In the second series of Stranger Things, Dustin hears a noise in a bin. Ignoring the spooky music and his own fear, he goes and opens it.
Next thing we see is Dustin depositing a small obese newt thing into the tank he normally keeps his tortoise in. He feeds it a 3 Musketeers bar, making the wildly irresponsible assumption that this is an appropriate food for a creature he’s never seen before in his life.
(According to Wikipedia, a 3 Musketeers bar is essentially a Milky Way without any caramel. It got its name because it originally came in three pieces, each with a different flavour, only for rising costs to result in strawberry and vanilla being phased out. Oddly they didn’t rename it a 1 Musketeer bar, but they absolutely should have done.)
Because of the 3 Musketeers bar, Dustin calls the creature D’Artagnan, which is pretty smart for a kid. Then, because he’s an American, he shortens it to Dart, which isn’t particularly smart, but is perfectly understandable because names always end up as one syllable eventually and you might as well just accept that.
Dustin keeps Dart. Dart grows. After about a day, he pops a pair of rear legs out – like this is the kind of you can just do on a whim.
Another day and he’s the size of a small dog and his head looks like this.
Next thing you know he’s the size of a person and he’s killing soldiers.
Turns out Dart’s a Demogorgon and honestly you don’t need to have a PhD in demonology to know that that’s a terrifying thing.
What’s interesting here is the rate of development. Things rarely progress that rapidly in real life, but one exception is the Afghanistan cricket team.
Afghanistan went out of the Asia Cup yesterday after a tied game against India. If past history is anything to go by, India will be largely unaffected by the experience while Afghanistan will be somewhere around twice as good next time they take the field.
Back in 2009 and 2010, Mohammad Nabi’s first few one-day internationals saw him make fifties against Scotland and Canada. (Afghanistan actually lost the Canada match.)
A year before that, Afghanistan had been scraping a win against Jersey in ICC World Cricket League Division Five. The target was 81 and they only made it with eight wickets down.
Nabi was out for two in that match, but yesterday he made another fifty. Against India. In a tied game.
Things have moved on.
Nabi was outscored by Mohammad Shahzad, who was out for 124 when the score was somewhat jarringly 180-6. Shahzad made a duck in that 2010 Canada defeat.
Afghanistan are a team who have at no point drawn any firm conclusions about how good they could be. At each step on their journey they’ve inevitably come up against a team that’s better than them and rather than take this as some sort of reality check, they’ve basically just resolved to instantly become better and then somehow achieved that.
Five of the side that beat Jersey have played for the national side in the last 12 months. They are basically the same bunch of guys.
One day you’re a little flappy newt in a fish tank, next day you’re a Demogorgon.
It strikes us that it could do with an update because Afghanistan are a Test team now. This is a highly astonishing state of affairs.
If you’d asked us 15 years ago how likely it was that Afghanistan would become a Test team by 2018, here is a list of things that we would have rated as being more likely.
They’re not an especially good Test team going by the scorecard for their inaugural Test, but then Afghanistan’s rate of improvement is so steep that you wouldn’t bet against them were this a five match series.
It isn’t of course, but they’ll play more Tests and at some point they’ll win. We know this because Afghanistan’s superpower is that losing games gives them strength.
For now, it’s enough that they’re playing at all. As Afghanistan’s then minister of finance, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, said back in 2016 ahead of their first one-day international: “There is nothing that can touch cricket in popularity or as a force for good in Afghanistan. There is absolutely nothing else that mobilises our society in the same way.”
It’s only a warm-up match, but it seems that like much of western Europe, the West Indies still have plenty of warming to do. They’re so cold that you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’ve suffered a burst pipe or two once they actually thaw.
They were bowled out for 115 by the mighty UAE today. Their path to World Cup qualification is covered with ice.
Update: After we risked deploying a headline implying they were likely to lose, the West Indies won by 32 runs. Of course they did.
Apparently lions are the only big cats that can learn by watching others. We saw a thing the other day where they asked one lion to learn about opening a door towards herself to get some food. It took her a bit of time, but when they gave an onlooker lion a go at the same challenge, she immediately aced it.
England Lions should maybe spend more time watching each other bat. (Either that or less time because they’re only learning what not to do. We’re not sure.) They’re about to lose a long format series (they’re not Tests) to West Indies A.
It’s going to be 3-0; a 3-0 defeat to the guys who aren’t good enough to lose to the UAE.
You’ll probably already know a more recent score than the one at the time of writing and you may have something to say in the comments section.
To be honest, we only mention this in a bid to prevent at least one “in other news…” despite knowing full well that stating this ambition explicitly is only likely to draw a greater number of such things.
We’ve been having some absolutely belting weather for the last week or so in these parts – but only on the sly. The gale force winds that have been partially masking things finally abated today and the lull revealed one of those perfect spring days that make you slightly less annoyed about your inability to think straight on account of having been woken up at 5am.
What we’re trying to say is that we didn’t watch England v Ireland because it was sunny out. We didn’t even listen to the radio. We just repeatedly watched that demented scene from Hard Target where Jean-Claude Van Damme punches a snake in the face before turning it into a lethal trap until our phone battery ran out. After that we just sat there.
Returning indoors, we see that England won. Hurray! Only not a real roaring ‘hurray’ because it would actually be quite nice if Ireland did well.
Unlike the first match, today’s fixture seemed more like a run-scoring victory.
That said, it did end how all matches should end – with a Mark Wood yorker.
Of course if that were mandatory, it would be very wearying for Wood, what with the obligation to deliver yorkers on demand for hundreds of different teams all across the globe.
We have therefore come up with three other acceptable match climaxes.
Reportage is going to fall some way short of our usual atomic clock level of reliability this week.
If by some miracle it should hit the heights of ‘patchy’ then you should consider that a win.
Yesterday morning, our cat Monty did a more than passable impersonation of Mark Wood’s backwards press run-up as he exited the house. Despite his unutterably poor track record of predicting cricket matches, we took this as a clear sign that England would beat Ireland. And so it proved.
We’ve just moved into a great fat wodge of one-day internationals and after flitting between the County Championship, the IPL and the occasional Test match for the last month or so, this is actually something of a relief. There is some sort of narrative to the next couple of months with every nation moving into 50-over mode ahead of the Champions Trophy.
So what can we learn from England’s first foray of the summer? Well, it was very much a bowling performance kind of day, so we should probably focus on that. However, there’s one issue we should deal with first.
If you’ve watched the grainy little highlights package of England’s wickets, this may have been a question you found yourself asking about umpire Aleem Dar.
Having resorted to a screengrab, we’re now confident that the answer is ‘beard’.
With that matter resolved, you can now watch the footage entirely liberated from difficult questions.
How good was @adilrashid03 today?
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) May 5, 2017
So basically, the big takeaways from this (mmm, big takeaway) are that Mark Wood pinged one straight through, David Willey swung one into the pads and then Adil Rashid sauntered in when people were trying to hit boundaries and encouraged them to mishit or miss the ball.
This is actually a pretty decent overview of England’s one-day bowling strategy. Every bowler has one main approach for taking wickets and Eoin Morgan tries to wheel them out at the best time to exploit it, whatever it happens to be.
‘Keeping it tight’ isn’t much of a thing any more. It’s really just a fallback.
Against Ireland again – at Lord’s on Sunday.
“Even more than making it in Twenty20 or 50‑over cricket my real ambition has been to become a Test player,” said Eoin Morgan when England first gave him a shot at the five-day stuff.
After 16 Tests and two hundreds, it seems highly unlikely they’ll give him another go, but the ICC’s latest proposals would see Ireland become a Test nation. The country of his birth would surely give him a game, no?
A certain part of us would love to see Morgan up sticks and head home purely to see how forceful and obnoxious the “SEE! SEE! WE TOLD YOU HE WAS A TRAITOR!” response would be in those parts of the media that like to characterise him as a kind of national-anthem-scorning pseudo-Pietersen.
The truth is Ireland’s Test status wouldn’t be for another couple of years, even if it happens, and Morgan currently seems rather heavy-in with leading England’s short format sides anyway. A career-minded cricketer, you can’t really imagine him walking away from his current job.
This might be a possibility further down the line though. If nothing else, a Test match between England and an Ireland side led by a cold-eyed Morgan furious about media criticism would surely be well-attended. Even if they played it in April. Which they would.
With West Indies needing 10 to win off four balls, Carlos Brathwaite whopped one high into the legside outfield. Najibullah Zadran sprinted, dived, took the catch, broke his neck or something when landing, but never let go of the ball.
Of course he didn’t let go. Why would he let go? His team-mates seemed largely unconcerned about his wellbeing because the main thing – the catching of the ball – had gone okay. They knew Zadran would be happy when he regained consciousness because Afghanistan were a sizeable step closer to beating one of the top sides in the World T20. That was the main thing. They all understood that compared to that a broken neck or a snapped arm or a lost knee was trivial.
Afghanistan are pretty talented – some of the spin bowling, in particular – but at heart there’s a lot to be said for simply enjoying the game of cricket and just really, really wanting to win.
If Afghanistan have a superpower, it’s that losing matches appears to give them strength. Bigger teams get downhearted when beaten. Afghanistan are still on the rise, so they sort of expect to lose and shrug it off in an instant, but then at the same time assume the defeat will make them better come their next match. At that point, they give it everything.
They look casual and the physiques of some of the players have that distinctive part-time cricketer look often seen in players from the less-established nations, but their commitment to their cause is at a level you can only attain when you’re grasping for every advantage you can get.
At one point, Mohammad Shahzad and one of his team-mates celebrated a wicket with some sort of airborne arse-bump. At another point, he threw down the stumps as if they’d assaulted his daughter.
Afghanistan really, really want it and they really, really enjoy it. They’re really, really fun to watch.
After the match, Mohammad Nabi said: “I think so we have had enough of winning the hearts of cricket fans so this time we won the match.”
England appear to have sold you a dummy. Just when you thought they might be transforming into some sort of competent modern T20 side, they conspire to lose three wickets in an over against Afghanistan. Masterful stuff.
The bowler was Mohammad Nabi, one of our ten World Cup players to watch. Different World Cup, but come on, we do this for free you know. If we came up with ten players for each and every World Cup, we wouldn’t have time to drink coffee and play Civilization.
Next time around, we’re going to play that game as the Afghanistan civilisation. Mohammad Nabi will be their leader. We will seek out the English and pillage their tile improvements. That is what is happening today.
Regardless of how they’re performing, it’s worth taking a moment to ponder that anew. Afghanistan are playing cricket. Afghanistan.
And indeed cricket. The sport hasn’t exactly gone viral. Most of the time it seems hell-bent on playing out behind some sort of paywall, yet somehow Afghanistan has barged its way into the private party and is busying itself having a fine old time. Perhaps it’s the only country to have built up the sheer endurance needed to jump through the ICC’s endless line of hoops.
There is of course no optimal time to take to cricket. The sport became established at a time in British history when loads of toffs were dicking about playing all sorts of different games because they had sod all better to do. Afghanistan came to the game much more recently. They paused, took a look around, thought: “Well, everything seems to be going pretty much swimmingly here now. Seems about the right time to take up the gentlemen’s game of cricket.”
Or not. In actual fact, it’s previously been claimed that cricket might be a means of helping Afghanistan rebuild society.
For a bit more background about cricket in Afghanistan, you could do a lot worse than watching Out of the Ashes. We’re going to watch it again ourself at some point in the next few days.