6. Calm, mayhem, even greater mayhem in the opposite direction, calm. Bizarre, right? I’ll say.

Okay, here is my serious Samizdata-type point. (Welcome back, normals.)

My point is that the internet is uniting the world into one huge ultra-high-density global super-city. Not a global village, because that would suggest that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, and, as the above few paragraphs illustrate very adequately, that is not at all what is happening. Most of us are baffled by most of what goes on in our Global Super-City, most of the time. But the thing is, cricket fans like me can now tune into the fine detail of matches which we would never before have been able to find out about. And you can likewise easliy tune into the fine detail of whatever it is that gets you excited and has you interrupting your normal daily routine. When I was a kid, the British mainstream media (the only media we had so we didn’t then call them “mainstream”) enabled me only to pay attention to local cricket games between English counties, and international games between England and whoever England were playing. Following games like this one that is finishing up today, between South Africa and Australia, was something I could not do, in earlier decades. And when cricket got pushed off the British sports pages by soccer (as I had better call it here), life got even harder for what we would now call a “virtual” cricket fan like me. But then, the internet changed everything. It took me a while to realise how much things had changed, but now, I lend a fraction of an eye and ear to pretty much all international cricket matches, and sometimes, as yesterday, my day is severely deranged by events that just demand to be attended to.

Now, like I say, search and destroy the word “cricket” from the above couple of paragraphs, insert instead whatever you care about that happens all over the world, often involving total foreigners on both or all sides. Replace my incomprehensible cricket blather with your own preferred incomprehensible blather. You can now pay attention to that, in a way that you probably never could before. We can all now do this.

This results in a world not so much of geographically separated national cultures, but of globe-spanning and intersecting communities, uniting people from all over the planet into a tightly woven ball made of countless different strands of different coloured and different textured string and wool and twine.

That is an exaggeration. All prophecies of the death of the nation state for as long as the nation state has existed have been exaggerations, and this one is no different. As far as cricket is concerned, the internet doesn’t just plug me into faraway international matches between Not-England and Not-England; it also enables me to track English county cricket in far greater detail than I ever could in earlier decades, even when I was a kid and cricket still vied with soccer as our national game. Nevertheless, the biggest change of the last decade, for me as a cricket nut, has not been that I see my local cricket foreground better, although I definitely do. It is that I see the once far distant world beyond my own country, which in the past I couldn’t not ignore, in the exact same detail.

Similar things have happened in politics. More and more, our various “national” political rulers now also have their own globe-spanning communities of shared interest, and they now increasingly seem to feel more fondness and loyalty towards one another than they do to anyone who merely lives in their country, whom they merely “lead” or “represent”, and it is a different world. Am I the only one who now regards David Cameron not so much as our Prime Minister, but as the local District Commissioner? For part of his day he represents Us to Them, but from where we sit, he seems to spend a great deal more of his time and energy representing Them (he being one of Them) to Us, imposing Their interests on top of Our interests. To me, it all feels rather Medieval, by which I mean that local considerations still matter, but that our rulers are not really members of our various local clubs. They merely own them. They have their own club.

And actually, this has been going on for quite a while, because unlike the rest of us, the world’s rulers have for many decades now had their own email and internet equivalents. They have long been able to afford international phone calls and international telegrams. They flitted around the world, before the rest of us did. The internet has changed the politics of the world not by turning it global, but by causing the rest of us finally to notice that it has been global for quite some time.

That, in my opinion, is a pretty good way to understand the Twentieth Century and its numerous dramas and disasters and mysteries. This was not just a time of national war and national contention. It was a time of global civil war, hot and then cold, in which members of that global club wrestled with one another, using the rest of us as their cannons and cannon fodder, to determine what sort of global club they would all end up members of, and which of them would be the senior members of it. Then, our parents and grandparents found it hard to see this. Now, we can all see it. (Don’t forget that the internet also contains lots of history, much of it different from the national histories that dominated the past.)

South Africa now coasting. 214-1, needing only another 22 runs. Hashim Amla finally out for 112. South Africa 222-2, still needing another 14. Not long to go now. And … South Africa win by eight wickets, with their captain Smith reaching his century off the last ball of the game? It looks that way. Dot. Dot. Dot. One. No, Smith 100, but scores even and South Africa still need another one. Dot. New over. Dot. One, and that’s it.

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9 comments to Cape Town cricket mayhem in real time – and a united world

  • Not so much our Prime Minister as their Prefect.

    I am not sure about this idea that the elite see the rest of us as cannon fodder. Asquith’s son was killed in the First World War. Ditto Kipling’s and Ludendorff’s. It really didn’t go well for the Romanovs. At least then the elite knew they were in it too.

  • That is an excellent post, Brian – I’m so glad I scrolled down and found the normals’ part.

  • Antoine Clarke

    Prefect implies some sort of talent for enforcing discipline and being trustworthy (at least to the Masters).

  • Alsadius

    Scorekeeping question from a North American who only knows this game from this website – does the W refer to taking a wicket, i.e. an out? As in, is that first line of score six out for 10 runs in the space of 30 balls?

  • Alsadius: Yes, you have all that exactly right.

    To understand how dramatic the Australian collapse in particular was, it helps to know that the lowest ever innings total in over a century of test match cricket, by anyone, is 26, and Australia, at 21-9, were even money to go worse than that. As it is, 47 is still Australia’s lowest test innings total ever. For Australia, this was just a total horror story.

  • Brad

    Any books you can recommend for those of us who know nothing about cricket but would like to change that?

  • I don’t know any books like this, because I never needed one. But I did write this blog posting here a while back.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Another analogy, which might be even more accessible to us Yanks would be a baseball game in which…

    It’s difficult, because baseball is rather like that normally: long stretches of nil offense punctuated by explosions of scoring.

    The different outs/base structure means that teams can never count on scoring any runs – but at any time pitching can fail for a decisive run or a clutch of runs. There was a famous incident in game 5 of the 2005 National League final. Houston was leading St. Louis by two runs in the ninth inning, and sent out Brad Lidge, their “closer”. Lidge had “saved” 42 games for Houston (getting the final outs in a close win) and in 18 other games had pitched a no-runs inning. Lidge struck out the first two batters, and needed only one more out for Houston’s first league title. Then the third batter hit a fluky little drive which evaded the fielders by luck. The next batter walked (four “wides” called – in five pitches, sign of a shaky pitcher). And the next batter was Albert Pujols – the strongest hitter in baseball over the last decade, particularly known for hitting “home runs” (the equivalent of a “six”). If Pujols hit one here, it would score 3 runs and give St. Louis the lead. Pujols hit Lidge’s second pitch to him not just over the boundary, but against the back wall of the upper deck of the outfield stands. Just like that, St. Louis took the lead and won. (Houston bounced back and won the league series, but Lidge was so shaken that he didn’t recover his pitching form for two years.)

    In Game 6 of the recent championship final, Texas had the lead four times, and had four different pitchers give up the tying runs. Any strong pitcher should be able to get one inning (3 outs) with no runs 90% of the time. Texas sent out three strong pitchers and their elite “closer”, who all failed.

    But enough baseball – back to cricket.

    The wild variations in bowling effectiveness seem surprising. If I understand this, it went…

    1st innings
    Aus RRRRRRRR
    SA RRRR___r

    2nd innings
    Aus ______rr
    SA RRRRRRR

    where “RRRR” represents a stretch of effective batting – 30-40 runs/wicket, “___” represents string of wickets taken for very few runs, and “r” represents minimally effective batting, i.e. that “tail-end stand” of 13 runs which “saved the follow-on”.

    That was something I didn’t understand.

    Researching, I find that if Australia had led by 200 runs after the first innings, they could skip their second innings.

    This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Here is the box score in “baseball” format.

    Inn 1 2
    Aus 284 47
    SA 96 236

    The suggestion is that if SA had not reached 84 runs in their first innings, Australia could (and would) skip their second innings, with strong expectation that SA, having to continue batting, would continue to be so ineffective that Australia would win. What would be the basis of that expectation?

    Or, Australia being ineffective to start their second innings, should have “declared” at tea-time (forfeiting the rest of the innings), “setting South Africa two hundred to win in very adverse conditions.” What was so adverse about the conditions at tea-time that did not apply later that day (when SA went 81-1)?

  • Rich Rostrom
    The suggestion is that if SA had not reached 84 runs in their first innings, Australia could (and would) skip their second innings, with strong expectation that SA, having to continue batting, would continue to be so ineffective that Australia would win. What would be the basis of that expectation?

    Australia wouldn’t have skipped their second innings just deferred it ( they would bat last if necessary ), the basis of the expectation of victory is that SA would have faced batting long and effectively enough to set Australia a challenging second innings total, which probably meant scoring at least 450, a tall order when you’ve just been skittled out and the opposition have their tails up. It is very hard to avoid defeat, let alone win, when you’ve been forced to follow on. The same logic applies to a declaration, small winning totals can be surprisingly difficult to achieve and SA have a reputation as chokers in such circumstances. Cricket is a form of ritualised psychological warfare.