The triumph of the tortoise

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The Independent Online
FIRST there was an ignominious Test whitewash to cope with; now there's the statistical fall-out. It was the first time India had won three Tests in a series, and only the second time in 281 Tests that they had won three matches in a row. England's 163 at Calcutta equalled their lowest score at that venue (1972). India's 591 at Bombay was their highest against anyone in that city. At Madras, Henry Blofeld (BSkyB) called 126 people 'My dear old thing' (previous record 102). At Bombay, G Boycott said 'Dear oh dear oh dear, that were a terrible shot' a record 4,876th time.

But amidst the gloom, the despondency, the recriminations and the photographs in tabloids of England cricketers cheerfully quaffing gallons of Tetley bitter, there was one unequivocally bright spot. For in scoring his magnificent 2 not out in the first innings at Bombay, P C R Tufnell broke my favourite cricketing record of all time. Back in Brisbane in 1979-80, Colin Croft of the West Indies propelled thousands of spectators into deep coma with a doughty and lifeshortening 2 not out in 80 minutes. But the Cat went one further - one minute further, to be precise. Yes, Tufnell's 2 not out lasted an epic 81 minutes, and thus became the slowest 2 not out in Test history.

Sadly, though, such skilled and unselfish performances are not highly valued in today's big-hitting limitedover channel-hopping cricketing world. I write, of course, as a perenially slow batsman myself - a one-paced tortoise of no little repute. My cricketing colleagues show little appreciation for the infinite subtleties of slow play, and by way of corruscating satire and devilish irony habitually amend this to 'no- paced'. They cannot hope to understand. The barely audible 'plok' of dead bat on ball is one of the most joyous sounds in the game, especially when played to the juiciest of half-volleys.

The subsequent groans from the pavilion at least show that people are paying attention, although my record, I think, speaks for itself. For many years, I and another held the Captain Scott Invitation XI's seventh-wicket record - a stand of 66, to which I contributed approximately nought. And who can forget my 75-minute 1, scored as an emergency opener on a cruel wicket out of 40 for 6? Well, the other team obviously didn't - they refused to play us the following season.

Of course, slow players have their heroes too, and the 1981 series against Australia stands out particularly clearly in our minds. Old Trafford was the venue, and if I hadn't seen it for myself, I'd never have believed it. For when Chris Tavare scored his magnificent 69 in nearly five hours in the first innings, we never imagined that an even greater performance would soon follow. Yet, in the second innings Tavare scored 78 in just over seven hours of play. It was a monumental achievement. Some fat bloke was apparently at the other end, scoring 118 at a run a minute, but all eyes were on Tavare. Forward defensive. Twitch of moustache. Brief walk to square leg. Another twitch. Another forward defensive. Sheer poetry.

Who is there of such talent in world cricket today? Atherton shows promise, but his worrying tendency to hit the ball often lets him down. These days there's only Shoaib Mohammad (who once took 12 hours to score 163 against New Zealand) and now Tufnell. Unless, of course, England wish to make use of my own particular services . . .

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