Bikini cricket for young farts

The future of cricket flaunts a six-pack, camo pants, a bandanna and a bra-top, and she would surely be arrested if she swung her hips like that on a Sunday afternoon in Senekal.

If she did so in the International Cricket Council (ICC) boardroom there would be pink gin splutters all over the plush carpeting. But not because the guardians of the grand old game would be shocked. Nothing much scares them after Hansie Cronje’s dance with the devil, Shoaib Akhtar’s one-man travelling circus and Bob Woolmer being murdered and then unmurdered.

No, it’s the smell of money that spikes these denizens’ blood pressure.
And they can see profits aplenty in the shape of the six-packed, camo-clad dancers who began leaping about at stadiums in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town this week.

These fine specimens of unbridled youth will continue to shake what their mammas gave them until the ICC Twenty20 World Championship burns itself out in the final in Johannesburg on September 24.

Their job is to keep the crowd entertained whenever the adrenaline threatens to dip below dangerous levels. They flash those abs to booming lyrics like, “Whoomp! There’s a six! Whoomp! There it is!”

Every gyration is replayed on giant screens around the stadium, but the stars of the show might just be the DJs who call the shots from a booth a safe distance beyond the boundary.

Cricket? It’s out there somewhere, which is probably where it should be kept. This is, after all, a game so out of touch with modern times that it reaches its zenith when 22 players—all dressed in the bleakest white—go through the motions for five consecutive days. Who won? No one. Who cares? No one, because this is cricket’s temple to itself.

For entertainment, cricket offers us the grim spectre of the one-day international, a strange flavour of tedium in which nothing much happens for half of the 100 overs that constitute a match.

But since 2003, when the Twenty20 format took its bow at domestic level in England, cricket has been redeeming itself.

South Africa’s Standard Bank Pro20 Series, which involves the six professional franchises, has breathed fresh air into domestic cricket’s decomposing lungs. The public actually shells out money—there’s that magic word again—to watch these games, which is a far cry from the apathy that greets the other competitions.

And yet, not everyone has seen the light.

“I don’t really enjoy this form of the game, it really takes a lot from cricket,” said one Indian follower of the game this week. “Twenty20 is really for people who don’t have the time to watch cricket or don’t understand it at all. Test cricket is what cricket is about but I guess this is a different kind of experience.”

Each to their own, even old farts. Except that this fart was Robin Uthappa, a 21-year-old tyro who just last week hammered 47 not out off 33 balls to help India beat England in a one-day international.

Uthappa’s opinion is a measure of how far Twenty20 cricket has to go before the establishment accepts it as a legitimate form of the game.

The process can only be aided by the crackerjack match that South Africa and West Indies mounted at the Wanderers on Tuesday.

Chris Gayle must drive cricket’s army of antiseptic aesthetes dilly with impotent rage. He moves his feet only to walk from the dressing-room to the crease, his technique owes more to Bruce Lee than Donald Bradman, and he seems constantly on the edge of a fit of giggles about how seriously everyone else takes all this batsmanship stuff.

Gayle nuked South Africa’s bowlers for 117 runs, an innings that defied description as much as it did criticism.

But that wasn’t enough to stop the Windies from finding a way to lose, which they managed with a rank rotten display in the field that featured three dropped catches and 23 wides.

Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp didn’t mind. They reeled in the runs with batting that veered from audacious (Gibbs’s lap sweep to balls pitched a good 20 centimetres outside off-stump was incorrigibly cheeky) to awe-inspiring (the subversive elegance that Kemp pumps into the flat, scudding six will disturb many).

In the end, South Africa’s eight-wicket win looked effortless. It also confirmed them among the favourites to win the tournament.

The Australians, relatively inexperienced though they are in this format, loom as a major threat to anyone’s chance. That’s just what dynasties do, their shock loss against Zimbabwe notwithstanding.

Sri Lanka’s cricket culture is to win at all costs, so they will be competitive, and the more subtle skills of the English and the New Zealanders could prove surprisingly effective.

Tonight’s clash of civilisations between India and Pakistan in Durban is an opportunity for the world’s largest Asian diaspora to strut its stuff in style.

And if the game is dull—which it won’t be—there are always the dancers to watch. They are, after all, in eminently better shape than the cricketers.

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