Friday, November 11, 2011

All the Elevens

11/11/11, or as our contrary American cousins insist, 11/11/11.

I know it’s only a number, but there’s something rather disturbingly “Druidy” about it. I’m a reasonably sane individual, but it’s been on my mind for a few days now. This morning, after a bit of test work, I ended up taking a picture of my alarm clock at the appointed hour. I’d even taken the trouble to ensure that the section on the clock face which showed the ambient temperature didn’t disturb the awful symmetry, by the simple ruse of putting it in the fridge for a while. I can’t believe I’m the only one who did that. I’m not a nerd, for Goodness sake!

Another 88 years before it all repeats!

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been wondering if something cataclysmic was going to happen to the world on this “Once in a Lifetime” day. We’ve seen the economic situation in Europe disappearing off, in the words of more than one noted pundit, “to Hell in a hand-cart” with Italy clutching on increasingly desperately for economic survival. Was this the day when the whole Euro debacle would suddenly detonate?

On a much more important level than this however, I’ve been watching the South Africa vs Australia Test match in Capetown, and seen the game twist and turn over 24 hours in a way that has never been seen in a Test match for over 100 years. Yesterday, the fanatic statisticians had something approaching multiple orgasms over the number of cricket records which were re-written during the day. I woke up early wondering what was going to happen today on the field in South Africa. Clearly yesterday was only a cricketing “clearing of the throat” for today’s man event. The TV was on early from 8am – I wasn’t going to miss today’s drama.

It turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax, although things got a bit spooky as 11.00am approached. Now cricket is the game where superstitions and fads run riot. You’d think many cricketers were on the way to the funny farm if you knew what went on in their minds when the game is being played. X will only if he puts his left pad on first. Y will only go out to bat if the toilet seats in the dressing rooms are down. Z would only bat with a red handkerchief in his pocket, while A would only venture into the middle if he had his lucky silver clover leaf with him.

Out on the field, if a player or a team is doing well, you sit tight. I mean, you don’t move, even if the Nature is calling you increasingly stridently. Moving or standing up, even if you are sitting way up in Row 324 of the Grandstand, immediately transfers the vibes to the player and destroys his concentration, and that would never do.

The weirdest ones however are the “nasty” numbers. In Australia, the “Devil’s Number” is 87. Over there, they firmly believe that this figure is toxic, and to be avoided like the plague by any batsman. They get quite nervous when this is their score. The odd thing is that when some guy delved into the statistics of the 2000 Test matches that the World has played since they started in 1877, it was actually the numbers around 87, ie 85, 86 and 89 which were far more often the scores when batsmen perished. But no. 87 it was, and is.

In England, the mystical number is 111, hence its importance for today of all days. For reasons which no-one really knows this number is referred to in the cricket world as “Nelson”. Now, as far as I know, Nelson never played cricket, but it’s a totally ingrained cricketing superstition the world over. There are resonances and echos in a match when a side gets to 222, or 333, referred to as Double Nelsons and Triple Nelsons, but the full force of the heathen pressure is felt on 111.
It gets worse – totally bizarre in truth - because the “release” for Nelson is to stand on one leg while the team is on that score. I mean, seriously, you’ve got 24 grown men (including the 2 umpires) playing a game at the top International level, and, on 111, you can see a smattering of them standing around like a white flamingo. David Shepherd, one of the great umpires of all time, who was a tad on the large size would stand at the bowler’s end, hopping from one leg to another while the game went on around him for as long as the score was 111. It must have completely put the batsman off. You couldn’t make it up.

Today, of course, I couldn’t fail to wonder what was going to happen. The Italian financial crisis had abated a little so it wasn’t going to be that. James Murdoch wasn’t on in front of the MP’s committee just yet, and we’d already had an asteroid the size of Belgium whizzing past the Earth a few hours before, so clearly there must be something else on the cards. The time crept up to 11.00am, and South Africa ominously reached the score of 111 for 1. Could they hang on for another 11 minutes without scoring a run? If that happened the scorers would set fire to themselves and combust in a blaze of glory. However, this “David Eyke” moment passed about 9  minutes too early, and the two South African Batsmen went on their way scoring runs.

The scoreboard at 11.11

The South African Team Bench Flamingoes
On the field a few minutes later, the score-boards finally flashed up the time showing 11.11am on 11/11/11. To a huge cheer, the crowd all stood up on and tried to balance on one leg for the whole minute, with a fair amount of “beer induced” wobbling not helping greatly, but they really tried their hearts out. It was really rather touching, and just the thing you’d expect a cricket crowd to indulge in. Great to watch.

And exactly how many runs do you think South Africa needed to score to win this extraordinary match at that precise minute, when this Stand of Flamingoes (for that is the Collective noun for a herd of these pink things) got to their unsteady human feet?

Yep – 111.


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