God Defend New Zealand

This afternoon, as I was thinking about the 2nd test between New Zealand and India that starts tonight it suddenly struck me: I talk a lot about New Zealand on this blog.

I am not sure if I talk about them more than England, or India, or Australia, or any other major test playing nation, but I do talk about them more than other of the “fringe” test playing nations: the West Indies, Pakistan, Sri Lanka Bangladesh, Zimbabwe…etc. And I really do not understand why this is. I am not particularly enamored with any of their former or current cricketers, and actually I think that their former captain, Daniel Vettori, looks like a complete doofus in his glasses (note: I wear glasses). I have also never visited the country, and honestly know very little about it other than Lord of the Rings, rugby, Flight of the Choncords, and sheep. Oh, my sister has visited there once, as has my friend Arzu, and both have said it is just wonderful. And now that I think about it, the few interactions I have had on Twitter with New Zealanders have been beyond pleasant.

And so it is odd that I write about their cricket so much, and sad that I know so little about their cricketing past, and so little about their history overall.

Therefore, I present to you, dear reader: a brief history of New Zealand, using cricket as a backdrop.

(Two quick fun facts first. Actually, not really “fun” as much as important and awesome):

1. In 1984, at the height of the Cold War, New Zealand banned nuclear weapons. Sea, land, and air space became what are known as “nuclear free zones.” This is the opposite of, say, Pakistan, which takes such odd and immense pride in its nuclear weapons program, and I think a fantastic vanguard for western civilization. More info here.

2. In 1893, they became the first nation to grant women the right to vote. 25 years before the United States passed the 19th amendment.

Now on to the history:

New Zealand was one of the last pieces of land settled by humans, due to its remoteness – initially settlement did not begin until 1280 CE. In 1642 when it was “discovered” by the Dutch, the Maori aboriginal culture was the dominant culture of the land.

Europeans began to immigrate and dominate the landscape over the next 200 years, culminating in a treaty between the British in the Maori in 1837 and the imposition of British Law. It was also about this time that Charles Darwin reported seeing a game of cricket being played by freed Maori slaves.

The first recorded game took place in 1842 in Wellington.

In 1852, New Zealand created its first representational government separate, though still subservient to, British Authority. This is followed by a long period of Maori resistance; resistance that would continue for many, many decades.

In 1907, Britain granted New Zealand Dominion status, 20 years later the national cricket team toured England, and three years later they were granted test status, playing, and losing, their first test to England in January 1930 at Christchurch.

In 1947, a year which saw their cricketers play England again at Christchurch, securing a draw this time, New Zealand parliament passed the Statute of  Westminster Act, thereby giving their parliament full control of the country, and the ability to amend their constitution, but not releasing them completely from British control. That would not happen until 1986, when the Constitution Act ended the British right to pass laws for New Zealand. 1986 was also a banner year for the Kiwi cricketers: playing six tests (three against Australia in New Zealand and three against England in England) where they won two and drew four, losing none.

Throughout the 20th century, being a westernized nation, New Zealand experienced many of the same ebbs and flows as the rest of the western world: the influenza outbreak, World War One, the Great Depression, World War Two, as well their own version of a civil rights movement. (I want to read much, much more about the Maori people, and I apologize profusely for not including them more in this brief history than I did). Along the way, their cricket team played in 354 test matches, winning 71 and losing 148. They also had their heroes in Bert Sutcliffe, Jack Cowie, Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, Chris Cairns, and the aforementioned Daniel Vettori.

They also have made their share of noise in one-day tournaments: making the semi-finals of the World Cup SIX times, and losing every time. In 2000, they won the Champions Trophy, and in 2007 they made it to the semi-finals of the inaugural World T20 Championship  – which they lost.

Finally, one cannot discuss New Zealand cricket without bringing up the underarm incident. That video has over 6.7 million views on YouTube. Amazing.

The last words I will leave to New Zealand’s own Neil Finn and his band Crowded House…this is easily one of my favorites songs from the 80s:

(I would link to the proper video but it makes you watch a Justin Bieber ad):

Two Teams to Watch

After beating England in the second ODI by 80 runs today in Southampton, South Africa are now the number one side in the world: in all three formats.

They also dominate the Player Rankings in the Test category: Amla is the second best batsman; Steyn and Philander are one and two in the bowling category; and Kallis is the number two all rounder.

In other words, no other country comes close to South Africa’s dominance of world cricket over the last two years.

Yes, I know, they have a dismal record in knockout competitions, but that is really the only strike against them. And I honestly believe they will make a great deal of noise at the World Twenty20s next month. If they win in Sri Lanka, then that last strike is gone. And if they have a better year than England did as world Test number one, then they surely will have cemented themselves as one of the best all around sides ever.

They can win the short game, they can win the long game. They can win on friendly pitches and they can win on alien pitches.

And, finally, and least importantly to some but most importantly to the game itself, they do it with style. Who doesn’t like watching Amla bat? Steyn bowl? No one. That’s who.

It is going to be an interesting next 12 months for two of cricket’s quietest test nations: South Africa and New Zealand. The former to prove themselves one of the best ever, and the latter to prove themselves one of the present day elite nations.

I know my latter sounds ridiculous, especially considering how they were dismantled by India in the first test a few days ago, but if they can win a couple big matches (and they have A LOT of big matches over the next year) and if they can get over the semi-final hump at the World Twenty20, then I think all of cricket will need to start paying attention to New Zealand.

The Saffers and the Kiwis: two teams to watch over the next year.

Speaking of…

Yesterday this blog received its most impressions ever in one day – the total was nearly five times my normal daily traffic, and more than double the old record. But what was driving it all is a complete mystery.

This is what I do know:

– The vast majority of the visitors were from the United States

– The vast majority of the visitors came directly to my home page

That’s it. That’s all WordPress Stats can tell me. No referrers, nothing.

And what’s weird is that I have not posted since Tuesday. Hell I did not even tweet yesterday.

I am blogging about this because if you, dear reader, know where the traffic all came from, please let me know in the comments. Please. Seriously. The mystery is killing me.

And speaking of mysteries:

Today I tuned into Willow.TV hoping to watch some of the first ODI between England and South Africa, but instead I saw rain. And so I switched over to ESPN3 for the Sri Lanka Premiere League. The match was a group stage game between Wayamba United and Kandurata Warriors.

I must say, it was a joy to watch. The cricket was not the best in the world, but it was joyful, loose, and entertaining all the same. United sliced through the Warriors’ openers, leaving them at one stage 14-3. But an 80 off of 51 for the shockingly odd looking Australian, Chris Lynn, gave the Warriors hope, setting a target of 150 for United to chase…which they couldn’t do; falling two runs short.

I hope to watch more SLPL in the future. The knockout stages start on August 28th and the final is on August 31st. Considering today is the 24th, probably a good thing I tuned in when I did, otherwise I might have missed the whole thing.

And speaking of domestic T20 competitions, the semi-finals and the final of the Friends Life T20 is on August 25th in Cardiff. Sussex versus Yorkshire in the first semi-final, and Hampshire versus Somerset in the second. The possibility of rain notwithstanding, it should be a great day of cricket. Unfortunately, I will not be able to watch it, because Willow TV is not showing any county cricket whatsoever this summer.

And speaking of cricket I cannot watch, the new-look India is playing New Zealand in a test match at Hyderabad. And, again, I have been unable to watch. Now I freely admit that the main reason I cannot watch this match is the time difference. However, I cannot stress enough how unfortunate it is that it is not available for legal streaming here in the states. Someone, somewhere, is missing out on a fantastic business opportunity. Willow TV could double their subscribers over night. Heck they might even make enough dough to finally update their website. And personally, I love watching test cricket on the subcontinent, but with the exception of Bangladesh, I never, ever get to watch it. Ever.

*UPDATE*: Cheers to Devanshu from Deep Backward Point for letting me know that India versus New Zealand is on Willow TV. Huzzah!

*FURTHER UPDATE*: According to their website, Willow TV is going to be showing the following series:

New Zealand in India, Indian domestic cricket, England in India (!!!), Pakistan in India, and Australia in India, on top of all the other cricket they already show. Fantastic!

And gosh were they planning on telling anyone?

*EVEN MORE UPDATE*:

I posted this blog at 3:05 central time. I received an e-mail at 3:39 central time from Willow announcing the changes.

A real shame.

On the pitch however, the post-Dravid and post-VVS India are looking more than just okay against a weakened New Zealand side. Despite the fact that England have fallen off as of late, I am still excited to see what they can muster against these young Indian cricketers this fall.

And speaking of cricket I can watch: I found out two days ago that the entire ICC World Twenty20 will be available live here in the states on ESPN3. Every ball. Free. On the Internet. Lovely.

And speaking of lovely, and speaking of VVS, and speaking of Dravid:

Miss you guys.

Looking Forward

Yesterday, in one of the more interesting days of test cricket in a very long time, South Africa defeated England at Lord’s to end the hosts year long reign as the number one test side in the world.

It is South Africa’s turn at the top of the table now, and we will see what they can do with it.

England, for instance, became number one after white washing India at home last summer. After which they promptly collapsed. Losing to Pakistan, drawing with Sri Lanka, beating West Indies (though hardly convincingly), and losing to South Africa.

And so what’s next for the saffers?

Australia in November for three tests, then back home to host New Zealand for two and Pakistan for three. Then, in July of 2013, they head to Sri Lanka for three.

And so in the next year the number one test side will play 11 tests against four different sides. The total ICC test points for those four sides (current totals): 11,604.

As a comparison, England, in their year as number one, also played 11 test matches against four different sides. The total ICC test points for those fours sides (current totals): 11,493.

In other words, South Africa’s next 12 months are going to be just as difficult as England’s previous 12, and it will be quite interesting to see how they handle the pressure of being number one.

The first series, against Australia, is one that I am already looking forward to. Now I am no expert on the ICC points system, but as near as I can tell, if India whitewashes England this fall (entirely possible), then Australia can become number one with a three test white wash of South Africa. (Please correct me if I am wrong).

How crazy would that be? Not two years removed from the horror that was the 2010-11 Ashes Series, Australia could once again be the number one test side.

Like I said, I am looking forward to it already. I really do love the Australia cricketing summer. Not because I like Australian cricket. Far from it, really. In fact, I find most Australian cricketers rather disagreeable. Instead I love the Australian summer because I have mentioned before, the matches correspond so well to my schedule here in the States. The majority of the matches are on during prime time evening hours. I watch more cricket during the Australian summer than during any other time of the year.

The South African series consists of three tests (ugh), Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth. All three should make for fantastic viewing.

That’s the thing about cricket: always something to look forward to.

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Melancholympics

Melancholympics (noun): that feeling of emptiness one experiences on the Monday after the Olympic Closing Ceremonies

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I find the Olympic Closing Ceremonies very depressing. Not because of the aging rock stars or any other of the standard closing ceremony ridiculousness, but for a couple other reasons.

First of all, it’s like putting the Christmas tree away when you are a kid. That thing that you had spent months looking forward to is all of a sudden utterly and completely over. I really do love the Olympics, and I am sad when they are over, in other words.

Secondly, and most importantly, because they only happen every two years, the Closing Ceremonies really do make one evaluate their own mortality, their situation, their life in general. Where will I be in two years when the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi kickoff? What about in four years when the summer games open in Rio?

Four years is a long time. A lot can change. Positive change, negative change, neutral change. It’s kind of scary when you think about it.

It just makes me melancholy. Will the people I love still be here in two years? In four?

There is a line in a really great Erin McKeown song called “Daisy and Prudence” that goes: “This is a moment we’ll mark time by.”

And, well, I guess I mark time by the Olympics.

That’s all.

Tomorrow, more cricket, I promise.

Programming Notes

As I mentioned over on Twitter, the U19 World Cup and the Sri Lanka Premiere League are both available to US viewers in their entirety on ESPN3.

I have my issues with ESPN. Their sports as entertainment rather than athletics mission (see their idiotic “Who’s More Now?” campaign from a few years back), as well as their east coast bias have always turned me off. But ESPN3 is one thing they do very, very well.

Let me backtrack a bit: I don’t have cable. I watch all my cricket via Willow.TV, and all my other sport via ESPN3 or I head on down to the Pub. (My pub here in Minneapolis is The Local, if you ever happen to visit.) (And let me know if you do, I will buy you a drink.) (I do not watch illegal streams. It is a personal choice. I do not think you are a bad person if you do).

Despite this handicap, and despite the fact the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championships are only on ESPN’s family of networks, and despite the fact that ESPN is a cable only network, I was able to large nearly every kick of the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012: thanks to ESPN3. It is a fantastic product. It is sport for everyone. I do not think that ESPN’s motives are pure, of course, but they come across as so. Sport for the masses, not just for the elite. And they show everything: not just the big four, but also cricket, and rugby, and football, and Formula 1, and polo (horses, not speedos), and boxing, and lacrosse, and tennis, and on and on and on. There is no west coast bias, there is no flash, there is no “entertainment”. It is not American centric. It is just sport. Turn it on and watch.

And to top it all off: the streams are of the highest quality. They rarely freeze, and they always work, unlike other legal sport streams. (Cough, WillowTV, cough).

All of this brings me to NBC’s Olympic coverage. Despite the fact that NBC is a free, over the air channel, and despite the fact that NBC owns the rights to every Olympic event, I have been unable to watch the vast majority of the Games.

The flagship over-the-air channel has shown nothing worth watching. During the day it is mostly volleyball or water polo. And at night it is tape delayed events that I already know the outcome to. (Sure I could go on Internet Blackout but going spoiler free during the Olympics is damn near impossible).

And while they do have online streaming available, you cannot watch it unless you have cable. I could not pay for it even if I wanted to, and I would have wanted to.

It is the opposite of ESPN3. It is the opposite of the Olympic spirit. It is sport for the elite. Sport for rich people. It is Target Field, while ESPN3 is the Metrodome (local reference, sorry). And it just makes me sad. Because I love the Olympics.

Over the years I have been a staunch defender of NBC’s Olympic coverage. But no more. And I hereby put out an official request:

Dear ESPN,

Please purchase the USA Television rights for the Olympics.

Yours Truly,

Matt

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Yuvraj

Big news this morning out of Mumbai: Yuvraj Singh has been named to India’s T20 squad for the upcoming series against New Zealand as well as the T20 World Cup next month. This is just delightful news. It really is amazing to me how far the world has come in the treatment of cancer. Now instead of thinking “death sentence” when we hear the word, we instead think of Lance Armstrong, Mario Lemieux, Dave Callaghan, Eric Abidal, and now: Yuvraj Singh.

Unfortunately, it is not always good news. Cancer still kills. A little research brought me to New Zealand wicket-keeper, Ken Wadsworth. He played in 33 tests for his country, scoring over 1,000 runs. His last test was February 13-17, 1976 against India in Wellington. He took four catches and New Zealand beat India by an innings and 33 runs.

Six months later, at the age of only 29, Wadsworth was dead of skin cancer.

There was also South African Tufty Mann, who died in 1952 of abdominal cancer. As well as a whole host of other cricketers who died in their prime. Some in war. Some from on the pitch accidents. Some from car accidents.

All too young.

And this is why we should all celebrate Yuvraj’s comeback. As cricket fans, as humans. It is a triumph over a disease that has killed millions, and it is a triumph of the human spirit. Cancer still kills, and so we all need to celebrate those that beat it.

Welcome back, Yuvraj:

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