Sunday 21 January 2018

Bumble and Athers help viewers pass late-night target

John Mooney of Ireland bowls during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between the West Indies and Ireland
John Mooney of Ireland bowls during the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup match between the West Indies and Ireland

Tommy Conlon

Late in the New Zealand evening last Monday, Michael Atherton remarked that it'd become difficult to watch proceedings against the low sun that was now piercing their commentary box.

Back in Ireland the dawn was just rising on Monday and it'd also become difficult to watch the proceedings. In this case it was for want of sleep, or a surplus of drink, or both. It had been a long day's journey into night.

And there was another reason why concentration was dwindling. It was the lack of competitive drama. Ireland, as Ian Botham had earlier remarked in the Sky Sports broadcast, were "cruising".

By the time Atherton and David 'Bumble' Lloyd had taken over microphone duties from Botham, Ireland needed just 22 more runs from 60 balls (10 overs) to beat the West Indies. It was their first match of the Cricket World Cup. The venue was Saxton Oval in the provincial town of Nelson, on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

It is surely one of the most beautiful grounds in world cricket. Ringed by mountains, with the waters of the Cook Strait shimmering beyond, the Saxton Oval's pastoral charm appears to have been largely untouched by the heavy hand of corporate sport.

There were no great hulking stands. It was notably devoid of the electronic screens and hoardings advertising the usual global brand names. A few rustic sheds provided some cover for spectators. Instead of concrete terracing there was a grass bank around most of the pitch.

It was here that many of the Irish supporters sat or stretched themselves out in the glorious sunshine, cheering the latest boundary and throwing a few shapes when one pop song after another was blasted out on the PA at the end of every over.

With plenty of women and children also in the audience, it had the look and feel of a family day out, a summer country fair rather than a modern international sports fixture. And presiding over it all was a big blue sky with just a few white clouds way in the distance.

"Been a splendid day here in Nelson," purred Atherton, the former England captain, almost audibly loosening his tie and opening the top button on his shirt. "A lovely day, terrific day," agreed Lloyd, that most convivial of match commentators, in his rich Lancashire accent.

With the on-field action petering out to its inevitable result, Athers and Bumble went on verbal walkabout, in that grand cricket tradition, filling the longueurs with various digressions and yarns.

"We've had a tweet in telling us the best watering holes in Nelson," revealed Athers, apropos of nothing in particular. "The Spring & Fern, that's our recommendation."

And then, equally apropos of nothing, Bumble told us that Botham had already left the venue. "Beefy's gone of course, he's disappeared, he's got a pleasant drive." "To Queenstown!" replied a chuckling Atherton. "It's only nine hours," added Lloyd, wryly. "They're like mustard as well, the traffic police here in New Zealand," replied a ruminating Athers. "If you go a tick over a hundred (kmh), they pounce on you." "Yeah, they're very, very strict, and quite right too," agreed Bumble, agreeably. "Think Angus Fraser came on a driving 'oliday and 'ad 'is car taken off 'im," he concluded, unable to suppress a giggle.

Late in the innings Ireland wobbled. Balbirnie, Wilson and Kevin O'Brien lost their wickets in quick succession. O'Brien was run out due to a mix-up with his brother Niall, batting at the other end.

This later prompted a yarn in the commentary box. Niall and Kevin have played against each other in English county cricket. "(They) told me they like to sledge each other out in the middle," said Atherton. Which immediately sprung another anecdote from Lloyd. "Best sledge I've ever heard! Kevin came out to a county game and his brother was wicket-keeping. He (Kevin) is taking his guard, scratching his marker, and Niall said to Kevin, 'Me dad never liked you'. It's the best I've ever heard!" Athers, in reply: "Ha ha ha, ha ha ha."

Niall had at this stage executed another sumptuous strike to the boundary. "Oh what a shot!" gushed Athers. Watching it in slow-motion replay, Bumble's appreciation for the stroke was positively erotic. "Ohhhh! Digs deep. Deep in the crease and bends his knees - and four!" "Brian Lara would've been proud of that," added his partner in ecstasy. "It's a beautiful cover drive."

With the boys in green now just a few runs short of West Indies' 304 target, the pair fell to reminiscing about other famous Irish victories. Naturally the celebrated Sion Mills triumph in 1969, also against the Windies, got a mention. And this triggered a sort of Proustian reverie from Bumble about various holidays in Hibernia.

"It's one of the great spots, Strangford Lough, the Lobster Pot (bar and restaurant) at Strangford Lough. Down to Killarney. Golf. The Guinness oyster festival. Roy Dorrans there, he stops one or two going bad, does Roy. Enjoys his dinner." Athers, in reply: "Ha ha ha, ha ha ha."

It fell to the veteran John Mooney to hit the winning runs. The squad has since moved on to Brisbane where they will face the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday. It will be another tough shift for the fans back home.

We can only hope that Bumble and Athers will be there, to help us make it through the night.

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