The Bangladeshi and Sri Lankans and their Indian fellow hosts got the World Cup off to the best possible start, their passionate supporters providing the perfect backdrop and their cricketers giving us attacking, bright, fearless batting in a tantalising glimpse of the possibility of Total Cricket.
But let’s get one thing sorted at the start. When a batsman hits a ball wide of mid-on’s immediate grasp and calls his partner for a run, the job of that partner is to respond without hesitation. It is the batsman who is running to the danger end and the batsman who must watch the fielder and, if the fielder does decide to return the ball to the wicket keeper, inform his partner that he needs to continue running at pace.
First Sehwag and then Dilshan committed the cardinal sin of watching the ball instead of obeying the call from the striker. Tendulka and Tharanga were perfectly within their rights to complete their run and insist that their partner pay the penalty.
That both accepted the injustice of their dismissal says a great deal about their temperaments and their personalities as team players.
It is odd that the commentariat seems unanimously to have blamed Tendulka. But for all Sehwag’s brilliance it would appear that he is as good a runner as the similarly brilliant and intuitive Denis Compton.
Harold Gimblett, a pioneering attacking opening batsman for Somerset and England once told Third Man that as Compton went out to toss for innings at the start of one of his benefit matches the remaining ten in the dressing room decided when batting that day with Compton to obey his calls without question.
The Compton XI’s innings ended with the beneficiary not out with a big hundred, having run out each and every one of the remaining ten members of his side. Compton and Sehwag share much in common. Against Bangladesh his mistake hardly mattered, but in a semi-final or a final the consequences could be catastrophic.
What is this Total Cricket that Third Man is going on about? In Total Football any player is capable of playing in and taking up the responsibilities of any other position. It was developed by the Dutch club Ajax and later by their national team. It is played these days by Barcelona.
In cricket it is more to do with the priority given to the spirit of attack. Each player must take up the attacking baton handed on by the preceding player. Sehwag’s opening shot of the World Cup Tournament was symbolic. No ‘sighter’, but the permission or freedom to play any of the attacking options available to that ball, which kindly hung at the perfect height and travelled at the perfect pace for Sehwag’s perfectly executed backward attacking shot.
Third Man considers that we shall know when Total Cricket has reached its next stage of development when the batting power play is taken immediately after the bowling power plays.
Total Cricket is the expression of a temperament. It is the pursuit of immediate, wounding and annihilating dominance.
Once upon a time the game was said to be ‘timed’. A match would end at 6.30 pm on such-and-such a day. Now, much cricket is limited by the number of possible overs permitted to each side.
Yet cricket is still a game about time. Under stress the personal appreciation of time is speeded up. The past and the future intrude on the present. The past intrudes this way: how he bowled to me before, what the batsmen did to me/us in the last, over, match, series, season. The future intrudes with its pressure by influencing the targets set personally or by the team. Five dot balls, so this one must be a boundary; we now need 8.5 an over.
Total Cricket is obsessed with manipulating the opponent’s perception of time and speeding it up to reduce their competence. Canada and Kenya will have experienced that in their matches.
Finally, Total Cricket requires among many things the involvement of the spectators. It is by feeding from the crowd that the attackers can lever in additional confidence, additional audacity. It is by the crowd sucking out the confidence of defenders that further focuses the defenders’ minds on the past and the future and in so doing further reduces their ability to inhabit the time-rich sensation of the now where batting is ‘see ball, hit ball’.
The crowds at Dhaka and Hambantota were central to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka getting ever closer to Total Cricket. Long may the pursuit continue in this competition.