The thing everyone knows about jokes is that they get funnier the more you repeat them. Which is why the sandpaper jokes - hahaha, oh man - just got better and better as the Ashes went on (even though the whole thing happened in March 2018, which was 16 months ago). Some fans in England dressed as sandpaper, yelled about sandpaper, made street signs about sandpaper, and probably named their newborns Sandpaper just to dress them in yellow and take them to the ground for a laugh. The whole thing was terrific and the boos were wonderful and everyone was on the ground in fits of outrageous, uncontrollable laughter until Steve Smith scored a billion runs and Australia retained the Ashes.
This Steve Smith guy, though
For any normal cricketer, a year-long ban might make the Test-match muscles atrophy. Smith came back and hit 774 runs in four Tests and batted in several important stands in which he was clearly dragging the other partner along. It was as if he spent his year off gorging himself like a mother penguin in the winter, then returned to vomit up huge volumes of runs into the mouths of his team-mates, thus sustaining the fragile Australia top order.
Misbah-ul-Haq is a good guy, right? He guided Pakistan with immeasurable poise through one of their most difficult periods… so we know for a fact that he's a stand-up guy, correct? Only asking because, having sat on the committee that sacked the previous Pakistan coach, he later applied for the position he had helped make vacant, before eventually going on to become not only coach but chief selector as well. From a distance this seems like a move right out of a banana-republic dictator's playbook. But we're all okay with what happened, because, come on, it's Misbah. He's incorruptible. It's going to end well.
Please end well.
At its best, cricket transports the fan and provides a reprieve from real life. In September, though, real life had this annoying tendency to impose itself on (what was supposed to be) the cricket. In a month in which the global conversation has been about climate change, unseasonal rains showed up to complicate New Zealand's series in Sri Lanka. Rains then forced abandonments in both the men's and women's India v South Africa series. Finally, on Friday apocalyptic-looking weather systems turned up in generally arid Karachi, filling the ground with so much water there was a risk a Swedish teenager might sail across it.
So okay. We saw the global protests. We saw the wall-to-wall climate-crisis coverage. Can the forces trying to deliver this message now leave cricket alone so it can be the thing that takes our minds off impending doom? We get it already.
A dogged endeavour
Geoffrey Boycott has wanted to be knighted for a long time. Twice, he said, his knighthood had been turned down. He was so annoyed about this in 2017 that he said he would have had a better chance of being knighted if he'd "blacked up" because West Indian cricketers had been handed knighthoods "like confetti" (those privileged swine!). Eventually, thanks to the wishes of former UK prime minister Theresa May, Boycott will be knighted, amid controversy over his 1998 conviction in France for assault on a woman. It has been a long, attritional road to the knighthood, during which Boycott has angered plenty and lost fans, before ultimately going on to secure the personal accolade he craved. The whole thing has been so much like one of his innings, except even more difficult to watch.
Ongoing incompetence update
It has now been almost two and a half months since Sri Lanka Cricket suspended head coach Chandika Hathurusingha, partly because they said he was charging too much for the work he was doing. They haven't found a way to fire him yet. Meanwhile, they continue to pay him for doing nothing.
Next month on The Briefing
- Misbah-ul-Haq gains control of the PCB constitution and makes himself coach and selector for life.
- Cricket Australia bans Steve Smith until the start of the next Ashes. "If we force him to sit two years out he'll average 200 next time."