Birmingham

The world has much to thank Birmingham for

Maternity, it is often said, is a certainty, while paternity is a myth. And so it bears that necessity may be the mother of invention, but Birmingham never got credit for being the father.

Anyone reading these words, with acceptable and understandable skepticism should know they would not be doing so, if not for the good folk of the City of a Thousand Trades.

After all, it was Conway Berners-Lee, Birmingham bred, who brought the world the first computer, the Ferranti Mark 1, in 1951, and whose son Tim put forward the first proposal for something that we now know as the World Wide Web, in 1989. But before solving the transmission conundrum, there was the small matter of listening to the players, and Birmingham’s Michael Gerzon invented the microphone, in 1975. Go back further to 1822 and you can thank John Mitchell, who pioneered the technology of mass producing steel-nib pens when the quill was still mightier than the sword.

The list of weird and wonderful things that either originated in Birmingham or was made accessible to the wider world because of the city includes the whistle, the electric kettle, the windscreen wiper, the car horn … Cricket, naturally was not immune to Birmingham’s inventive streak, the first method to stop the great Don Bradman — leg theory or Bodyline — was the brainchild of Frank Foster, the allrounder who served Warwickshire and England with distinction.

Cut to 2017, however, and Birmingham, one of the three host venues for the Champions Trophy, can take a break from creating something out of nothing. The first two matches at Edgbaston are two of cricket’s geographically natural rivalries. England may be Enemy No. 1 for Australia, but their trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand take great pleasure in battering their much bigger neighbours. And Friday will be no different.

But, however intense that game is, it will feel a bit like the opening band before the main gig. When India play Pakistan on Sunday, expect all normal service to be disrupted. Tempers will fray in the stands, and powered by copious quantities of beer the discourse will go from passionate yet well-meaning to petulant gibberish as the shadows lengthen.

On the field, the players will do everything in their power to keep things on an even keel, but the risk of some extempore sledging is never far away. As much as they insist that India-Pakistan is just another game, and indeed that’s the only way they should approach their preparation, it is anything but. Given that political climate that exists in both countries, the open hostility along the border and the seeming impossibility of India playing Pakistan in a bilateral series, and these clashes in global events assume a degree of hype and hoopla normally not usually seen in what some people still refer to as the gentlemen’s game. Vocabulary normally reserved for armed conflicts will enter the cricket conversation unbidden and the game can turn a hero into a zero just as easily as the other way around.

As it is, before India has played their first game of the tournament, an inferno is raging back home, with Virat Kohli being pitted against Anil Kumble despite the two being spotted having a hearty laugh and doing their jobs in routine manner in India’s training sessions. For what it was worth, Amitabh Chaudhary, the BCCI secretary, put on record a denial of the existence of a rift, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of India’s Thursday practice session. “I’m not aware of any [rift]. It’s purely in the realm of imagining,” said Chaudhary, who also stated that he was not visiting on a peace-making mission but rather that this was a trip scheduled well in advance. When it was put to him that there usually isn’t smoke without fire, Chaudhary said: “I don’t see any smoke either.”

Fortunately, before the psycho-babble begins, Australia and New Zealand can focus on putting cricket front and centre. While you do want to see cricketers and the broadcast of the game being inventive, nobody wins when two and two are put together to make twenty-two.

(This article was first published in the Economic Times on June 2, 2017)