First an apology: in common with commentators, pundits and blowhards across the land this column may well have given the impression that it viewed the cricket World Cup as a preposterously overblown farrago of money-making and greed, built around a tired format and symptomatic of the corrupt and decadent way most major sports are run. About as appetising in fact as a John Galliano lecture on the Talmud.
However, in retrospect, it seems clear that the tournament is in fact a canvas for some of the most exciting cricket ever played, allowing the world’s best players to showcase their talent at will, and in a vibrant, multi-layered format demanding exquisite captaincy skills and all-round athleticism. Is that clear?
Last weekend’s match between India and England at Bangalore was about as thrilling, all the way, as any sporting contest you can think of. Besides the extraordinary result, a tie on 338 runs for each side after 100 overs of cricket, you also had some blinding performances. And I don’t just mean Andrew Strauss’s astonishing and aggressive 158, or Ajmal Shahzad’s first-ball six in the last over. For me it was, yet again, Sachin Tendulkar who made the eyes water.
To see him scampering between the wickets at the age of 36, controlling his innings perfectly, letting Swann know he wasn’t going to hang about, and displaying a flawless sense of where all the fielders were, was to watch pure mastery . The forest of statistics around Tendulkar only convey one level of his brilliance. I have just had a look at a YouTube edit of his first test century, in England, at Lords, when he was just 17. Coming in at number six, with India chasing more than 400 to win, he saved his team — and offered glimpses of victory – in a wonderful innings that knocks on the head that absurd view that he only delivers when it doesn’t matter.
He knew early he was special and learned to live with it, with dignity, with restraint and responsibility. When the poised teenager raises his bat for his 100, he is acknowledging more than just the applause. It is as if he knows there is a lifetime of responsibility ahead. It must have been quite a burden, carrying for more than two decades the hopes of a billion people. Sharing partnerships of more than 600 when he was a schoolboy, he knew he was destined for greatness. He has kept his promise to his fate and to his country. And how.
Now as the eras of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer begin to fade, one with scowls, spit and swearing, and the other with quiet dignity and grace, it is clear that only Sachin will step aside at the very top of his game. His career trajectory reverses all known principles and last year was his best ever. Back him to make a ton and be man of the match in the final in Mumbai.
It’s been a trying week for the England wicketkeeper Steven Davies who came out as gay to the Daily Telegraph. Good for him of course, and showing real guts, but if that wasn’t enough he had to cope with a message of support from Stephen Fry. What I still don’t quite understand — given the fact that Davies is clearly brave as a bull facing some of the world’s quickest bowlers — is why, when dressing-room banter became such a bind, he didn’t just say, ‘Course I haven’t got a girlfriend, you arse, I’m gay. Now let’s go and play cricket.’
Amid all the anticipation of next week’s mouth-watering Champions League tie between Barcelona and Arsenal (see page 22), let’s relish the fact that Arsène Wenger’s lavishly gifted teenage midfielder is called Jack Wilshere, and not Jacques Wilshère. Unusual for the Emirates but well worth celebrating. And I bet he’s not packing heat at the training ground.
Roger Alton is an executive editor of the Times.