Dessert Course

A few days ago, over on The Full Toss, James Morgan expressed his thoughts on how enjoyable the India versus England series has been due to the fact that there is no DRS. He took quite a flogging in the comments, and I have to ask: would James be just as dismissive of replay technology if England were down 2-1 instead of up 2-1? Probably not.

That said, I have to say: I agree with him.

After watching Australia v South Africa and all of the appeals and all of the reviews and all of the reversals, it feels quite cleansing to watch a series where when the umpire puts his finger up, the batsman walks. You don’t have to put your joy or sorrow on hold, you get to enjoy the pure moment. It is one of the things I enjoy about County Cricket, and I must stay that I am enjoying it on World Cricket’s biggest stage, as well.

Bear in mind throughout this post that I only started following the sport in the spring of 2007, and DRS came around not two years later, so it is not like I am a hopeless traditionalist longing for the bygone days when men were men and out was out. It is just simply cleansing to watch, like I am enjoying the sport how it was meant to be enjoyed. Like a pacemaker restoring the rhythm of an old man’s heart.

Unfortunately, I feel like a bit of a heel, I feel a little embarrassed, and I feel a little dirty. For over the past few years I have done nothing but extoll the virtues of technology in sport. I have gotten on my high horse and bemoaned the lack of goal line technology in football; I have cried foul at baseball’s reliance on the human eye to judge whether a 98 mile-per-hour tailing away fastball was a millimeter too far outside in game seven of the World Series, not to mention in every other game of the season; and I have nodded approvingly at sports like American football and rugby and cricket and basketball that use technology and use it well.

Getting the call right, that’s the important thing – that’s what I always say: there is too much at stake to fool around with human error.

But maybe I was wrong, maybe all I have wanted my entire life is to debase myself in that quintessential trait of humanity: the fact that we are prone to mistakes, and that is what makes life interesting.

Perfection is boring. Imperfection is what gets us up in the morning.

Or maybe not. Maybe this is just a nice palette cleanser, like a sorbet between courses, before getting back to the nuts and bolts of the real world; a real world where we use all the tools at our disposal to ensure the team that wins deserves to win – and that’s not all that terrible of a world to live in.

Plus DRS or no DRS, we still get plenty of imperfection in cricket: just ask David Warner.

*

You can’t go home again

This post inspired by Subash’s post over on the Cricket Couch.

*

In less than three hours, Sachin Tendulkar will walk out to play his 194th, and quite possibly last, Test match for India.

I am not saying he should or should not retire, or that he will or will not retire, that decision lies solely with him, for he and he alone knows if there are runs left in his bat, and he has earned the right to make the decision himself, but the point remains: come Monday evening, he could very well be walking off the pitch wearing the Indian whites for the very last time.

Only 39 years old, and it feels as though I am writing his obituary.

And that’s the thing about athletes, they achieve so much when they are still so young – the average Olympian is only 26 years old, for instance – and because of the way the body breaks down as we all age, they are forced to hang it all up just as the rest of us are starting to hit our strides.

For most people, our 20s can be a little aimless. We are unsure of our skin, this world and our place in it; but by our thirties, we know what makes us happy, we have decent incomes, we have people around us that we love. In a lot of ways, for regular folks, life doesn’t really begin until our 30s.

The opposite is true for professional athletes.

After spending their entire lives, 30+ years, doing just one thing, and doing it better than 99% of the people on planet earth, they are forced to walk away from it forever.

That must scare the living crap out of them. It must feel like dying.

It’s identity theft, but instead of your bank account number, they steal your soul. Reach down and scrape it out and leave it on the bathroom floor.

I cannot imagine the level of emptiness athletes must feel when a new season rolls around and they are home with the kids, and the walls, and the quiet.

Am I being overdramatic? Of course I am, to some degree, but it is not uncommon for athletes to respond to the aforementioned blackness with drugs, spousal abuse, and other anti-social behaviors.

I look at Olympians on the medal stand and I think to myself: Christ, peaking at 19, how bloody depressing is that?

Honestly, of course, they are not peaking, they will go on to have kids and earn Doctorates, but I cannot help but think that those tears we all see gold medalists shed as their anthems blare are not tears of joy, but tears of sadness, tears of ending.

*

Sachin, of course, will be okay. He has two children to hang out with, he has his millions of dollars, and he will probably go into coaching, or announcing, or maybe serve on a board or work for the ICC or start a business or just do nothing at all: take naps in the afternoon, and look back on a marvelous career.

All I am saying is that the cliff he is looking over and contemplating is not separating playing cricket from not playing cricket, it is separating life from death. If he jumps, a part of him dies – a very, very large part of him – and it dies forever. Therefore I honestly cannot begin to imagine the thoughts that must be in his head right now; though all of us have noticed the lack of twinkle in his eye, as if a darkness rests back there, tormenting him.

I do know that the above will be in my head as I watch this Test.

*

I don’t talk a lot about Sachin on this blog, though I really could not tell you why. But just for the sake of my non-cricket-fan readers (and it turns out there are a few): Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest cricketer who ever lived. Full stop.

Cricket was already popular in India of course when he made his debut in 1989, but in the 23 years since, the game has gone from past time to obsession for one billion Indians, and countless more cricket fans the world over, no matter their allegiance.

He has 15,643 Test runs, the most all time, and over 2,000 more than the second most all time.

He has 51 Test centuries, the most all time.

He has 100 centuries in all formats, the most all time by a country mile.

He has 34,079 runs in all formats. No one else has 33,000, 32,000, 31,000, 30,000, 29,000, or 28,000; the closest is Ponting with 27,483.

He is a revolutionary, an iconoclast, and the game as we all know it does not exist in its current format without Sachin.

He is Michael Jordan. He is Roger Federer. He is Tiger Woods. He is Pele. Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Jesse Owens.

But more. Picture any of those guys, but picture them carrying the weight of the whole of India on their backs, yet still able to perform at the highest level for 23 years.

I don’t talk a lot about Sachin Tendulkar on this blog, but I am going to miss him when he is gone. This game we love will not be the same ever again. But the hole he is going to leave in this sport and in our hearts will pale in comparison to the hole he will carry in him for the rest of his life after his cricketing days are over.

*

442px-A_Cricket_fan_at_the_Chepauk_stadium,_Chennai
Image shared via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Image links to original.

Mystery Series

The two lowest ranked Test nations currently are of course Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (actually Zimbabwe isn’t even on the charts at this point, but let’s say they are for the sake of argument.)

In 2010, Zimbabwe played zero Tests. In 2011, three; in 2012, one; and next year they are scheduled to play six.

In 2010, Bangladesh played seven tests. In 2011, five; in 2012, two; and next year they are also scheduled to play six.

Now, 2011 and 2012 were of course World Cup years, so I guess their boards and the ICC and the boards of other nations can be forgiven for the lack of Tests scheduled for the weakest among us, and next year, a non-World Cup year (however, there is the Champions Trophy) they each have six Tests scheduled, which is an improvement, but I still think the lack of Tests, and the gaps between Tests, is simply shameful.

In their only two Tests this year, against the West Indies, Bangladesh got shellacked. It was hard to watch. And this is a decent enough Bangladeshi one day side that beat the West Indies in the ODI series.

But in the Tests it was not even close, and for the ICC who is looking to grow their game globally, it is a problem. And why even bother promoting Ireland to full Test status when they probably won’t be playing more than one or two Tests a year anyway?

Look, I understand that there are scheduling conflicts and backroom politics that I will never even begin to fully comprehend; plus of course there is the IPL and the Champions League and other competitions that, you know, actually make money, but I really do think it is time for Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and even other consistently under-performing Test sides like Sri Lanka and the West Indies and New Zealand to greatly increase their Test schedules – even if it means blowing up the current FTP and starting from scratch – in order to make the game globally more competitive.

And this all rolls downhill: better Test sides make better one-day sides, so everyone wins.

Here’s the all the raw data from the last few years, for fun: (countries sorted by current ICC ranking):

Picture 79

And here it is in graph form, for fun (x axis is nations in descending order of current ICC ranking):

Picture 80

After India, the drop off is dramatic.

Now this could very well be a “which came first the chicken or the egg?” situation, but it is rather obvious: fewer tests mean a poorer ICC ranking.

So how do things look going forward?

Here is the raw data again, with 2013 matches included (more on that in a second):

Picture 81South Africa might experience a dip in form down the road, as might India; while countries such as England, Sri Lanka, and the West Indies can probably expect their current form to hold.

I expect improvements, slight but improvements nonetheless, from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand.

Regarding NZ, they are only playing one more Test in 2013 than they did in 2012, but it is still more than double the number they played in 2010, so I still expect an improvement in form, despite current, errrrr, difficulties.

All of the above is for fun, meant to be taken with a grain of salt.

*

Finding calendar year 2013 Tests was a vastly more difficult task than I thought it would be.

There is not a single good source out there that lists them all.

ICC’s Future Tours Programme is about as close as one gets but it is not divided into calendar years, it is clunky and difficult to navigate, and the data is not infallible, or all that reliable.

One quick example: they have a four Test series scheduled for February and March of this year, India versus Australia, in India.

The tour is not listed on Cricinfo. It is not listed on Cricket Australia’s website. It is not listed on BCCI’s website. The only place I could find it listed was on Willow.tv’s website, but they are not exactly the bastion of good information.

Subash over at the Cricket Couch talked to some pals of his in Chennai and confirmed the match there is happening in March, despite the fact that some sites I found had the matches happening in the West Indies (seriously.)

I think the mystery is solved in the last sentence of the above link: the schedule is not yet “declared” and then something something Cricket authority (lower case a).

I do think the series is of course actually going to happen, but it is just so utterly and completely ODD that there is not a good source that lists all upcoming matches in a clean, easy to navigate, format; one that includes not just matches in the next six months, but ALL scheduled Tests, ODIs, and T20s…

If this source already exists, please do let me know.

*

This is just another example of how bloody difficult it can be to be a cricket fan in 2012, despite all of our advances.

*

Snowed In

Not much to write about right now, cricket wise…England won at Kolkata and India are in CRISIS.

Cricket is the only sport where a team loses a match or two and OH MY GOD THE WORLD IS ENDING…DROP EVERYONE. I am not sure if it is a regional or cultural thing, but I doubt it, because it happens in Australia and South Africa and England as well as in India and Pakistan. It just might be because teams play so few Tests, and the matches have such profound impact due to their scarcity.

Or not.

Or maybe cricket fans and pundits and boards simply enjoy a good old fashioned knee jerk reaction, and maybe they just like to over-use the phrase “in crisis.”

What I know is this, India will be okay. They are going through a transitional phase as the old guard retires but I firmly believe they have plenty of good solid young talent to bridge the gap. And let’s not forget they won in Ahmedabad, and could still very well win at Nagpur, which means the series ends in a draw. And considering India were whitewashed by England in England just last summer and while I understand that these are Indian conditions, it does not change the fact that a vastly different Indian squad is doing better against a vastly similar England squad, and that’s something. 0-4 could be 2-2 and that’s improvement.

*

Elsewhere, not a whole lot. Bangladesh beat the West Indies in a five match ODI series, which is great for the health of the game, globally speaking. Unfortunately, Bangladesh’s Test form is still abhorrent, and considering they are only scheduled to play four Tests in 2013, that’s not going to change any time soon.

The above is the basis for a future post to come later this week.

*

We are still a few days away from the first Test between Australia and Sri Lanka, and I must say that I am very much looking forward to it: because it is going to be played at Hobart, my absolutely favorite Test ground.

Expect a lot of Hobart related gushing around here over the next week and a half, including a post later in the week.

*

It is snowing here. And not just a flurry or a few inches, but one of those all day fourteen inchers that locks you inside for an entire day. I spent the day reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ brilliant novel “The Marriage Plot” (been taking a lovely break from non-fiction for the last six months) and thinking about what to write a blog post about. But I felt completely uninspired and lazy and bored and now it is after four so it will be dark very soon; and so I am going to have a beer and will leave you with a few links, for outside reading:

Re: Alastair Cook: If you have not read Minal’s posts about Alastair Cook for The Corridor of Certainty as well as for the Sightscreen, then do so now. If you have read them, then read them again.

I’ll wait…

Minal is a great supporter of my site and I felt terrible for not including her in my Ode to the Cricket Blogger piece. Please know: support like hers is invaluable, and it was a main source of inspiration for my words on cricket blogging’s fantastic community.

She wrote a follow-up/response to mine, as did Devanshu, read them both, they both say it better.

Re: Ricky Ponting: The Cricket Couch compiled a sizable handful of the blog posts about Ponting’s retirement. Check it out.

Re: Snow: I was in New York City in February of 2006 for what was then known as the Storm of the Century. I still have the New York Times from that day and it includes one of my favorite articles of all time. It’s not cricket related but it is worth a read. That, friends, is a template for how I want to write about cricket: informational and interesting with bits of poetry:

“for most of the day, the storm provided a rare chance to see what New York is like when it is forced to settle down, take a deep breath and go suddenly quiet.”

Re: Snow (part 2): Speaking of snow, in June of 1975, play was stopped at a County Championship match…because of snow. Unbelievable. Read all about it here.

Right, that’s your lot, more soon.

Cooked

When I went to bed last night, I didn’t have a favorite cricketer. This is the story of how that all changed.

*

My favorite current, active, Test cricketers are as follows (list more than likely incomplete):

Michael Clarke, Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ed Cowan, Virat Kohli, and Kumar Sangkkara.

I think.

My favorite cricketer of all time (not active) is probably Rahul Dravid.

Probably.

(Yes, I know, not a single bowler in the lot. Embarrassing. I don’t understand it either, but I guess my taste for bowling is just not as refined as I would like it to be. Lasith Malinga is fun to watch, and might make the list in a parallel universe, but he doesn’t play Tests anymore, and really there is a club for people who call Lasith Malinga their favorite bowler…it’s called EVERYONE. I am not just talking about cricket fans either, but everyone on earth’s favorite bowler is Lasith Malinga.)

(And, yes, I know that the list of cricketers above is the list of everyone’s favorite crickets: young, stylish batsmen who, with the exception of Cowan, score a million runs and with the exception of both of them, do it with PIZAZZ.)

Of the listed cricketers, Alastair Cook has always held a special place in my heart. I always kind of knew that.

I don’t really know why, either.

I am not an England fan (though I do support them during the Ashes), he is boring, he comes off as uppity (like his “shit don’t stink” as the kids say), he is not an especially good fielder, he looks like a cartoon character, and his captaincy skills are not beyond suspect.

But, still, something about him just makes me want to watch him bat, for hours and hours and hours. And I love how, in his first series as a non-interim Test captain, he has stood up and guided his team through the tall grass of sub-continental spin. I love a good old fashioned captain’s innings.

Leading from the front, leading by example, pulling his team across the line.

*

I was so upset this morning to wake up and see he had missed his double century after being run out while backing up. That gut punch kind of upset you get when your team loses a big game. That blackness that sits on your shoulders all day long. You know what I am talking about.

And that’s when it dawned on me: Alastair Cook is my favorite cricketer.

That’s a more meaningful declaration than you think. To wit:

For me, cricket has always been a game of individuals. More golf or tennis than football or basketball. I don’t have a proper team to support. Despite all of my best efforts, nothing seems to stick*. But that does not mean I take any less enjoyment from watching the games.

I had no dog in the Australia v South Africa hunt, for instance, but I still enjoyed every single second. And despite the fact that Cook plays for England, the neutral in me wants to see India come storming back on day four and win the match and take the series to the fourth and deciding Test.

I may not get to enjoy the communal aspect of having a favorite team win a big match, but I do get to see my favorite cricketers the world over put in fantastic performance after fantastic performance. And I guess of all those cricketers, Alastair Cook is my favorite.

Plus it is fun to say out loud: Alastair Cook.

Try it: Alastair Cook.

Alastair Cook, Alastair Cook, Alastair Cook

*

*I will say, that after more than five years of trying, it is starting to stick with Sussex. Just a little stickiness, like a day-old post-it note, but it’s there….

Run like Hell

Last night I was in bed asleep by 23:00 CST.

I didn’t see Tendulkar’s knock, didn’t see any of Jimmy Anderson’s three wickets, and I barely saw more than a ball or two after the first Drinks break.

However, I did see Finn, Panesar, and Anderson make what appeared to be a good batting track look tricky, and I did see England open with pace despite every Twittering pundit on the planet’s best advice, and I did see Virender Sehwag get out in easily the most depressing and stupid and hard to swallow way possible: run out after a miss-communication with his batting partner, Gautum Gambhir.

In baseball (again, with the baseball…sorry), you see bad baserunning all of the time, especially as a Twins fan. We call them mental errors. Sometimes guys forget how many outs there are, sometimes basecoaches send guys home when they should have held them, and sometimes guys blow right through stop signs only to be out by 40 feet.

I find such mental errors, especially on the basepaths, particularly aggravating. If an outfielder makes a similar error in the field, like, say, missing the cut off man or forgetting how many outs there are, I usually let them get away with it, but a baserunner? Nope: no forgiveness.

Which is why I feel for Indian fans after watching Sehwag walk off after getting run out.

Now whether it was his fault, or Gambhir’s fault, or both their fault’s, does not matter at this point; what does matter is India’s very promising start had been sliced to pieces due to a simple mental error.

You could see the shock on the faces of the Indian fans at the ground, and you could see the figurative steam pouring out of Sehwag’s ears.

There is just no cheaper way to get out. The game felt tainted. Like a red card in the 11th minute, like a base-running error leading to a double play. The wind was taken out of the sails of the game, and of India.

If India lose this match, they will have to at the very least give partial blame to Sehwag’s run out.

*

As near as I can tell, there have been 2,226 run outs in Test cricket. A couple notable ones:

The first was in 1877, the first Test match ever even, Australian captain Dave Gregory was run out for one in the first innings.

In 1993, the great Brian Lara was run out after scoring 277 against Australia in Sydney. The match ended in a draw, and his score stands as the highest ever to end on a run out.

Eight other batsmen had double centuries end in run outs, including Rahul Dravid who was run out for 217 against England at the Oval in 2002. Like Lara’s match above, it also ended in a draw; and also like Lara’s match, Dravid’s squad probably loses without his knock, run out or no run out.

Sehwag himself has been run out five times: for 38 against Pakistan in Bangalore in 2005; for 17 against England at Mohali in 2008; for 24 against New Zealand in Hamilton in 2009; for 1 also against New Zealand at Ahmedabad in 2010; and for 23 against England last night.

Working backwards: Ahmedabad was a draw, India won in Hamilton, Mohali was a draw, and India lost in Bangalore.

*

None of the above counts those run outs where Sehwag might have been at fault, but his partner was the one forced to walk off in disgrace.

*

My favorite dismissals, from most preferred to least preferred:

1. Bowled

2. Caught

3. Stumped

4. LBW

5. Hit wicket

6. Run out

7. The rest (tie).

*

Ponting

It has been a few days since Ricky Ponting announced his retirement from Test cricket. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, this is not just old news, but positively ancient – and really everything that had to be said about it has been said already – and better (here’s my favorite from A Cricketing View) – but I thought I would take a few minutes and add my own two cents to the mix anyway.

I have never really been a Ponting guy. Though I freely admit that this is probably because I am a Johnny-come-lately to the sport – I started following the game just as his peak years were ending. I always wanted to like him, though. He had superior leadership qualities, and in this day and age of million dollar mercenary cricketers devoid of any and all loyalties, it seemed all he really wanted was for Australia to win every single match – and so as he aged, and his skills diminished, you could see the frustration in his eyes. You could see him questioning his place in the team with each flail of the bat, and you could see him still try and shoulder all of the load, despite the fact that his team was ready to move on without him.

All of the above gave him qualities that were very much, well, human.

Our sport stars so often transcend humanity – both in their athletics as well as their emotions. They can come off as robotic, as superheroes, as bigger than all of us combined, yet despite Ponting’s incredible batting prowess – 13,370 Test runs, the second most of all time – he had this human quality that always endeared him to me.

When his struggles were at their zenith last summer in the Test series against New Zealand and India, someone on Twitter compared him to King Lear: old Lear, dying Lear, raging Lear.

Lear, the old King, who died overwhelmed by the trials of life:

“You must bear with me:
Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.”

*

Only in this version of the play, Lear has one last chance to redeem himself, and I am hoping he does. It would not be a Shakespearean tragedy, but a Hollywood ending, if he could score a double century on the way to a famous Australian series victory.

Walking out to the crease, one last time, under the same Western Australian expanse of blue where it all started 17 years ago, pushing the sun back into the sky, and giving us all one more day of summer…

God speed, Punter:

ricky_ponting_2413417b

*

I also would like to take this opportunity to welcome all my new readers, and to thank everyone for the amazing response to my recent post about cricket blogging. It was without a doubt the best day I have had in a real long time. Thank you.