“Just when I thought I was out … they pull me back in,” growls Al Pacino’s ageing mobster Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III. The one-time mafia boss has been at pains to legitimise his ways and go straight, but an attempt on his life has made him realise that his efforts to stay on the right side of the law are futile. Once a mobster always a mobster.
Pacino’s scenery-chewing words are conjured when Virat Kohli plays one of those back-foot smites for six down the ground. They’re there again when New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips – the man with the name of a big-band leader but the athletic grace of a prima ballerina – pulls off a gravity-flouting diving catch. They’ve been on repeat for the past fortnight since the T20 World Cup got under way.
Just when I thought I didn’t – couldn’t – really care, this fascinating tournament has dragged me and no doubt many others back into T20’s clutches.
There’s too much cricket. Everyone knows this, but the number of matches, competitions and global tournaments swell like the cheeks of a gluttonous hamster. It can be overwhelming to keep up with it all, even if your job sort of demands it. There’s seemingly not a day in the calendar when cricket isn’t being played, someone somewhere is ‘having a day out’ while another is having a day to forget separated only by 22 yards.
The danger of this Augustus Gloop approach is that it all begins to blend into one big indeterminable splurge, where one short-format game tends to become indistinguishable from the next. Take the recent (and historic) T20 series between Pakistan and England, seven matches reeled off in rapid succession before they headed to Australia for the T20 World Cup. Trying to remember matches from just a few weeks ago becomes akin to a cricketing version of Kim’s game or the conveyor belt round on the Generation Game.
“There was the one with a Babar fifty and a Rizwan fifty, the one where Babar and Rizwan made fifty, Rashid got a 3-fer, Moeen pongoed a huge six, the one where … “I’m going to have to rush you …” “… Hales dropped a load, the one where Masood dropped anchor, Moeen pongoed a huge six, Babar got a fifty …”
The amount of largely contextless bilateral series and the revolving door of franchise tournaments begin to become meaningless, the success or otherwise of the Originals, Invincibles, Supergiants, Tallawahs, Tuskers, Tombliboos or Pontipines raises little more than a shrug. Test cricket has also grappled with this and the introduction of a World Test Championship is an attempt to provide some context and an element of competition and cyclical completion to the churn of the longest format, even if you have to be a Bletchley code-cracker to understand how it works.
Over the past year I’ve put large swathes of shorter-form cricket on the backburner. Players are increasingly eschewing some formats in order to prolong their careers, focusing their time and energies on others more suited to them. It seemed a decent strategy. Decide to specialise, hone your focus, you can’t do it all. Cherrypick to preserve energy, creativity, sanity. In a reversal of the famous Neil Young quote, when it came to a lot of the short stuff I felt it was better to let it fade away rather than to burn out.
This isn’t particularly new thinking, CLR James’s oft-quoted line from Beyond a Boundary in 1963 stated: “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know.” James was alluding to the impossibility of understanding cricket without reference to its social and cultural context, while also suggesting you couldn’t really understand West Indian history and culture without cricket, one of its defining activities.
I’d always interpreted/adapted quote to mean that it was good to indulge other interests in order to inform or even better understand cricket, to bring something else to the table.
No single approach is correct, each to their own and all that, but it was interesting to hear Josh Hazlewood “admit” he was far from a badger. “I hardly watch any cricket,” the world No 1 T20I bowler said in these pages last week. On both sides of the boundary some live and breathe the game while others have a more hands-off approach.
Speaking to Jack Russell last week about his art was an entertaining and enlightening conversation. He mentioned that when he was on tour he’d have a quiet word with his captain, Michael Atherton, to suggest another training session wasn’t going to do him any good at all. “Atherton,” Russell gleefully says, “would then say, ‘go on bugger off with your paintbrushes and do some painting, see you in a day or so’” and Russell would do exactly that. Coming back refreshed for another long stint behind the stumps.
Which is all well and good but when the cricket is as entertaining, interesting, controversial and even life-affirming as the T20 World Cup has already been it demands attention. You can’t help but get caught up in it.
From India and Pakistan’s epic (some suggest the greatest T20I ever) to West Indies sorrowful early exit to New Zealand chalking up their first win in Australia in more than a decade, this tournament has been the best yet and it’s barely got into its stride. There’ll be another one along in a year or so, not for the ICC the view that global tournaments should be fleeting or finite, to them they are more tortilla chips than white truffle, albeit with the money-making potential of the latter.
All of that’s for another day though, as I type England are on their way to defeat by Ireland at the MCG. Eyes drawn away from the page to the unfolding scenes on screen, a moth to the flame burning in Melbourne. As Pacino’s Michael Corleone well knows, the game will get you in the end.