England in Proteas' boat
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Events in the Indian Premier League, with the old bogey of match-fixing raising its head, posed some fresh doubts about the credibility of Twenty20 cricket.
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But the format is under undesired scrutiny for other reasons now, courtesy of a near-farcical finish to the ICC World Twenty20 encounter at Providence, Guyana, on Monday between tournament hosts West Indies and England.
An engrossing, delicately balanced contest was in prospect after England posted a significantly better-than-par total of 191 for five - helped by a high-tempo start from their all-Johannesburg-born opening pair of Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter – and then a certain Chris Gayle signalled his intent as West Indies powered to 30 without loss from 2.2 overs.
Rain, however, then paid the venue an untimely and fairly protracted visit: not too surprising in a tropical country in the midst of its “primary wet season” and already sporting an annual average of up to some 2800mm – that is a lot of brolly time in anyone’s language.
By the time play resumed, after it must have come within a whisker of abandonment, the Windies’ ask had been dramatically reduced by the Duckworth/Lewis method to 60 from six overs. In other words, they needed a mere further 30 runs from 3.4 overs with the entire batting order in hand.
English television commentator David Lloyd rightly mentioned to his West Indian colleague, Ian Bishop, that it ought to be an “absolute doddle” for them.
But “Bumble” is also seldom without humour and when seamer Tim Bresnan, completing the unfinished third over, promptly bowled two dot balls, he raised audible chuckles from his partner when he said: “Right, that’s it, my money’s firmly back on England now.”
It was very tongue-in-cheek … but somehow summed up the extent of the unseemly lottery the game had been reduced to.
One thing is dazzlingly clear: Duckworth/Lewis remains an appropriate method for deciding the terms of weather-affected 50-overs matches, but as a condensing tool for Twenty20 it needs fresh examination, weighted as it so powerfully is in favour of the side batting second.
The one saving grace of the whistle-stop bout of play after the restart was that England fought tooth and nail against the suddenly overwhelming odds, only losing with a ball to spare.
Paul Collingwood, their captain and a very seasoned cricketer, thought impressively on his feet and occasionally made profound field changes even between deliveries to try to unsettle the West Indies batsmen.
And Mike Yardy - the sort of left-arm dibbly-dobbler whom you might imagine trundling 50 overs in a Test innings to quality opposition for a desperately laboured return of one for 170 or thereabouts - did spear in a solitary, commendably wily over where he conceded a mere single to every ball.
That is almost akin to bowling two or three maiden overs on the trot at an advanced stage of a more traditional one-day international, when you think about it.
But the fact remained that West Indies duly did complete the job and now England find themselves in an identical position to South Africa: having to beat minnows (in their case Ireland) at the very same Providence Stadium only some 24 hours after their first-match reverse to stay in the tournament.
The Proteas have to down Afghanistan, not exactly the All Blacks of cricket for allure and tradition, on Wednesday to ensure their own progress to the Super Eights phase.
And I’ll bet my last dollar that both Ireland and Afghanistan will be peering wickedly to the skies on their respective match days, hoping for signs of mounting cumulus clouds and also the opportunity to bat second.
In South Africa’s favour is that their do-or-die fixture will be played at Bridgetown, Barbados, where precipitation is significantly less likely.
But the way some matches can be affected by the elements will only enhance purists’ thoughts that T20 truly is the lightweight, hotdog with mustard of cricket.
For the record, it is already highly unlikely this writer will be joining the know-it-all, rant-and-spit brigade who will doubtless demand nine or 10 players’ heads and those of the coach and his assistants as well should the Proteas fail to bring home the trophy from this event of dubious gravitas.
Unless, perhaps, they are somehow thumped by Afghanistan in circumstances where Messrs Duckworth and Lewis have no say at all …