Over the last 18 months or so, there have been two bowlers in mainstream international cricket who have truly shone in the pursuit of conspicuous awfulness. (As my own cricket playing long ago taught me, anyone can make the task of bowling at a batsman seem borderline impossible, but it takes a special kind of talent to do so on the world stage – after first demonstrating a high degree of apparent expertise.)
As any keen cricket watcher will know, these two men are Jade Dernbach (representing all of England) and Ishant Sharma (even more remarkable, representing all of India). They both get it ‘right’ every now and then (again, that’s the trick: apparent expertise) and they both always seem to put in a decent amount of effort. They’re just not any good. (More charitably put, they’re just not any good yet.)
Consider Dernbach’s international ODI record so far:
Games: 24. Wickets: 31. Average: 42.19. Economy Rate: 6.35
Or Sharma’s Test match record so far:
Games: 51. Wickets: 144. Average: 37.99
These are two bowlers who bowl a filthy lot of toilet. That “6.35” for Dernbach is so bad there’s hardly any historical precedent for it. He basically starts by giving the batsman a run for every ball he bowls, then says, Go ahead, my friend, help yourself to more. And that “37.99” for Sharma (apart from crying out for some rounding up) is almost as bad. It basically says that a bowling attack full of Sharmas would more-or-less lose every game.
Running in fast – in each case, oddball haircut flailing in the wind – Dernbach and Sharma hurl down long hop after long hop, full toss after full toss, wide after wide. You hope they won’t. You know they will. They do. Depending on which team you’re rooting for and the relative importance of the game, the results are either mortifying or hilarious. Actually, no, scratch that. The results are mortifying and hilarious, no matter the various whys and wherefores of the contest at stake.
At its purest, theirs is a weird, abstract kind of useless. It isn’t exactly objectively ‘useless’ (after all, bowling over 80 mph is far from easy), and it can, in spite of itself, actually be effective (my own cricket playing also persuasively shows that shit bowling is no guarantee against getting out, humbled and embarrassed). It just looks… wild. And reckless. Try getting hit in the face by a cricket ball and see how it feels (the shape of my nose, for one, still isn’t quite what it once was). Now imagine an international bowler propelling it in your general direction, without said bowler having the first fucking clue where it’s going to land (or even if it will land). Terrifying. But, yes, hilarious to watch.
‘Don’t bowl a wide,’ you hear yourself saying as you stare in disbelief at the TV, game on the line and Dernbach getting back to his mark. ‘Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl a wide. Don’t bowl a wide. Whatever you do, don’t bowl a w–.’ (If you’re paying any kind of attention, you’ll be one step ahead of me.)
Or, after yet another mind-bendingly dire long hop from Sharma: ‘Ok, every single person watching this game knows that a poor bowler ‘over-corrects’ the mistake of bowling a long hop by following it up with a batsman-friendly full toss… So whatever you do, don’t bowl a full t–.’
England, of course, recently kicked Dernbach to the curb. (Maybe we’ll see you again one day, kid. For now, we like that you have an arsenal of ‘secret’ slower balls, just not so much the fact they invariably wind up clubbed away for six.) But, weirdly, India decided not to follow suit with Sharma. Without many other fast bowling resources at their disposal, they stuck with that time-honored plan of closing your eyes and hoping for the best (otherwise known as the way Devon Malcolm use to bowl. And bat.)
…And what do you know? In yesterday’s Champions Trophy Final – England versus India – Ishant Sharma single-handedly stole for his nation victory from the jaws of inevitable defeat, with two vital wickets in two consecutive balls (Morgan and Bopara). Without his intervention, India would have lost. With it, England briefly figured they’d been gifted the game, then madly, wildly, threw that gift away. They choked a choke that even South Africa would have been
proud ashamed of, and it was the other team’s Dernbach who made them do it.
• 6 wd wd W W • 1
What a fantastically weird over. And what a fantastic thing is the gloriously weird game of cricket. The world’s greatest sport. If it didn’t already exist, no one would be smart enough to invent it.