Live from Row Z

Just a quick post tonight, as I have to my affairs in order to so I can sit back and enjoy the fifth day of India vs Australia – and what a treat that test has been, eh?

(And by “affairs” I mean, “watch an episode of Downton Abbey.”)

On Sunday afternoon, I took my nephew and brother to see the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Golden State Warriors in a basketball game at the Target Center in Minneapolis. For those unaware, the Timberwolves play in the National Basketball Association, or NBA, which is the Premier League of professional basketball.

I had gotten the tickets as a Christmas present for my nephew, though I bet he would have preferred something like a Lego, but I want to get to know him better and I thought a Sunday afternoon sporting event would be a great way to do so, but that is neither here nor there.

So while we had a nice time drinking sodas and chatting, the game itself was everything I hate about American sports. There was loud pop music ALL THE TIME, even during gameplay, the focus was on the spectacle instead of the game, there were more TV time outs than I thought reasonable, it was a basically meaningless regular season matchup despite the fact that there are eight weeks left in the season, the crowd was maybe, MAYBE, half paying attention, the quality of the game was poor, most of the players, with the exception of the phenomenal Ricky Rubio, who really is the real deal, looked bored and utterly lacked passion and commitment, and no one, and I mean no one, played anything resembling what could reasonably be called defense.

I could go on, but I won’t.

It reminded me why I dislike the NBA, and why all of my attempts to like it in the past have failed – and I have actually tried to like it, as part of me really wants to be an NBA fan.

It reminded me why I like Test cricket, why I like Premier League football, and for the most part, why I like baseball.

I know all of those sports have their serious flaws, and some of those are the same as the ones specifically mentioned above, and I know therefore it sounds like I am being unfair to the NBA, but honestly this is all just my opinion – a matter of taste rather than right or wrong. I don’t think you are ignorant if you prefer the NFL to the EPL, the former is just not my cup of tea, that’s all.

But we probably can’t be friends.

(Just kidding about that last part.)

Here’s the deal: If you put yesterday’s NBA game on a wall next to tonight’s India v Australia Test match, one of them screams MATT BECKER WILL LIKE THIS – and the other, simply, does not.

And yesterday’s action at the Target Center drove that point home. Again.

Here’s a picture I took during the game.

blog1Take note of: Howl-o-Meter on the center screen, the woman in front of us not even slightly paying attention, and the half empty arena.

As I was saying…

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Captain, Wicketkeeper, Batsman

I grew up a baseball fan.

As I have mentioned before, I moved around a lot as a kid, and never really had a hometown team, so I supported certain players instead.

And my favorites were always the catchers.

Carlton Fisk, Johnny Bench, and the late, great Gary Carter. Just to name a few.

There are rarely captains named in baseball, Derek Jeter and Paul Konerko are the only two active players who have been officially designated as captains, but the catchers were always the unofficial captains more often than not, and officially or unofficially, they were always the on field defensive leaders: as they are the only players on the the diamond that can see the entire field.

Their responsibilities, defensively, are endless – they need be able to talk down an errant pitcher, throw out base stealers, and make split second decisions on whether to call for the cut off man – and on top of all of that, their position is simply brutal physically, far more so than any other position with the possible exception of the pitcher, and yet, unlike the pitchers in the American League, they are expected to pull the shin guards off and go out and bat and run the bases the next half inning.

Their determination in the face of near constant physical pain, their baseball smarts, and their on field leadership are the reasons why ex-catchers always seem to make for good managers/coaches, and those were the same reasons catchers were always my favorite, too.

And so, it followed, that when I “discovered” cricket in 2007, that I would have a hard time finding a single team to support, and that I would seek out the wicketkeepers, and the captains, as my favorites, and so of course when I stumbled upon Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I was in love. His long hair, his big sixes, his wicketkeeping, his captaincy…it was a perfect storm. He instantly became one of my favorite athletes on the planet. And I cannot tell you how happy his double century yesterday at Chennai made me.

He did what captains are supposed to do: put a struggling team on their shoulders and lead them to victory. And when he does finally get out, he will have to put the gloves on, and lead his him defensively. No hiding at deep backward point. No resting on his laurels.

He has come under criticism as of late, because of Dominica and slow over rates and lackluster performances, but I think the bulk of the criticism has been unfair.

India was the number on Test side on the planet for a time under Dhoni – and yes it was short lived but it still happened. India won the World Cup in 2011 under Dhoni – to stay it was a “must win” tournament for India would be an understatement. Yet despite all that pressure, he led his team to the pinnacle.

And on top of all that pressure, he still has to go out and lead, and keep the wicket, and bat:

There have been 12 centuries in Test cricket from a wicketkeeper that was also team captain: Dhoni has five of them. Of the 20 highest scores from a wicketkeeper also serving as captain, Dhoni has ten of them. Half.

A leader, a captain, a wicketkeeper, a batsman.

Surely he has his flaws, but here’s hoping his performance in Chennai this week will quiet a few of those critics…for a little while at least.

Great batting, captain. Great batting indeed.

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Alan Swann is a Massive Tool

Considering Alan Swann’s sexist and gross article in the Peterborough Telegraph (lovingly surmised on Teesra.com – he links to Swann’s article, I won’t), I thought it would behoove me to write a quick follow-up to my post from a few days ago that concerned ladies cricket.

I don’t find ladies sports dull. Not in the slightest. I highly enjoy the subtle nature of ladies football and basketball, just as two examples. I do not think it’s a shame that lady tennis players earn the same as gentleman tennis players, and I do not think Mr. Swann’s statements were of a “biological” nature – I think they were the statements of sexist blowhard.

The reasons I gave in my previous post for not watching ladies cricket (or baseball) can surely be misinterpreted as sexist, but that was not my intention in the slightest. My reasons were that men’s cricket is quite subtle, and not as reliant on brute strength, and therefore I found no reason to watch the ladies version of the game. It is the same reason I don’t watch Serie A or Ligue Un or La Liga: because the English Premiere League, while not necessarily better or more exciting, simply ticks all my footballing boxes, not because those other leagues are dull. There are only just so many hours in a day.

If anything, my reasons outed me not as sexist, but as woefully ignorant when it comes to cricket. As laid out in the comments by the incomparable Russ from Idle Summers.

The games are different enough that one can enjoy both. And I am looking forward to giving ladies cricket the chance it deserves.

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Mr. Swann wrote this article, and his editors published it, knowing full well the kind of reaction it was going to get. It is impression whoring of the worst kind. He should have his press credentials revoked. Neither he nor his editors should be allowed media access of any kind to any official sporting event in any league: men, women, or whatever. That is the only way to stop this kind of article from seeing the light of day.

In fact, I would bet dollars to doughnuts that while Mr. Swann is a massive tool, he probably doesn’t 100% believe the sentiments in his articles. As he freely admits on Twitter: writing controversial articles that go viral is his job, it is what he is paid to do. Which makes him even more of a massive tool, as he is turning journalism into a laughing stock. He is an entertainer, not a journalist. He and is ilk (Rush Limbaugh, for one) are everything that is wrong with modern journalism – and while that might not seem like a big deal, strong journalism is a key facet of any strong democracy. And the only way to protect us all from these kinds of blowhards is for the FA and the ECB and the like, in the case of Swann, to ban Peterborough Telegraph “journalists” from the press box.

One might argue that the above suggestion is a violation of freedom of the press – a right  only tenuously upheld in the UK anyway. But I don’t think so. Mr. Swann and the Peterborough Telegraph can print whatever the  hell they want in the interest of a few more banner impressions, but that does not mean that the FA and the ECB have to allow their employees into their grounds.

You want to print shit like that about our athletes? Fine. But you are going to have to buy a ticket like everyone else.

Women and NASCAR

The women’s world cup ended a few days ago. Australia won. I think.

I have to admit that I did not watch a single ball, even though many of the matches were broadcast live here in the states on ESPN3.

It’s not that I dislike female sports. I think women’s soccer is phenomenally entertaining, and I would go on the record to say that women’s college basketball is more fun to watch than men’s college basketball. It’s more…fundamental.

Since women are not physically as strong as men (for the most part, and speaking only of athletes), the sports that reward physical domination, speed, and strength more so than other sports, like basketball and soccer, can be quite interesting when played by women, because they rely on passing and staying organized. They play the game the way the inventors intended. Honestly, at times, it’s like two completely different sports are being played.

Games that do not reward simple brute strength, however, like cricket, and baseball, and the like, are simply more entertaining when played by men, mostly because that is what we are used to seeing.

In other words, I did not not watch the cricket women’s world cup because I think women’s cricket is boring, it’s just not what I am interested in. It’s the same reason I don’t watch MLS, for instance.

Congrats to the Aussie ladies, though. Nice work.

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This morning, on NPR, I heard about a new ad campaign from NASCAR – attempting to attract hispanics – and millenials.

I will just quote the pertinent part of the article verbatim:

“Will it work? Brand strategist Adam Hanft doesn’t think so.

‘NASCAR is doing all the right things,’ he says, ‘but they may be doing it for the wrong sport.’

Hanft says even a polished ad campaign won’t change the fact that car racing is time consuming.

‘It’s a huge time suck,’ he says,  ‘you’re kind of in for the day.’

Perhaps, not the best sport for time-starved, multi-tasking millennials.”

The last line is some rather shameless editorializing on the part of the journalist, but it’s a valid point, especially for those of us that love a game that last five days long.

An five hour NASCAR race is short compared to first class and even 50 over cricket.

A couple things:

1. I disagree that millenials aren’t ready for a sport that requires a bit more effort and time.

2. Is it time for NASCAR to introduce a shorter format?

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I really dislike NASCAR, but I still have a lot of respect for their marketing successes. Up until recently, they were achieving real cross-over status. They had taken a niche, southern sport and made it a national hit that attracted people of all types. Cricket could take a lesson there, despite the fact that NASCAR’s popularity has ebbed over the last few years.

I am going to watch this campaign closely, see if there is anything that can translate over to the world of cricket. I would love to help cricket find a way to attract millenials without resorting to all T20, all the time, as seems to be their go-to solution right now.

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Australia in India, a Numerical History

Australia have visited India a total of 12 times for a Test series. They have won four of those series, while India have won six, and the rest were draws.

The above numbers count the one-off test series in 1996, even though they really shouldn’t.

Throughout those 12 series, there have been 42 total matches. Australia have won 12, India have won 15, there have been 14 draws, and there was one tie.

There was one six-match series, there have been two five-match series, two four-match series, five two-match series, one two-match series, and one of the aforementioned one-match series. (I have been looking to see if that was a series that involved a no-result or two, or was shortened due to a national emergency, but as far as I can tell it was a planned one test series. Even more odd considering it took place in the pre-T20 era.)

India have won the last two series in Australia: 2008 and 2010. The former a four match series that ended 2-0, and the latter a two match series that also ended 2-0.

That’s right, sports fans, India whitewashed Australia, in India, as recently as 2010. Something to remember when the pundits get all ginned up and start talking about Australia’s whitewash of India in Australia in 2012.

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The four grounds hosting the four Tests that start next week are as follows (in order of appearance): MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai; Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal, Hyderabad; Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali, Chandigarh; and Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi.

Australia’s records at those grounds:

Chennai: Played six, won one, lost two, tied one, drawn two.

Hyderabad: Australia have never played a Test at this ground

Mohali: Played two, lost two

Delhi: Played six, won one, lost two, drawn three

Delhi was the host ground for the one match series.

It is the second oldest Test ground in India.

Here’s a cool picture:

Feroz_Shah_Kotla_Cricket_Stadium,_Delhi
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Australia’s most successful ground in Indian was the Nehru Stadium in Chennai – they won three matches there. But that ground doesn’t exist anymore.

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The highest combined run total in a Test between Australia and India in India was in 1986 in Madras. The two teams scored 1,488 runs between them.

And, get this: the match ended in a tie.

5 days, 1,488 runs, 401 overs, 2,406 balls: and a tie.

It really is a funny old game, eh?

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The lowest combined run total in a Test between Australia and India in India was also in 1986, this time in at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi. The two teams only scored 314 runs between them.

The first three days were washed out, however.

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In the previous four-match series between the countries in India, Australia have won one (2004) and India have won one (2008).

There were 3,903 total runs scored off of 7,644 balls in the former, and 5,170 runs off of 9,562 in the latter.

2004 RPO: 3.06. 2008 RPO: 3.24.

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The entire series will be live on Willow.TV here in the United States.

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Early prediction: India 2-1 Australia.

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Why We Write, Part 3

Most sports writers will tell you that covering a sport changes their relationship with that sport. They see the sausage making, in other words, and the chinks in the armor, and the whole “factory” aspect that modern sport has become – and the journos become jaded, and it becomes a job.

And it is not just sports journalists either, Nick Hornby said that Fever Pitch forever changed his relationship with Arsenal and with Arsenal’s supporters – and not necessarily in a good way – and I think the same type of affliction affects us lowly bloggers, too.

Whenever I read about or watch cricket, I start to formulate blog posts in my head – and I bet all of us do. And it doesn’t even have to be cricket related. When I heard the news about Oscar Pistorius, for instance, I instantly started to think about ways in which I could relate his story to cricket, because he is South African and South Africa is a test nation .

Over the last few weeks, I have done nothing but obsess over Twitter feeds and World War One and this stat and that stat – what I missed along the way was why I am here all along: this beautiful and silly and remarkable old game that I simply love to watch.

Thankfully, as a reminder, down in Cape Town, there is a Test match going on.

Yesterday morning, when I tuned in to watch, I was able to enjoy the game as simply a fan, not as a blogger. I didn’t have story ideas rolling around in my head, I just had Dale Steyn steaming in over and over again, all under that huge expanse of African sky.

And today I was able to watch Pakistan spin their way through South Africa’s openers, take the day, and put the match and the series back in doubt – something we all said was impossible a week ago. A truly remarkable turnaround.

Ironically, not wanting to write about cricket reminded me why I write about cricket in the first place: I am a fan of the game. And unlike a lot of journalists, I was a fan first and a writer second, not vice versa. So I am able to remember that this is a magical and wonderful game that is quite simply a joy to behold when it is played at its highest level.  That’s why I started this blog in the first place. And that’s why I will allow myself to forget all of this tomorrow so I can keep writing about it.

Cricket and Social Media, Part 4

(Parts one, two, and three are here, here, and here.)

This is it. This is the big one.

Below you will find everyone* on Twitter that covers cricket, in one aspect or another, sorted by number of followers, number of tweets, number of accounts following, and Twitter Strike Rate (Twitter SR).

*Not everyone who covers cricket, as I am sure I missed some. Please suggest any and all that I have missed and I will add them.

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Note: Twitter Strike Rate is the term coined by @paperstargirl for the stat I invented,  formerly known as “Tweets per Follower” or “TPF”.

Simply put, Twitter Strike Rate is the number of tweets divided by the number of followers. The lower the number, the more effective the social media campaign…supposedly. It is by no means scientific.

As an example, ECB’s Twitter SR is .05, which means they are earning 20 followers per tweet. While mine is 9.95, so I am earning one follower every 10 tweets or so.

A few other quick notes before I post the results:

–  The list includes bloggers, journalists, editors, photographers, podcasters, and photojournalists, amongst others – the only really strict criteria I had was that the person’s main body of work had to be about the sport of cricket – just general sports journalists didn’t make the cut, for instance, though I am sure a couple slipped through. I made distinctions between each group in my master spreadsheet, but not in the spreadsheets below because in a lot of cases the line was just too thin, and I did not want to rub anyone the wrong way. I also think the work bloggers do is very important work, so I don’t want to degrade the hours they put in by putting them in a different class from journalists.

(That said, I believe that journalists have a role in cricket that simply cannot be replaced by a herd of amateur bloggers…but the blogger vs journalist debate is best left for another day.)

– I think the list is more or less complete, as far as active accounts are concerned, but it is by no means exhaustive. Please do not feel insulted if you are an active blogger but are not listed – just shoot me a note and I will get you up. Also please do let me know if you have suggestions for other accounts conspicuously absent from the lists.

– I also had to make a couple calls with regard to whether an ex-player-cum-commentator was a journalist or not. I made those decisions on a case by case basis. Ian Botham is not included but Sourav Ganguly is, for example. Again, it’s a grey area that I did my best with.

– The list was compiled over about a 10 day period, so things have of course changed for most of the accounts. Just a heads up there.

– As with the previous posts, this was a copy-and-paste job, so all errors are sics.

– Because this was done over a longer period of time, there will be some duplicates. I deleted all those that I could find, but I am sure I missed a couple.

– With very few exceptions, the lists are individuals only, not organizations or blog collectives such as The Sight Screen. I hope to do those in a later post.

– I politely recused myself from the competition.

– Ctrl-F works within the spreadsheets, if you want to search for yourself.

And so, without further ado, the results:

Number of Followers:

Number of Tweets:

*2.6 million total tweets.

Number of Accounts Following:

Twitter Strike Rate:

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