Cooked

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

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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.

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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

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*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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.”

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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

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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.