March 18, 2007

Wild slogs held in the deep

From my colleague Jim McCloskey comes this deliciously baffling passage from the BBC's account of the cricket match in Jamaica on St Patrick's Day, in which Ireland scored a stunning upset victory over Pakistan. It will very largely seem like gibberish to most American readers:

Wicket-keeper O'Brien, axed by Kent in 2006 because they rate Geraint Jones above him, hit a brilliant 72, easily the best effort by any of the batsmen on a green wicket which Ireland's seamer loved. But when he tried to hit off-spinner Shoaib Malik for six with 21 needed and six wickets still in hand, he was stumped.

Panic set in as Andrew White was caught at short leg and Kyle McCallan edged to slip in the next over, off Rao Iftikhar. But O'Brien's brother Kevin stayed to the end as he and skipper Trent Johnston scrambled the remaining runs needed.

Their only failing was a generous offering of 23 wides, but still Pakistan came up short.

The first opportunity for Irish celebration came when Dave Langford-Smith bowled a peach of a delivery at Mohammad Hafeez in the first over, which the batsman edged behind. When Boyd Rankin then had Younis Khan caught in the slips for a duck, the Test nation had to rebuild from 15-2.

Imran Nazir (24) and Mohammad Yousuf (15) added 41, but when Rankin and Langford-Smith were replaced by Johnston and Andre Botha, the two big wickets fell.

Yousuf drove a wide ball from Johnston straight to point before Inzamam edged his third ball to the solitary slip. Given obvious confidence by that strike, Botha (2-5 from eight overs) began to extract huge inswing and made life intolerable for Nazir.

Eventually, the opener departed for 24, Eoin Morgan taking his second catch in the slips. Wickets continued to tumble, despite the best efforts of Kamran Akmal (27), and Johnston's captaincy was spot on as he brought back Boyd for some extra pace.

The bowler dug a couple in, and both Akmal and Azhar Mahmood spooned catches to Johnston at mid-wicket.

After Mohammad Sami and Iftikhar had added a gutsy 25 for the ninth wicket, spinner McCallan took the last two wickets as wild slogs were held in the deep. Pakistan had been bowled out for 132 in the 46th over.

The wicket was still providing assistance for the bowlers when Ireland batted. Jeremy Bray, the hero against Zimbabwe, was ajudged lbw to Sami, who also trapped Morgan the same way to make it 15-2.

Then Hafeez's arm ball produced the third wicket, Porterfield playing on to his stumps. But O'Brien took a liking to the off-spinner, cutting and driving for precious boundaries and Pakistan were toiling again. Suddenly, Inzamam's men were given a lift when umpire Brian Jerling, who had already made some strange decisions, elected to give Botha out caught at short leg.

At this stage, the overs were not an issue, but the ever-decreasing light was. Kevin O'Brien and skipper Johnston eked out the singles, before a Johnston square cut for four and some Pakistan wides finally eased the tension. Finally, Johnston freed his arms and slammed Mahmood into the stands at long-on. The party could begin.

Catching in the slips for a duck, wild slogs held in the deep, wickets assisting bowlers, playing on to stumps, giving out at short leg, a Johnston square cut for four and some Pakistan wides... Even I (who was forced to play cricket and learn some of this gobbledegook as a schoolboy) see it as like something out of Lewis Carroll's Alice books.

The take-home linguistic point, for me, is that recognition that a text is in English and is grammatically correct cannot possibly be based on either understanding its meaning or knowing the words of which it is composed. You'd be surprised just how many linguistic theories, when strictly construed, are just blown out of the water by that simple observation, which the above text illustrates so well.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at March 18, 2007 09:34 AM