Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport: Roger Alton

Article excerpt

Graeme Swann arrived late for the last cricket World Cup. His wife had given birth before the tournament and he was given leave to miss the warm-ups and just arrive for the first match. No need to worry: it was only the Netherlands, the competition's weakest side. Naturally England nearly lost it, but Swann took two wickets. At the press conference, Swann was asked about leaving his new baby son. 'I'm sure he'll give me shit in the future for missing the first two months of his life,' he said, 'and I'll reply: sorry son, I had to go and help England beat the Dutch.'

England have made a habit of being embarrassed by the Dutch. They lost to them at the World Twenty20 in 2009 and 2014, bowled out the second time for 88 by a former assistant manager at the Schiphol airport Burger King. It's just as well the Orangemen didn't qualify for the latest global tournament, which started last week. England would only pop their clogs again.

It is 40 years since Sri Lanka and East Africa played in the first World Cup. Some in the world governing body want to restrict the tournament to the big boys, but that would be a shame when there have been such shocks as Kenya beating West Indies in 1996 or Ireland beating Pakistan in 2007. Ireland thrashing West Indies hardly counts as a shock these days.

Four minnows are involved this time. England's banana skins are Scotland and Afghanistan, while the other group has Ireland and the United Arab Emirates. On the UAE's only previous appearance, in 1996, their captain, Sultan Zarawani, went out to bat against South Africa's fearsome Allan Donald wearing a sun hat. He got a bump on the forehead as a souvenir. Their captain this time is a 43-year-old flight purser with Emirates airlines.

Burger flippers and cabin boys are the lifeblood of the World Cup and long may they be allowed to play. Some of their tales are related in a new book by Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller called Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts , which looks at ten aspirant nations (to reflect the fact that all B teams find it hard to get out a full XI). …

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