Perhaps Twenty20 matches should carry a warning, a bit like those adverts for investment brokers that tell you, in the small print, that your speculation can go down as well as up. For the shortest form of the game is like any other in its ability to disappoint. As I made my way back to Oval station last night, after watching Surrey boxed senseless by Essex in the opening round of matches, several supporters were bemoaning the paucity of entertainment. After Essex had overhauled Surrey’s meagre total with a quarter of their overs to spare, one was worried that he’d even get home in time to see the end of the hour-long EastEnders special.
Well, there you go, big news: cricket can let you down in a three-hour slogfest as well as in five days of attrition. It’s not, as someone’s old grandmother’s old grandmother used to say, “all beer and skittles”. But equally, and to further the ten-pin bowling analogy, there are usually, in one-day as well as Test matches, moments amid the mundane in which to exclaim: “Strike!”
Last night’s match was a case in point. Surrey were facing an uphill task from the minute that their first three batsmen went for a single each in three overs. But, as someone with no particular county allegiance, there was at least one over in the match that would have made it worth the admission money alone.
Essex had made a reasonable start in their pursuit of the 127 runs required for victory when Mark Ramprakash, skippering Surrey in the absence of Mark Butcher, again out with injury despite picking up the county’s player of the month award, turned to the old head but rather expanding shoulders, not to mention waistline, of Jimmy Ormond. “I’m surprised Ormond can still be considered a professional athlete – he’s more like a darts player,” a spectator sitting behind me said to his friend, before going on to compare him with Bill Werbeniuk.
OK. Wrong sport. But “Big Bill” was renowned for his girth at the snooker table, which once resulted, when he stretched too far across the green baize to reach a shot, in his trousers splitting.
The Canadian was also famous for drinking six pints of lager before each match and while I have no evidence that Ormond does the same, his run to the wicket is looking more laboured by the minute. The man nicknamed ‘horse’, still only 30, and on a one-year contract, is fast running out of track.
Nevertheless, he played his part in the most compelling passage of the contest; his second or third ball to Mark Pettini appeared to nip back and contact his thigh. The ball dropped down on the leg side and Pettini and Ravi Bopara set off for a quick single before deciding that even Ormond has a bit of gallop left in him and turned back to reach their respective creases.
Ormond swooped and with Pettini still looking short of his ground, fired at the stumps -and missed. The Essex captain, diving for safety, went down in a heap; whether he was struck by Ormond’s shy, or had twisted something in the process of his aborted single, was hard to see from the distance of the Oval pavilion. But Pettini did not get up quickly and had to receive lengthy treatment from the Essex physio before being able to continue.
It was not the magic sponge, however, that did the trick: it was the twelfth man, who ran on clearly clutching a replacement abdominal protector and returned to the dug out clearly clutching a damaged one. (These days, an apprentice obviously has to do more than clean a senior player’s boots).
Quite what destruction had been wrought on Pettini’s nether regions – and how – was unclear (although any Essex fans reading and in the know can update us) but the opening batsman responded in the way that only a man who has had his crown jewels buffed up the wrong way can: angrily.
It made for the most enjoyable viewing of the night. Ormond’s next ball upon the resumption was smacked over his head and down to the pavilion for four; his next disappeared over cover point’s head for six. From then on, there was no stopping him; Chris Lewis, brought back from club cricket purely for occasional one-day purposes, was smashed over mid-wicket twice for huge sixes – one of which went straight out of the ground without touching so much as a spectator’s outstretched fingers.
Ormond finally forced Pettini to play all round a straight one but not before he had hit 66 off 35 balls with five sixes and five fours and shared in a match-winning stand of 82 with Ravi Bopari, who barely needed to get out of first gear but still oozed the class of a man who can hit a double-century in the time it takes James Ormond to complete his follow-through.
It was Bopara I had gone to see, in truth, after his exploits in the Friends Provident last week, but it was Pettini who made my night. It just goes to show that, whatever the form of cricket, there can be a jewel in an otherwise rusty crown.