Kolkata 2001

The 1,535th test match took place on March the 11th, 2001 between India and Australia at the ground known as Eden Gardens in Kolkata, India.

Australia had won the first match of the three test series in Mumbai by ten wickets.

On the cricket pitch, India were stumbling. On the world stage, however, they were transcending. The previous May had seen the birth of their billionth citizen and a visit from the President of the United States.  In January of 2001 they joined the exclusive club of nations able to launch satellites deep into space.

January of 2001 also the city of Calcutta unleash the bonds of colonialism and officially revert to its pre-colonial name of Kolkata.

And speaking of British Colonialism, their opponents at Eden Gardens, Australia, had just kicked off a year celebration in January to commerate their one hundredth anniversary as a Federation. The previous summer Sydney had hosted the Summer Olympics.

It was not all roses, of course. At the time of the 1,535th test match, Indians were still mourning the 30,000 souls killed in a massive earthquake in the western state of Gujarat. And Australians were just a little over a year away from the tragic bombings in Bali.

Personally, I was living in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, on the second floor of a two story duplex, with my wife (then girlfriend) and a roommate. Two months prior, I had started working at the Manhattan Toy company, a job I would hold, and love, for the next six years. It was a tremendously happy time in my life.

And with that backdrop, on the morning of March the 11th, with fog and a chill in the air (the day saw a record setting low temperature, though the cool air was short lived), Australia won the coin flip and chose to bat. A little while later, as temperatures spiked into the 90s, where they would stay all day, out walked opening batsmen Michael Slater and Matthew Hayden to begin what is widely considered one of the greatest test matches in the history of the world.

At lunch on the first day, Australia were 88 without loss. Slater and Hayden were both 41*. At tea they were 193/1 – Slater had fallen for 42.

In the third session, Harbhajan Singh took a hattrick of Australian wickets, and the vistors ended the session, and the day, at 291/8.  A decent enough score, despite the collapse, but Australia would have hoped for more, considering the decent batting track.

Meanwhile:

In Southern Serbia, a cease fire between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Serbian forces was breached, as sporadic fighting broke out up and down the Presevo Valley.  An 11 year old Serbian boy was killed when Albanian mortar shell struck his house….

Bloody and violent protests broke out in Ukraine, the Dalai Lama called for a referendum on Tibet, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Boston Celtics 97-91.

*

Day two in Kolkata dawned in the same manner it had the day before, with fog and cool temperatures, but by the time Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie walked back out to the crease, it was 90 degrees.

Waugh, Australia’s captain, and Gillespie, went on to produce a magnificent 9th wicket stand of 133. Waugh scored a century, Gillespie 46, his highest score to date in a test match.

At lunch Australia were 383/8, and 50 minutes before tea, they were finally bowled out for 445.

From 291 for eight to 445 all out.  The worm had turned, Australia were comfortably in the ascendancy.

And India’s troubles continued with the bat, despite the fact that the pitch appeared to be more than just a little batter friendly. Ramesh fell for a duck. And the rest of his side did not fair much better.

The day ended with India in all sorts of trouble at 128/8, needing a miracle to avoid the follow-on.

Also, on March the 12th, 2001: Pope John Paul II beatified 233 Spanish martyrs of the Spanish Civil War, the last step before sainthood, in an effort to avoid further attacks from the Basque separatists.

In an eery bit of foreshadowing, speaking in Spanish from Vatican City, the pontiff said:

“Terrorism is born of hatred and, in turn, feeds it. It is radically unjust and increases the situations of injustice, gravely offends God and the dignity and rights of people. With terror, man always comes out the loser,” John Paul said.

“No motive, no cause or ideology can justify it,” he said. “Only peace can build peoples. Terror is the enemy of humanity.”

Six months later, we all know what happened.

Also on the 12th, Astronauts aboard the International Space Station, completed the longest space walk in Nasa’s history: four minutes shy of nine hours.

Oh, and Rod Stewart released his 19th studio album: “Human”.

*

On day three in Kolkata, the worm turned again.

VVS Laxman played a brilliant half century in a vain attempt to avoid having to follow on, but Warne got him to edge to Hayden, and India ended at 171 all out before the lunch break.

In the follow on, India were 274 runs adrift. Das and Ramesh fell for 30 and 39 respectively, and then VVS Laxman was back at the crease, promoted to third in the lineup after his half century earlier in the day.

Laxman would go on to score a century that afternoon, and India would end the day at 254/4, with Laxman partnered with Rahul Dravid. Laxman was on 109, Dravid on 7.

There were seeds of hope among the Indian faithful, but it was still Australia’s match to lose.

And while hope was growing in Kolkata, six American soldiers were killed in Kuwait during a training exercise, a Palenstian was killed by Israeli soldiers during a bloody protest on the West Bank, the cease fire in southern Serbia finally took hold, as all was quiet in the Presevo Valley, and the Dow plunged 436 points, over 4%, to 10,208 and change, as part of a global sell off.

*

Day four: March the 14th: another hot, hot day in Kolkata, and a day that Indian cricket fans will never forget.

Dravid and Laxman walked out at ten o’clock in the morning, and they would bat all day.

The day began with India at 254/4.

At lunch they were 376/4 (Laxman 171, Dravid 50).

At tea they were 491/4 (Laxman 227, Dravid 106).

They just kept batting on and on and on.

And Eden Gardens turned into a sea of Indian flags, cheering on what was surely the greatest performance they would ever hope to see on a cricket field.

At stumps they were 589/4 (Laxman 275, Dravid 155).

As VVS walked off, to quote the Old Batsman: “His face was a picture, the look of a total chancer in love with the absurdity of it all.”

I cannot look at the picture without getting chills.

Elsewhere, on March the 14th, as Dravid and Laxman walked off at Eden Gardens: more clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a US ban on meat imports from Europe as fears of Hoof and Mouth disease swept through the UK,  and the Yugoslavian army moved into the Presevo Valley: Peace was coming to the Balkans after a decade of war.

*

Day five in Kolkata, and Laxman and Dravid walked back out.

Dravid fell in a run out, Laxman was caught by Ponting at slip, and India declared at 657 before lunch.

And the pitch was starting to spin.

Harbhajan Singh took six Autralian wickets, and to the delight of the Indian fans, the visitors could just not hang on for a draw.

Just after tea, Singh got McGrath out lbw and the match was over.

India had been forced to follow-on, but still won the match by 171 runs, thanks to a truly magnificent bit of batting from Dravid and Laxman.

Over those five days, 1.7 million babies were born.

Over those five days, 1.25 million people lost their lives.

It was a Test match. The world didn’t stop to watch. Time and history marched on alongside it. But for five days, it marked time for cricket fans the world over.

Only so much can happen during a 90 minute football match, but in five days, the whole world can change. And for many, during those five days in March, it did.

*

Lancashire v Warwickshire at Liverpool, County Championship Division One

Globalization.

Some will argue for it: that it spreads democracy and capitalism, assisting the Third World into economic security.

Most argue against it: because it destroys indigenous cultures, it wreaks havoc on the environment, it exploits cheap labor, it gives developed countries an unfair advantage. And the list goes on.

Most progressive thinking, educated, modern citizens understand that globalization is in some ways a necessary evil, but most also believe that things are going too far, too fast, and that First World nations need to step a little more lightly in their dealings with under-developed countries.

Let’s stop being a bully, let’s stop exploiting cheap labor, let’s stop incentivizing smaller nations to building o-zone destroying factories,  let’s stop encouraging the destruction of rain forests…and so on.

So what exactly does this have to do with cricket, you ask?

Well, globalization, and the evils involved in globalization are not new.

To wit:

The sun never set on the British Empire, as you can plainly see, though it surely does now.

Englishmen brought Christianity, the slave trade, and exploitation to every corner of the earth.

They also brought their sport.

All ten of the current nations with Test status are former British Colonies, in one way or another.

Therefore, in a very real way, the sport of cricket that we all love does not exist in its current form without Globalization and the British Empire.

I think about this a lot. And it always serves to make me feel a little, well, gross.

Millions died so I could enjoy Australia v West Indies. In the initial conquests, the occupations, and the revolutions.

But this is true for most sports I enjoy. Africa loves football, for example, and the sport of baseball does not exist without my ancestor’s destruction of the Native American tribes, nor does it exist, honestly, in its current form, without the slave trade.

And it is true for most everything, generally speaking. The computer I am typing this on does not exist without the exploitation of someone, somewhere. This mug that holds my tea would never have made it to my cupboard with a least a dash of globalization.

And so how do I reconcile my trivial passions with my liberal, modern philsophies?

Fingers in my ears? Head in the sand?

It’s either that or stop enjoying cricket, among other things, which I am loathe to do.

Unfortunately, modern life requires blinders, no matter your disposition.

I don’t eat meat, but those that do rarely think about what happens on the killing floor of a slaughterhouse, for instance.

No conclusions today, just something I have been thinking about.

Now, if you will excuse, I want to watch the second half of Juventus v Roma on ESPN3.

Globalization has its advantages. I plan on writing about this a bit more down the road.

I am also putting together a longer post for later in the week that I am really excited about. Stay tuned.

Until next time.

West Indies v Australia at Port of Spain, 2nd Test

*Caveat: Officially, the United Kingdom has a nuclear weapons program, not England. But for the sake of continuity, I am going to just use England in the post. 

**Also, part two of this three part series is here

Earlier today, over on Twitter, I mentioned that a nuclear attack scenario put on by 10 Downing in 1980 was named after the cricket fielding position: “Square Leg.” Cricket and nuclear weapons, hopelessly entwined…and so I begin part three of my discussion on the test nations with a nuclear arsenal.  Yesterday was India, today…

England invented cricket. In the sixteenth century, give or take, in or around Guildford in the county of Surrey. Records are spotty, of course, and some historians will tell you that a similar bat and ball sport dates all the way back to 1300 CE, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. The romantic likes to think that the game is over 900 years old, of course, but the realist in me says that I am going to have to go with it being just, just, 600 years young.

England cricketers played in the very first test match, against Australia, on March the 15th, 1876.

*

England was also one of the founding five fathers of the nuclear weapon phenomenon, along with the US, China, the Soviet Union, and France. (Those five nations also happen to be the five permanent members of the UN security council.) Their first weapon’s test was on October the 3rd, 1952, and their most recent on the 26th of November, 1991.  (I am going to look a bit more  into that most recent test. I mean, the Berlin Wall had fallen, the USSR was in shambles – why in the blue hell did the UK think it would be just a dandy idea to detonate a 20 kiloton nuclear warhead in the Nevada desert? A question for another day, and another blog.)

I digress:

1952 was an interesting time for England.

The War was over, of course, and the good guys had won. But the country was in ruins, the balance of world power had shifted to the USA and the USSR, they were bankrupt…

…and The Empire was disintegrating.

One of the final dominoes to fall was India in 1947.

And so, in some ways, as mentioned yesterday, England has been in steady decline since going nuclear, while Pakistan and India have only strengthened their presence on the world stage.  (Pakistan has taken a couple big steps backward in the last few years, admittedly.)

The real question here is: using their nuclear weapons program as a bookmark: how has England performed on the cricket pitch?

Their last match before their first weapons test was against India, on August 14-19 at the Kennington Oval, in London.

The match was ruined by weather, and ended in a draw.

David Sheppard hit one of his three centuries that day. Later, he went on to become an ordained minister and rose to become the Bishop of Liverpool.

Their first match as a nuclear power was almost a year later, against Australia, on June 11-16 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in the first match of the 1953 Ashes series.

Just like at the Oval a year prior, the match ended in a draw. In fact, four out of the five matches of that year’s Ashes series ended in draws. England won the final match by eight wickets to regain the trophy.

David Sheppard didn’t play in the game at Trent Bridge, but Australia’s Lindsay Hassett did. Hassett was his country’s captain during their tour of England for the Victory Series in 1945, as a Sergeant in the Australian army.

The series is largely credited with re-popularizing the game in England after the War.

Speaking overall:

Before going nuclear, England played in 302 test matches that were not abandoned. They won 116 of them, lost 90 of them, and drew the rest.

Winning percentage, pre-nuclear: 38%

After October, 1952, England played in 623 test matches. They won 211 of them, lost 175, and drew the rest.

Winning percentage, post-nuclear: 34%.

And, therefore, unlike India and unlike Pakistan, England’s performance on the cricket field has gone downhill since developing a nuclear program.

There are no conclusions to be drawn here. I think it is interesting, though.

Two of England’s former colonies, developing nuclear weapons, becoming cricketing powerhouses, while England’s empire falls apart, and they lose their grip on the sport they invented, they popularized…

And most importantly it must be remembered that the game as we know it today does not exist without that broken empire.

Which, as I mentioned on Twitter earlier, will be a topic of a blog later in the week.

Until then.

Kings XI Punjab v Kolkata Knight Riders at Mohali, Indian Premiere League

Cricket.

And nuclear weapons.

They are an odd couple.

I have talked about this before, here and here, and I think it might be a topic worth exploring some more.

There are ten nations with full test status in cricket: England, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. An exclusive club, surely. Just ask Ireland.

Meanwhile there are nine nations with nuclear weapons: the United States, Russia, France, England, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel (supposedly). An even more exclusive club, and a far more dangerous one.

Three nations appear on both lists: England, India, and Pakistan.

In the links above, I talked about Pakistan’s first nuclear weapon’s test in 1998, and went on to relate its transformation into a nuclear power to the nation’s performance on the cricket pitch. (Read the links, it’s not nearly as ridiculous as it sounds at first glance.)

And, so, in the interest of fair play, I am going to do similar posts for both India and England.

I will begin with Pakistan’s neighbor.

India, as know it today, was formed in 1947, when they declared their independence from, coincidentally, England. However, most historians will tell you that their nuclear ambitions began even before their independence. Most trace is as far back as 1946, when soon to be Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said: “I have no doubt India will develop her scientific researches and I hope Indian scientists will use the atomic force for constructive purposes.”

Officially, their weapon’s program began in earnest in 1968, with its first weapons test on May the 24th, 1974: Smiling Buddha was its codename.

The last cricket India played before going nuclear was in February, 1973. They played England in a test match at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. It ended in a draw. And India won the series 2-1.

Their first match as a nuclear power took place almost 18 months later, also against England, at Old Trafford in Manchester.

England won that one by 113 runs. And the other two matches went England’s way, as well. The tour itself was coined “India’s tour from hell.”

Their new found power on the world stage was not immediately transferring itself onto the cricket pitch, in other words.

Overall, however?

Between their first test match in England at Lord’s in 1932, and their last match before Smiling Buddha in 1974, a period of 42 years, India played in 129 test matches, winning 18, drawing 60, and losing the rest. A rather pitiful display, but hey, they were just starting out. (There had to have been a few abandoned matches in there, but Statsguru fails me sometimes. Or, more correctly, I fail Statsguru.)

After the nuclear test, and up until the most recent test match against Australia this year in Adelaide, India have played in 333 test matches (that were not abandoned). They won 103, whilst 142 ended in draws.

A much better record of course, but again, its meaningless, as their overall improvement as cricketing nation has nothing to do with their nuclear capabilities, but every look at history requires bookmarks, and I think nuclear power is a fine placeholder.

Here’s what we have so far then (test matches only):

Pakistan pre-nuclear winning percentage: 29%

Pakistan post-nuclear matching winning percentage: 37%

India pre-nuclear winning percentage: 14%

India post-nuclear winning percentage: 31%.

Make of that, what you will.

What it comes down is that as both nations have developed into world powers, their cricketing prowess has also  grown and matured. It’s almost as if, in order to be taken seriously, a country needs to develop in two areas: weapons of mass destruction…and sport. It’s silly, I know, but I think it’s worth a deeper look at some point, by some historian, somewhere, especially in the case of Pakistan.

Tomorrow: England.

(Which should be interesting, as they were a world power and a cricketing powerhouse long before nuclear weapons were even first imagined. And, really, one could say that England has declined over the last 100 years.)

Like I said, it should be interesting.

Until then.

Durham v Nottinghamshire at Chester-le-Street, County Championship Division One

Last Wednesday, April the 11th, was the one year anniversary of Limited Overs.

I remember the day. I started up the twitter feed, the WordPress account, and the new gmail address, whilst sitting at my desk at the job I hated more than any other job ever.  It was nine days after India had won the World Cup, and a month after I had been in London and visited Lord’s.

It was a nothing day, as far as cricket was concerned. Australia and Bangladesh played a ho-hum ODI. Australia won by nine wickets with 144 balls to spare, thanks to a massive 185-not out from Shane Watson (it took less than two hours and he only needed 96 deliveries – maybe “ho-hum” was the wrong descriptor) as well as three wickets from Mitchell Johnson.

The IPL had started three days earlier, as had the County Championship, but neither tournament had really taken hold, as of yet.

Truth be told, I started the blog not out of a love for cricket, but for a desire to work on my writing. I wanted an excuse to write: everyday.  I had been inspired by my friend Tim who writes for 7amkickoff.com, who had started his Arsenal blog for the same reason over four years ago.

Over the last year, I have written 187 blog posts, which works out to a bit more than one post every other day. Not bad, considering the two or three lengthy hiatuses I have taken, and actually much better than I had hoped when I first started this project.

And I like to think that my writing has improved, here and there, bit by bit: I do feel a bit more confident in my words.

Most of all, this blog has allowed me to do two things: understand this wonderful game more than I ever thought possible, and truly explore all of the cricket blogs out there, all of which, for the most part, are just fantastic.

I read a lot of bicycling blogs, a lot of music blogs, a lot of general interest blogs, a lot of Arsenal blogs, a lot of travel blogs…and none of those genres compare in sheer quality of writing to cricket blogs.

Fact.

I look forward to another year.

Goal: 200 posts.

Oh, and I’d like to thank two people: Andrew McGlashan, who responded to an e-mail I had sent him when I first started up. A nice inspiration to keep me going during those first few weeks, a tricky time for any new blog – when one is most at the risk of “blog fade”.

And, most of all, Devanshu of Deepbackwardpoint.com – whose near constant support of Limited Overs has been invaluable.

Until next time.

Middlesex v Surrey at Lord’s, County Championship Division One

I am watching the Marlins v the Phillies on ESPN3 as I type this…and it brings to mind a question: just how similar are baseball and cricket anyway?

Now, many folks will debate which is better, but I feel no need to slag off one at the expense of the other, as I honestly do enjoy both sports, and I think it is quite possible to love both, that you don’t necessarily need to choose one.  I actually think they compliment each very nicely, in fact.

They are just similar enough for me to sincerely answer the question, “so, cricket, that’s like baseball, right?” from my cricket ignorant American friends with a “yeah, I guess, kind of.”

Sure, they both have a bat, and a ball. And they both have a pitcher/bowler and a batter/batsman. And runs are registered in a similar enough manner, as are outs. They both have innings, they both thrive on statistics, and they both make grownups wear silly little hats.

But, really, once you get past the surface the games are inherently as different as night and day, as American football and European football even.

In baseball, generally speaking, the pitcher is on the defensive, while the hitter on the attack. The opposite is true, for the most part, in cricket.

Generally speaking, hitters in baseball want to clobber every pitch as long and as far as they can. Sure, they might take a few pitches, wait for one they want, but in the end: they want to send it screaming into the night.

Batsmen in cricket, however, have to defend their wicket as if their life depended on it, especially in the longer forms of the game. Every bowled ball is looking to get them out, not looking to get hit into the seats, as it is in baseball.

And once you are out, in cricket, you are out. Your day is over. It limits the batters, while freeing up the bowlers.  In baseball, one swing and a miss does not mean a whole lot – it gives baseball batsman the freedom to attack, attack, attack.

And because of the above, there is a major role reversal in each respective game: a bowler can change an entire cricket match with one delivery, this is patently untrue in baseball.

In baseball, a hitter can change the complexity of a game with a single swing – which is simply impossible in cricket.

Pitchers in baseball need hours to prove their dominance of a given game – the same is true for batsman in cricket.

And bowlers in cricket need only one decent ball to become heroes – just like baseball batters only need one good swing.

This sums up the difference between the two sports – they are oceans apart at the cores because of these role reversals.

And because of that, I don’t think the two sports can really be compared to each other, fairly.  (Even though many folks have done so, including me, on many an occasion.)

All of this is just my opinion, of course, and you are welcome to disagree – but I do think that like most American cricket fans, this is one subject I am uniquely qualified for.

*

Back on the pitch: so much has happened that I have failed to write about.

Sri Lanka v England, West Indies v Australia, the IPL, County Cricket, The Two Chucks the list goes on.

And it is a golden age for an American cricket fan, as well.  Cricinfo has ball by ball coverage of County Cricket, while Willow.TV has been “televising” both #slveng and #wivaus on their website (not youtube.com/willow, but on their flagship, willow.tv).

Now I am just counting down the days until the English international summer starts – the first test at Lord’s against the West Indies is only one month and six days away.  To get me through, I still have two more test matches down in the Caribbean to enjoy – nothing makes a work day better than a test match to keep track of.

Until next time.  Thanks for reading.

Cardinals vs Marlins at Miami, Major League Baseball

This morning, in Chennai, the fifth season of the Indian Premiere League opened with an eight wicket win for Mumbai over the hosts at the MA Chidabaram Stadium:

Meanwhile, tonight, in Miami, the St. Louis Cardinals are playing the Miami (?) Marlins, in brand spanking new Marlins Park, in the opening game of the 2012 Major League Baseball season:

Finally, tomorrow morning, the 122nd County Championship starts up with four first-division, first-class, four-day matches, taking place throughout England.

I had to pick one ground to post a picture of, so I picked the Oval:

A big day for the bat and ball sports of the world – and I am very much looking forward to all three campaigns.