Meta

Entirely.

Bereft.

Of ideas.

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.

Stay tuned, this could get interesting.

Parity

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:

Parity.

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.

Amores Perros

“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.

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Slow news day, so let’s talk about New Zealand

Today: a lull.

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?

72%.

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.

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Perspectives

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.

Rest in peace, Tom.

Polar Opposites

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.

A few pics from last weekend:

Enjoy the weekend.

Outside the Lines

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.

Blogs

There are four cricketing blogs that I think my friends would all enjoy, apart from my own, of course:

The Old Batsman:

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.

Alternative Cricket (cricket for grown ups):

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.

Cricket With Balls:

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.

He is also a published author.

99.94:

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.

Lasith Malinga

“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.

It’s boozey

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.

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.

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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.