Wednesday News Dump

As the World T20 continues to run like a virus scan in the background, I thought I would hit on a few other topics, and then return to the tournament tomorrow as it really starts to kick off with the Super 8s:

Video Games

This article from ESPN gives credit to, of all things, the FIFA video game series for the recent surge in popularity of soccer in America (number two sport for 12-24 year olds). The author of course also gives credit to things like, you know, the Internet, but the crux of the piece is that MLS and US Soccer and definitely the European leagues owe a debt of gratitude to EA Sports.

The cynic might read that as ESPN giving a reach around to one of its favorite advertisers but I must say that I agree with the writer. I also give credit to FIFA for soccer’s recent surge, just as I give credit to Fantasy Football for its role in the growth of the NFL over the last 20 years.

And so I say to the ICC, if you want to build cricket’s brand in America, partner with EA Sports and develop a high quality cricket video game series.

When I first started following cricket, I looked around for a video game, as I have always been a fan of that particular form of entertainment, and really loved the FIFA franchise, but I was unable to find one. They were all region specific and, based on reviews, pretty terrible for the most part either way.

What cricket needs is its version of FIFA, its version of Madden, its version of Tiger Woods Golf…

If you build it, they will come.

Minor League Baseball

I posted a link to this video on Twitter yesterday but I thought I would post it here, too.

Midway stadium is only about a mile from my current house (we are moving in two days, however) and I always forget what I wonderful piece of Americana I have in my backyard. Railroads, baseball, summer nights. I talk a lot on the blog here about County Cricket and its ties to the past – I need to remember that those same ties exist here in America in the form of baseball. Attending a game at Midway is like being transported back to a simpler time that never really existed in the first place.

Watch the video. It’s great.

Replay

Even those of you on the other side of the world probably heard about the last play of the game between the Packers and the Seahawks on Monday night. (More information here…and here).

Even with instant replay, the call was still blown.

What does this have to do with cricket? I am not sure. I wrote this part of the post in my head last night as I was drifting off to sleep, and I really cannot remember what my point was.

Though I guess we should be thankful that cricket’s officials, while not infallible, do a better job of using technology than the current lot of replacement referees in the NFL. We should also hope that nothing like what happened on Monday ever happens during a match, say, between India and Pakistan. Green Bay and Seattle don’t have nukes and haven’t been inches from all out war multiple times over the last 60 years.

Ireland

Now that they are done blaming the rain for their quick exit from the World T20 (failing to mention of course that they were positively hammered by Australia a few days earlier), it seems Ireland want the ICC to get them on the Future Tours Programme so they can play more quality sides and, theoretically, get better and not be an embarrassment next time around.

While I agree with the theory, I don’t think it is necessarily fair for them to be added to the FTP instead of other quality Associates such as Kenya, Afghanistan, Canada, or even Scotland. There is plenty of quality cricket out there for you, Ireland. Play in the CB40, for starters. Snubbing your nose at that tournament did you no favors, in my opinion.

The ICC cannot handhold Ireland and shun the other Associates, is what I am trying say. Sorry, Irish cricketers, you are going to have to do it the hard way, just like everyone else, and now you are going to have to do it with out Niall O’Brien, too.

Moving

My wife and I are moving on Friday, as I mentioned above. It is sad and bittersweet and hard and exciting. The next blog post you read will have been written in my new kitchen. So until then…

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Predictions

Over on the Sight Screen, I predicted that the Associates would be THE story of the ICC World T20 group stage.

And, well, I was right.

But not in the way I thought I would be.

The Associates (Ireland and Afghanistan) and fellow minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are THE story (so far) of the group stage, but the story is not one of David slaying Goliath or David even giving Goliath a little scare like I thought it would be, but instead it is the fact the Associates (and Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe) simply do not belong in this tournament.

They are just not good enough.

And while in some ways that really is too bad for the overall future of world cricket, it is unfortunately the hard truth.

All of world cricket was up in arms when the ICC kicked the Associates out of the 2015 50-over World Cup, but now I think we can all see that they had it right, and we all had it wrong. Having the Associates and even low level Test nations in knockout tournaments makes for far too many lopsided matches, far too many dead rubbers, and, well, makes the tournament just simply too long.

And, so, despite my initial protests at the lack of Associate inclusion in the upcoming 50-over world cup, I think the ICC should move to only allow the top eight Test nations into its knock-out tournaments.

The tournaments would be shorter and the matches more meaningful, thereby making the entire tournament more accessible to the average fan, or even the prospective fan.

For instance: ESPN here in the states has been promoting the heck of the World T20, and if by any chance an American has tuned in, all they have seen is a Test nation kicking the crap out of a Minnow, not exactly a great advertisement for the sport, in other words. But imagine if they tuned in and the first match they say was India v England, or South Africa v Sri Lanka? The difference is marked.

And so while limiting the participation of the Associates (and Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) from major tournaments might stunt the growth of the game, I think that more competitive and more accessible and more entertaining tournaments will surely make up for that lack of growth…and then some.

That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

Now let’s hope this tournament really kicks off during the Super 8s.

And, don’t worry, I won’t be making any more predictions.

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The T20 World Cup: What am I looking forward to?

Hey, look at that, we have ourselves a World Cup.

As David Hopps pointed out over on Cricinfo, T20s feel tired and listless and tacked on when they happen after a big test series, but when they are part of a tournament all on their own, they take on a whole new life. And so despite the fact that the T20 is my least favorite format, I am quite looking forward to it. And here’s why:

Unanswered Questions:

Will South Africa choke? Can Sri Lanka take full advantage of their home patch? Can England overcome the KP nastiness and repeat as Champions? Can the Associates make some noise? Can New Zealand get past the semi-finals of a major tournament?

All great questions that will be answered over the next 19 days. The questions and answers will make for some very intriguing storylines, and those storylines will make for even more questions: who will be the hero? The goat? The cinderella story?

Tournaments always fascinate because despite our best guesses at what is going to happen, despite all of the statisticians and the punditry, no one knows for sure how it is all going to play out.

The above is not just why we love tournaments, it is why we love sports.

The Associates

Unfortunately, there are only two Associate member nations in the tournament, Afghanistan and Ireland. However, both have a great opportunity to make a significant amount of noise. If one or both can make a run deep into the knockout stages, then that will have a revolutionizing effect on the game. Not just on the T20 format either, but on world cricket overall.

The Cricket

The cricket itself will be loose and fun and joyful. It will be swashbuckling, sub-continental limited overs cricket. Floodlights, humidity, and (hopefully) excitable and large crowds.

Television Coverage

Every single match will be live on ESPN3. And the matches are actually on at “doable” times. Either 6:45am Minneapolis time or 9:45am Minneapolis time.

It’s Short

The first match is tomorrow morning and the final is on October the 7th. 19 days. That’s it. Considering the 50 over world cup stretches on for what feels like months, it will be nice to have a nice quick tournament.

The Grounds

The vast majority of the matches are at either the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo or the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium. Both are terrific venues and will make for fine hosts.

Respectively:

The Two Chucks

Our favorite video-casting duo will be doing shows in Sri Lanka, and they always make everything a bit more fun.

My Predictions?

England will crash out, Ireland and Afghanistan will make noise, and South Africa will win it all.

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Some light housekeeping: I won’t have a lot of time to write over the next couple of weeks. But I should be back at it soon.

Also, I have started a second blog. It is not about cricket, but I think my regular reader will enjoy it nonetheless. I will pass on the link once it gets its sea legs.

And it’s a hard rain…

My plan today was to watch a bit of the England v South Africa T20 and then write a bit about the upcoming World Cup. But, of course, the match has been delayed and delayed and delayed again due to rain. And so I thought about writing a post about overs lost due to weather, or maybe how many times the D/L method has been used, or how many matches have been outright abandoned due to poor weather.

But after spending an hour or so with Statsguru, it just wasn’t happening.

So I searched for “rain” on cricinfo for a laugh and the results included 520 blog posts, 55 photo galleries, and almost 1600 Wisden Almanak stories, not to mention the countless regular cricinfo stories and match reports.

The first Wisden story to mention rain was a report on a inter-university match between Cambridge and Oxford in June of 1870. The match was supposed to start on a Monday, but the toss was delayed for five hours due to a deluge. The two day match was decided on Tuesday in front of 8,000 of England’s finest. Cambridge won by 58 runs. 14 of the 20 wickets taken were taken, at least in part, by the wicket keepers.

And then a quick look through the galleries led me to this picture from Lord’s during last summers test series against Sri Lanka. An image that strikes dread in the heart of every cricket fan everywhere, surely:

Cricket and rain. Rain and cricket. Like a silent and sexless arranged marriage.

I pulled up this map of worldwide rainfall:

Of course, as you can see, the majority of test cricket happens in the darkest greenest regions on the map. Instead of looking to expand to Ireland or in the USA, the ICC should look to include north Africa countries, or the middle east, or even Russia. That would at least delay the spread of the scourge that is killing cricket.

Anyway, enough silliness for today, here’s a song about rain featuring a Englishman performed at a benefit for test nation Bangladesh in 1971 (the year of the first ODI):

Infinity and Beyond

Last night, and this afternoon, I had written about 500 words or so on the ICC rankings. About how the one-day rankings are silly because there are World Cup tournaments in those formats, and therefore, for example, England is not the number one ODI side in the world, India is, because they are the world champions.

But the more I wrote, the more I had trouble believing what I was saying, and the more I wrote, the more I realized I disagreed with myself.

One of the major issues I have with American sports is their playoff systems; specifically with how many teams are able to qualify for the postseason. In the NBA and the NHL, sixteen (!!) teams make the playoffs, for example. Major League Baseball used to have a phenomenal playoff system, but it keeps getting expanded and now 12 teams make the their playoffs. Too many.

Now all of this is great for the respective leagues and the playoff games are cash cows for the individual teams, but it really does take all the effort out of winning a championship. A team can have a medicore season, squeak into the playoffs, get red hot, and win the whole damn thing. It just doesn’t seem right to me. Titles don’t mean what they used to mean.

I admit that, for the most part, the teams that deserve to win based on their regular season play end up winning in the playoffs, but not always. The best example of all this that I can think of is the 2008 Super Bowl: the New England Patriots versus the New York Giants in Phoenix. Now, I am not an NFL fan in the slightest, but I was in New York City during the game and watched it in a packed midtown bar (The Joshua Tree), so I have pretty strong memories of the game.

New York was a 5th seed in the playoffs, after finishing the regular season with nine wins and seven losses, only one game over .500. Meanwhile, New England had finished the season a perfect 16-0. But in the championship game, there were a few bad bounces and a few weird calls and New York won 17-14. The team that finished 9-7 was the NFL champions and the team that went undefeated had to settle for second. It just doesn’t seem right.

It is for this reason that I am constantly extolling the virtues of the English Premiere League (and all similar leagues): every team plays every other team twice, once at home and once away; you get three points for a win, one point for a tie, and zero points for a loss; and the team with the most points at the end of the season is league champion. There is no better test of a team’s mettle. It is the perfect system for deciding a champion.

And that’s why I realized I was contradicting myself with the post I deleted. I like the ICC rankings, I like the fact that they are based on results over the long term, that they are a marathon and not a sprint. The fact that England is the number one ODI team in the world does not mean that India is no longer World Champions. They can both exist on the same plane, in perfect harmony.

All of that said: I still think World Cricket needs a Test Cricket League to run alongside the ICC rankings, as do the one day formats in addition to their two world cups. Similar to the ICC Intercontinental Championships that the Associates have. Not a month long, rock em, sock em tournament, but something with a definite beginning, a definite end, and a definite champion. Cricket is just too infinite. When I think about it too much, it gives me that vague feeling of emptiness and sadness and fear that I used to get when I would lay in bed at night and think about space and time and forever.

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In other news: Yuvraj is back tomorrow. The match will actually be on at a decent time here in the states, so I hope to be able to watch at least some of it on Willow TV. Looking forward to it.

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I hate to get all political, but this open letter from the Minnesota Vikings Punter, Chris Kluwe, makes me want to be an NFL fan again. Bloody fucking brilliant, Chris. You are my new hero.

Until next time.