Wednesday 26th May
A day with the record breakers
Tail-Ender is again relegated to couch cricket duties today and settles back for some more fun, as two of the out of form sides of the tourney clash down at Taunton in Somerset. For overseas readers, Somerset is located in a separate reality down in the South West of England and is an idyllic, rustic county which contains the mystical vale of Avalon, the Glastonbury music festival and the world's finest collection of burnt out hippies. Having toured there in a cricketing capacity, Tail-Ender can confirm it is a friendly, pleasant little principality, chiefly characterised by coronary threatening cream teas, the indigenous brain rotting brew of scrumpy (cider with lead additives) and the popular local pass-times of incest and sheep molesting (a fact of which the locals seem inordinately proud).
Arjuna Ranatunga wins the toss and inserts the opposition in a historic decision which surely must rank alongside General George Armstrong Custer's "Hm we've nothing to fear from a bunch of Indians". Although they were of the Sub Continent rather than Sioux variety on this occasion, Tail-Ender watches in rapt wonder as Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly savage the Sri Lankan attack in an awesome display of batting which dispatches the bowlers to all corners - and indeed sometimes clean out of - the ground. While Ramesh must have worn out his spikes with kicking himself (missing the boat early on for a paltry 5) by the end of the day, the record books are in urgent need of revision as the pair smashed more records than an American Evangelist's prayer meeting.
The last ten overs were nothing short of rapturous as Dravid and especially Ganguly steamrollered any lingering Sri Lankan hopes of retaining the trophy and Rantunga's verdict of "Home" when asked where his team went from here said it all. Yet perversely enough, in spite of the record breaking partnership it was as ever, the Little Maestro Sachin Tendulkar who impressed Tail-Ender on the day - readily willing to sacrifice his wicket to try and get quick runs for his side. That's the mark of a team man and a truly great player and Tail-Ender suspects that the Indian's incredible batting display may indeed mark a turning point in their previously faltering campaign.
Of course no match could be complete without the requisite amount of whinging and there is some debate about Taunton's short boundaries being rather on the generous side, but that's the luck of the draw I'm afraid and puts the ingenuity of a certain fellow club cricketer of Tail-Ender's acquaintance into mind. This batting stalwart was a big hitter and devotee of the lofted drive, loving nothing better than to dispatch opposition slow bowlers clean back over their head for the maximum. However he was eventually suspended from the boundary duties - pegging out the flags on match days - because he'd always shorten 'the rope' by a crucial few yards to turn some of his gloriously lofted fours into sixes. Outright cheating or a subtle tactic? Tail-Ender will let you decide, but he suspects the Indian batsmen would sympathise with this slightly naughty practice and I'm sure he'd always be assured of a warm welcome in Bombay or Calcutta should he ever decide to resume his former groundsman's role.
Elsewhere, Europe experiences a mixture of lethargy and utter bewilderment as Amsterdam plays host to its first ever World Cup fixture. The South African machine makes short work of the poor old Kenyans in a match forever destined to be overshadowed by the European cup final and while Man Utd perform their own version of the Great Escape against Bayern Munich, the organisers must be left to reflect on a piece of scheduling every bit as short sighted as the look-out on the Titanic, who thought he'd sighted an ice cube dead ahead, only to find he had the binoculars the wrong way round.
With Euro-phobia rife in the host country, some members of the establishment will no doubt scoff at the notion of introducing the summer game to Europe, but Tail-Ender has always been in favour of extending cricket's boundaries and considers it vital that the we spread the word to whoever is willing to listen. It is so easy to forget that the game we love doesn't exist by divine right and is in constant competition against a host of other sports for a world audience's interest and enthusiasm. So if the Europeans can take the bizarre 'sport' of Tractor Pulling to their hearts, then surely there's no reason they shouldn't come to love cricket and if we can persuade some more European nations to come on board and join the cricketing fraternity then Tail-Ender says so much the better. Besides given sufficient encouragement, enthusiasm and a decade or two, some the Europeans will probably be back to thrash England teams at Lord's, just like every other emerging cricketing nation.