No, I am not talking about Sri Lanka’s attack this morning in Colombo, I am actually talking about myself, and this blog. I just cannot, for the life of me, think of something worth writing about.
Which is crazy, when you think about it, consider all that is happening in cricket these days, but especially considering there is an international cricket match happening right now…in the United States. That’s right: the West Indies versus New Zealand in a Twenty20 math at the Central Broward Regional Park Stadium Turf Ground in Lauderhill, Florida. It looks as the Windies are going to pull it out, as well, thank mostly to Chris Gayle’s 85 off of 52.
The Kiwis need 57 runs with only 10 deliveries remaining as I type, and so at this point I think the phrase “in the bag” holds true for the West Indies.
But despite the fact that cricket is happening in my home country, and despite the fact that there are a pleothra of interesting other subjects, cricket related, to discuss, I just do not feel in the mood.
This has happened before, and I usually just took some time away from the blog. But this time, instead, I am going to force myself to write: one post a day, for the next five days.
There have been some interesting upsets in world cricket over the last week or so.
Seventh ranked Sri Lanka defeated sixth ranked Pakistan in a test match in Galle, (the same Pakistan side (more or less) that whitewashed the number one test side, England, earlier this year); 12th ranked Zimbabwe won a T20 triangular series against the Bangladesh and South Africa XIs; and the Afghanistan U-19s defeated the Bangladesh U-19s at the U-19 Asia Cup – the same Afghanistan U-19 side (more or less) that lost to the UNITED STATES U-19 side earlier this year.
And, so, a couple upsets. But it brings up an interesting subject:
Most professional leagues throughout the world strive for it, mostly via financial rules such as equity sharing…etc., but also with programs such as the Premiere League’s “homegrown” rule and other roster related rules. But world cricket simply does not have the ability to enact similar rules. All they can really do is try to ensure that players are playing for the country they are supposed to be playing for, and most of that trying is in vain, as we know.
And so what can the ICC do to ensure parity? To ensure each ODI side is capable of winning a World Cup (at least on paper)? To ensure that all ten test playing nations are capable of giving every other test nation a decent run for their money?
I don’t have the definitive answers to those questions, but I think they are terribly important questions nonetheless.
And to their credit, the ICC is, well, trying. There are developmental leagues, youth tournaments, Associate only competitions. They let minnows into the world cup, and they do not give nations test status without first doing their due diligence.
But obviously the problem remains.
I am not entirely sure of the algorithm behind the ICC ranking systems, but there is quite obviously a tremendous gap in class between the top three test nations (England, South Africa, and Australia) and the bottom three (New Zealand, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe). Of course, there is a great gap between those two sets of countries in size, population, and GDP, as well, and there just is not much the ICC can do about that. Furthermore, the first three have been playing tests for far longer than the second three and the Bangladeshes and Zimbabwes of the world simply might need more time to develop.
And one thing the ICC is doing that I applaud is selecting lower level test sides to host major tournaments. I mean, there were World Cup matches in Bangladesh last year, and Sri Lanka is due to hose the T20 World Cup this fall. Those tournaments help line the coffers of the cricket boards, and help promote cricket generally among the populace.
What the ICC needs to do is ensure that that money is going back into cricket development, AND it needs to ensure that the domestic leagues are taking full advantage of any surges in popularity cricket sees in the host countries.
Again, I have no answers.
Every dedicated cricket follower will tell you that the future of the sport depends on a strong West Indies, a strong Pakistan…etc. But I don’t think we should expect the domestic boards to do it themselves, I think the ICC needs to step in and do what they can to level the playing field.
This is a subject I will be talking about more going forward.
“Now that our economy is going to the dogs
Maybe we’ll have flamenco music like they’ve always done in Spain
Maybe we’ll have a champion like Rafael Nadal
Full of passion and the need to prove himself time and again
And maybe Hollywood starts making movies that the world can love
Sad and bittersweet and full of pain…”
– Dan Bern, “Raining in Madrid”
On Tuesday night, I watched the Mexican film, Amores Perros. It is a profoundly beautiful, yet profoundly wrenching, film – and it continues to haunt me now still days later. It was not an easy film to watch, but I am thrilled that I watched it.
Like The Deer Hunter, or Brokeback Mountain, or more recently, No Country for Old Men, it is one of those films that you struggle to get through because you know that tragedy and pain are the only logical conclusions for all of the characters, but you still want to watch it again as soon as it ends. It is sad without being manipulative, and while it is horrifically violent, it is not violent simply for the shock value, the violence instead feels like another character in the film – it feels integral.
I highly recommend it.
I am not the first person to say this (see Dan Bern lyrics above) but Latin filmmakers have a certain knack for passionate, gritty, sad filmmaking that Americans just do not possess. This is not to say that Latin movies overall are better than American movies – there are of course many, many wonderful American films, and surely just as many terrible Latin films – but they have qualities that American films do not. Not necessarily better, but definitely different, and quite worthy of one’s time.
The same could be said for world sport and American sport. Cricket and baseball. Football and soccer.
Not better. Not worse. Just different.
And worthy of one’s time.
I think American sports fans should all take the time and learn to understand not just the rules of European sport, but also get to know the passion, the grit, the sadness, and the joy of soccer, cricket, rugby. As I think it would add to their overall enjoyment of baseball and gridiron football. Like traveling to distant places forces you to look at your home with a different perspective, and to ultimately understand it better.
In other words: Americans: quit being so insular: get out there and experience all that this big old world has to offer: its art, its film – and its sport.
The first test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan is still two days away. The dead rubber between England and the West Indies is not happening until Friday either. We are two weeks out from the England v Australia ODIs, and the SA-ZIM-BANG tri-series just is not my cup of tea. And on top of all of that, county cricket is in the midst of the Friends Life T20, a competition that just does not do it for me.
This morning, the top stories on Cricinfo were a selection brouhaha involving Younis Khan, Daniel Vettori announcing that he was making himself available for the World T20s in September, some New Zealand contract something something, and a note about the aforementioned tri-series.
You know the cricket world is experiencing a lull when fully 50% of Cricinfo’s headlines are about New Zealand cricket.
That is not a knock on my Kiwi friends; but rather a statement on the fact that New Zealand is treated like the red-headed stepchild of the cricketing world.
South Africa’s decision to turn the traditional Boxing Day test into a non-traditional Boxing Day twenty20 is just another checkmark in the “step-child” column for New Zealand cricket.
This despite the fact that they always seem to make a bit of noise in one-day international tournaments, and actually have a mildly decent record in test cricket.
In the 371 tests they have played since obtaining test status in 1930, they have won 71, drawn 151, and lost the rest. That’s a draw/win versus losing percentage of nearly 60%.
England’s draw/win versus losing percentage since 1930?
And they played almost 400 more tests in that time period than NZ did.
Okay, whatever, nevermind about the tests.
My point is that for whatever reason, New Zealand cricket gets roundly ignored by everyone outside of New Zealand. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe get more press it seems, even. And I think that’s a shame. They are a cricket loving nation that makes noise in World Cups, has lovely cricket grounds, and more often than not puts a quality test side on the pitch.
Their current side is made up of several young and exciting cricketers that I am looking forward to watching develop over the next few years:
And so what’s next for these young cricketers:
The West Indies for two Twenty20s, five ODIs, and two tests. Then to India in August for two tests and two Twenty20s.
After the T20 World Cup, they travel to South Africa for two Twenty20s, two tests, and three ODIs, and then finally it is off to England for two tests, five ODIs, two Twenty20s, and the Champions Trophy.
A big 12 months for New Zealand cricket is on the horizon. Not one home match, and visits to South Africa, India, and England. I do not envy them, it is not going to be easy, but if they can win a series here, and a series there, and make it to the knockout stages of the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy, then people just might start talking about them again – and not just on slow news days.
This morning, at 5:00am British Standard Time, cricketer Tom Maynard was struck and killed by a train. He was only 23 years old.
I was planning on writing about Greece this morning, and maybe a bit about Ian Bell, but then the news about Maynard’s death hit the wires, and so I scratched those plans.
I did not know him personally, nor was I really that aware of him as a cricketer, but based on the outpouring of sadness and grief I have witnessed over the last few hours, it sounds as if he was one of the good guys, and a rather fine cricketer, as well. Not that the latter really matters, in the end.
But then again, it kind of does.
When a young person dies, even someone we did not know, all of us are forced to re-examine our own mortality, and try to rediscover what really is important in life: moments not things, people not possesions.
And when that young person is a world class athlete, our mortality is even further clarified. Death can happen at any moment, to anyone. And thereby every second is sacred. Cherish them all.
As I said, I did not know Tom Maynard, but his death got to me this morning when I heard the news.
Only 23. What a waste.
Some people will cast spurious glances at those of us who grieve when celebrities die – but I think it is perfectly okay to mourn those in the spotlight, even if they were not close friends or family. Their lives touch ours in very unique ways, and so it follows that their deaths would do so, as well.
Last weekend, I attended a Minnesota Twins baseball game. They played the Chicago Cubs, whom they defeated 11-3 in entertaining fashion. It was a lovely afternoon for a ball game. I had a few beers and baked in the early summer sunshine.
Often times I forget about Target Field. It really is a lovely stadium, despite its lack of history. But even Fenway Park had to start somewhere. Every once in a while, when I am pining over the MCG, Lord’s, and Wankhede, it is nice to remember that I have a world class stadium in my backyard. Wrong sport, of course, but still…
And baseball, despite its flaws, is a lovely game. Full of America and history. The play itself has a balance to it that I really enjoy. You are not constantly sitting on the edge of your seat like you are in a football match, but there is just enough action to keep you occupied. Further, the game has its little moments that I enjoy, like when the crowd got on an opposing batsman for repeatedly asking the umpire for time.
Yesterday, I mentioned that cricket was the best parts of baseball, tennis, and golf. And while I stand by that, I want it to be clear that baseball and cricket are vastly different games. They should never be mentioned in the same breath, even.
Also a few days ago I mentioned that cricket needs to cease thinking that its three different formats are competing against each other, and in that same vein, American cricket fans need to stop seeing baseball in competition with cricket. The two sports are incomparable, and one can enjoy both equally and separately. (Brandon Decker from the Forward Defensive is a great example of an American who gets it.)
One point I thought of during Spain-Ireland last night: in cricket, the bowler earns the hattrick – a stat normally set aside for the offensive side of games: football, hockey…etc. And that’s just it, in cricket, the boys in the field are the offense, the ATTACK, not the defense. Baseball is the polar opposite. The games are incomparable.
Being an American cricket fan can be a bit of a lonely existence. It’s frustrating to me because I honestly do think that most of my friends who are sports fans would enjoy the sport, as once you get past the stereotype that it is an uppity British lawn game, it really is enjoyable sporting entertainment. Take the best parts of baseball, tennis, and golf, and you get cricket.
Furthermore, I think that even non-sports fans can find things they like about the cricket. The history, the politics, the humor, the great writing…
And, so, today, I bring you: things about cricket that everyone can love:
The Two Chucks
This is a no brainer. The Two Chucks, or the Chuck Fleetwood Smiths, are two freelance writers, Sampson Collins and Jarrod Kimber, who do a daily videocast for Cricinfo during marquee test matches.
Originally, they were Two Pricks at the Ashes, but then ESPN snatched them up, changed their name, and promoted them to the big time. At first I was unsure about the change, but the show is still a brilliant eight and a half minutes of jokes and commentary on the day’s play.
They know their cricket, but they also know their limitations. I look forward to every episode.
Oh, and Sam Collins is a strikingly handsome Englishman with a voice that will make you weak in the knees (yes, even you), Jarrod writes an incredibly entertaining blog (more on that in a second), and they are making a movie about test cricket.
There are four cricketing blogs that I think my friends would all enjoy, apart from my own, of course:
Lyrical, evocative, sad, humorous. And he talks cricket in layman’s terms. Not all nuts and bolts and fielding positions. He writes like I wish I could write.
Here he is, on fielding:
“Most of all though it’s a mood thing. Sometimes, on a beautiful ground it’s just too churlish, too ungrateful, to do anything except be thankful that you’re there. Other times it’s about smothering anxiety, killing boredom, finding humour and life in the little things. Occasionally it’s just about getting it over with, and every now and again it can be extraordinary. The art is to do it while not doing it, to let it wash over you, its lulling effect opening the window to an implacably calm interior state that can resist its length and its demands and takes you somewhere else until you come up smiling.”
The link in the above quote goes to my favorite cricket blog post ever.
These fellas never cease to entertain. Their references might at times be too obscure for non-cricket fans, it is a good spot to read and laugh and realize that most cricket fans don’t take themselves all that seriously.
This is Jarrod Kimber’s blog, as mentioned above. Just like the previous site, Jarrod’s writing for the most part takes on the lighter side of the game, but he also tackles more serious topics, like Sri Lankan politics. He is a fantastic, and I mean FANTASTIC writer, and I think all fans of good, solid writing will enjoy CWB. He is cricket’s version of Hunter S. Thompson. No hyperbole.
This one might be a bit of a stretch, as it is very “cricket”, but the writing is the perfect balance between poetry and nuts&bolts cricket-talk. It is written primarily by Gary Naylor, who also travels throughout Europe writing theater reviews. His “final overs” columns are the highlights of my week. Bonus: he writes a lot about County Cricket, which I appreciate.
“Slinga'” Malinga is the only cricketer my wife could pick out of a lineup. The only one. He has curly hair, looks fantastic in Sri Lankan blue, and has the most wicked delivery in cricket today. His bowling makes grown men weep, albeit mostly tail enders. I could watch him bowl all day. Everyone could:
Unfortunately, for all of us, he has retired from test cricket, but he still plays plenty of one-dayers for both club and country.
The Twenty20 Format
Now, of course, we are into the actual game, but I still think everyone could enjoy a T20: the matches are only around three hours long, and there are plenty of sixes (home runs), and wickets. Plus there are cheerleaders, music, big crowds, and great atmospheres.
The format, for all its flaws, is a great introduction to the game.
Most county grounds in England allow you to bring your own booze into the ground. And, really, who doesn’t enjoy sitting outside in the sun for nine hours, drinking beer, and chatting? No one.
I have never attended a cricket match, but from what I hear, it is less about watching every ball, and more about having a drink, and a snack, and chatting with your neighbors. Sounds like a good time to me.
Plus, there are all the folks in fancy dress to keep you entertained, even during the most boring of matches.
And, well, that’s about it. The game itself is, honestly, infinitely entertaining, but the above I think is a fair sampling of all there is to enjoy outside the lines. I hope my fellow cricket loving readers will add more in the comments.
One developing story that I have yet to comment on was the news that the traditional Boxing Day test in South Africa will be replaced this year by a Twenty20. Most pundits bemoaned the decision: calling it tragic, a disgrace, a break from holy tradition.
And at first, I agreed. If this had been Australia that had cancelled its Boxing Day test, I too would have been calling for heads, mostly because Australian test matches are Central Time Zone friendly. But since it was the South African test instead, I was able to approach the subject with a cooler head.
And I like the decision.
It shows some of that “outside of the box” thinking that cricket boards throughout the world are going to need to embrace if the game we love is going to survive this tumultuous period. Sometimes, tradition needs to be sacrificed for the overall sustainability of the organization the tradition initially supported. Vatican II took away the Latin mass; CSA takes away the Boxing Day test.
Unfortunately, the decision is quite correctly another check-mark in the Win column for the shortest format in its ongoing competition against the longest format, but the sooner we all stop thinking about it as a competition, the better. At some point, test cricket fans are going to need come to grips with the fact that the Twenty20 is here to stay. But then again so is Test Cricket. These are growing pains. Nothing more. And decisions like CSA’s, counterintuitively, are necessary evils in the pursuit of the over-reaching goal: the peaceful the peaceful coexistence of the two formats.
Today, there was a football match. Russia versus Poland. In Warsaw. On Russia Day. With a German referee.
It was terribly poor planning from UEFA. Now, I am not saying they should have cancelled the match, or moved the match, or swapped out the referee, but it all seems so…purposeful. Like they wanted to stoke the fires of Nationalism. They could have removed any or all of those qualifiers, but instead they let it all go forward. And they did so because they had a vested interest in the match: controversy sells tickets, it increases viewership, and it makes for a more lucrative product to sell to advertisers.
Their history is too long, and there is just too much potential for violence. Again, I am loathe to involve politics in sport, but UEFA simply should not allow Russia to play Poland, in Warsaw, on Russia Day, with a German referee.
Thankfully, despite reports of violence in the Russian’s pre-match march through the city center, and despite the Russians unfurling a massive “This Is Russia” banner during the national anthem, the match seemed to go off okay. The ref did a great job avoiding flash points, as one dodgy penalty call could have set of a thunderstorm of violence, and the fans for their part seemed more interested in what was an engrossing football match than they did in picking fights with supporters across the aisle.
Kudos as well to the players for not inciting violence with tasteless celebrations or gestures.
In the end, I guess, maybe UEFA is right. Maybe the game is bigger than petty nationalism; maybe fans, players, and referees can behave themselves no matter the history; maybe I am not giving anyone involved quite enough credit.
No such peace flags will be offered to the members of the media who covered the match, however, as they did not nothing for two days but salivate over the prospect of the ancient enemies doing battle on the football pitch. In Warsaw. On Russia Day. And the violence that might occur in the alleys or on the terraces.
For they know quite well that casual NASCAR fans watch for the crashes – and casual football fans watch for the riots. And the more viewers, the more money.
Which, at the end of the day, defines the real evil in all of this:
Whether it is a football match in Poland or a cricket game in Port Elizabeth. Money is the root of all decisions, be they good or bad.
Hopefully, for all our sakes, those decisions drive us closer to the former, rather than the latter.
A rain shortened dead rubber in Birmingham means more history here on Limited Overs.
England’s first match after World War 2 was against India on June 22-25, 1946, at Lord’s.
The Allies had officially declared victory at 2:41am on May the 7th, 1945, but despite the throngs that filled London to celebrate peace that spring, and despite what our history books tell us, the victory rang hollow and cold.
That summer saw the nuclear devastation in Hiroshima and Nagaski, as well as the beginnings of the Cold War. In July of 1945, Churchill was ousted from power by the Labor Party, and England was left alone by its former Allies to lick its wounds – the USA had cancelled lend-lease without notice, and only after much cajoling did congress agree to lend them money to rebuild: money that they would not fully repay until 2006.
England was a shell of its former self. There was a housing shortage, a food shortage, and a morale shortage. The bombings had ceased, but so had the sense of community they had created. English society was fractured, their buildings destroyed, and their economy broken.
Their opponents at Lord’s, India, were also in a state of post-war flux. As an English colony, they had committed an all-volunteer army to the war effort – almost 2.5 million strong at its height. They fought in Western Europe, Italy, North Africa, and throughout Asia reclaiming territory for the allies after Japan’s surrender – almost 70,000 Indians were killed in the fighting.
Unlike England, but like the USA, India had not experienced any fighting on its home soil, and entered peacetime stronger than ever – especially financially. This strength would assist them in their formal declaration of independence in 1947 – making the series in the summer of ’46 their last series against England as a colony.
The only dark mark on India during the wars years was a devastating famine in Bengal – caused by overly drastic rationing. Historians differ on how many lives were lost, but the number hovers around 3million souls.
(Side note: as I was reading through a report on World War 2 casualties by country, I saw that China lost 10-20 million people during the war – mostly civilians during Japanese occupation. I had no idea. A sad commentary on the average American’s understanding of history.)
And that was the backdrop as the coin was flipped at Lord’s on the morning of June the 22nd. 30,000 people turned out that day, and the gates were closed by noon. India won the toss and chose to have a bat.
Sir Alec Bedser’s seven wickets restricted the visitors to just 200 all out. England responded with an entertaining 428 – thanks to a double century from the always elegant Joe Hardstaff.
India’s second innings was not much better than its first. Sir Alec took another four wickets and the visitors were bowled out for 275 – which put them only 48 runs ahead of England. The home side knocked those off before one o’clock on the third day – giving them a 10 wicket win to usher in the post-war cricketing era.
Between 1877 (the year of their first test match) and 1939, England had played in 243 tests: winning 100, losing 72, and drawing 71. A winning percentage of 42% and a win/draw percentage of 70%.
Between June of ’46 and their win at Trent Bridge last week, England has 679 tests: winning 229, losing 193, and drawing 257. A winning percentage of 34% and a win/draw percentage of 72%.
Obviously, those numbers are a bit misleading, as while some test teams, like India, have improved greatly since 1946, the number of minnows playing tests has been greatly expanded. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe account for 11 of those 229 wins and three of those 257 draws, for instance.
Either way, I don’t think the 10 point drop in winning percentage speaks of England’s decline – I think it is instead emblematic of their inability to maintain their dominance in an increasingly competitive cricketing marketplace.
Which, in turn, is a metaphor for the United Kingdom’s overall place in our modern world.
Despite the fact that the Germans were the capitulators in May of 1945, England’s victory did not launch them into the stratosphere, like it launched the USA or India. And that’s how war works, I guess. To the victor go the spoils? Not necessarily. The spoils go to those that remained out of range of the bullets.
Rain in Edgbaston this morning, looks as though the entire day is going to be a wash, so I’d thought I would take this opportunity to talk about the history between England and the West Indies:
The West Indies have played England in 145 test matches, dating back to June of 1928. England have won 45, the West Indies have won 53, and there have been 49 draws. (West Indies have also won three more ODIs and two more T20s.) And, so, at the very least, West Indian fans can enjoy the fact that their boys hold the advantage in the overall series history. A draw in the third match would make that advantage even safer, going forward. So I guess they have at least something to play for.
But back to 1928, and the first test between England and the West Indies: Lords, June 23-26. England won by an innings and 58 runs. They went on to win the series 3-0.
England traveled to the Caribbean in ’29-’30, and the West Indies earned a draw in the five test series.
They played three more series in the 1930s, England won in England in 1933, the West Indies won in the West Indies in ’34-35, and England won again at home in the summer of…1939.
The last match of the series in ’39 ended in a draw at the Oval on August the 22nd. One year and one day later, the Luftwaffe would carry out an all night bombing raid on London, thus beginning what is now known as the Blitz.
Five months before the series started, in March of 1939, the Germans had invaded Czechoslovakia. Two weeks after the match ended, in September of 1939, the Germans invaded Poland, an event known historically as the official start to the War. Surely the fans at the Oval that day in August felt the winds of war on their cheeks as they watched the cricket. One last afternoon in the sun, before six long dark years of war.
It was a three day match. 1,216 runs were scored, but only 23 wickets fell. England opened with 352, an 80 from Buddy Oldfield and a 73 from Sir Leonard Hutton the stand out scores.
…Hutton suffered a compound fracture of his left arm during commando training in 1941, it took eight months of rehab to heal him, and when he was discharged his left arm was two inches shorter than his right arm. But he went on to play in 63 more tests for England, scoring almost 7,000 runs for an average of 56.67…
The West Indies responded with 498 runs, including 137 in just two and a quarter hours from Bam Bam Weekes.
…Weekes only played in two test matches. He moved to the USA after the war, became a nurse, fathered six children, and died in New York in 1998 at the ripe old age of 86…
England scored 366 in their second innings, but the match was well past any hope for a result. Hutton scored 165 in five hours for the home team, whilst the great Wally Hammond scored 138 in just three.
…Hammond is one of my favorite cricketers of all time. I will let Cricinfo do the talking for me…
According to Wisden, it was a well attended and highly entertaining match. The West Indians played “carefree” and joyful cricket, and Hammond’s lightning quick 138 included a crowd pleasing 21 fours – and for all three days the Oval was soaked in brilliant late summer sunshine.
But it couldn’t last forever.
And so on Tuesday, August the 22nd, 1939, at six o’clock in the evening, in front of 9,000 spectators, the players walked off the field.
England would not play another test match until 1946.
In the interim, 450,900 British citizens would die due to military activity. Just a hair shy of 1% of their total population.
The first test of that 1939 series against the West Indies was played at Lord’s on June 24-27. England won by eight wickets. Playing in that match was none other than Hedley Verity, well known as England’s best pre-War slow bowler.
He had played in 378 first class matches for Yorkshire up to that point, and 40 tests for England, taking 29,145 and 144 wickets, respectively. His performance at Lord’s that June was just average, at least it was for a player like Verity. He took two wickets for a tidy 54 runs.
It would be his last test match for England. He would play a few more matches for Yorkshire that summer, and his last ever cricket match would see him take 7 for 9 to bowl Sussex out for 33.*
Four summers later, he would die as a prisoner of war in Italy on July the 31st, 1943, at the age of 38.
He received his fatal wounds whilst leading a charge on German positions in Catania, Sicily. Supposedly, his last words were to his men: “Keep going, keep going, keep going.”