Anniversary

Today is Limited Overs’ two year anniversary.

There have been 337 total posts, which works out to a little bit less than one post every other day. A far better rate than I ever expected to maintain when this all started.

And if each post contains, on average, 500 words, that means I have banged out 168,500 words over the last two years.

And if each post takes me, on average, about an hour to write, that means I have dedicated 337 hours to cricket blogging.

Or put a different way: 14 total days.

Two weeks.

Yikes.

This post suddenly took a depressing turn.

But I guess there are worse things to spend one’s time on.

I am looking forward to another two years (at least) of blathering on about this wonderful old bat and ball sport. And as always: thank you for reading.

From dawn ’til dusk

The first Ashes Test of the English summer will take place on the 14th of July at Trent Bridge in Nottingham.

The first ball of the first day will happen at 10:00 GMT:

That’s 11:00 at the ground
05:00 here in Minneapolis
16:30 in Mumbai
20:00 in Melbourne

And so when Jimmy Anderson starts his run in against the Australian batsmen, I will just be getting out of bed, probably off walking the dog, and then trying to catch most of the first session in the post dawn light.

Meanwhile, my friends in London will heading out to an early lunch, or taking a break at the office to follow the match online; my friends in India will just be finishing up their work day; and my friends in Australia will be home already, finishing up the evening meal, and settling in on the couch for that rare treat that is prime time Test cricket.

Lunch is at noon GMT:

13:00 at the ground
07:00 in Minneapolis
18:30 in Mumbai
22:00 in Melbourne

At the stroke of lunch I will hop in the shower, grab a bite, and then ride my bicycle the six miles to the office. My route looks something like this.

Meanwhile, cricket fans in India following the match are home from the office, while fans in Australia are trying to decide if they should stay up through lunch or hit the sack, and the local fans in England are just getting done with the lunch break, and heading back to work.

The post lunch second session starts at 12:40 GMT:

13:40 at the ground
07:40 in MSP
19:10 in Mumbai
22:40 in Melbourne

I am at the office, watching the match on Willow.TV, or listening to Test Match Sofa, and following along with Twitter and Cricinfo….

In England it’s the worst part of the work day, in India’s it’s the heart of prime time, and in Australia most reasonable people are hitting the sack, but cricket fans for the most part are not reasonable people.

After tea, the third and final session starts at 15:00 GMT:

16:00 at the ground
10:00 in MSP
21:30 in Mumbai
01:00 the following day in Melbourne

I am on my second cup of coffee at the office, those in the UK are (hopefully) bunking off to the pub; everyone in Australia is in bed save the fanatics; and in Mumbai the prime time viewing continues.

Close of play is 17:00 GMT:

18:00 at the ground
Noon in Minneapolis
23:30 in Mumbai
03:00 the following day in Melbourne

I am heading to lunch under bright July sunshine, England is heading home in the long shadows of early evening, India is heading to bed in the black of the night, and those still awake in Melbourne are deciding whether to call in sick, go to bed, or just stay up until work starts.

17 hours later, it all starts up again.

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Seven hours; 90 overs; 98,000 births, 50,000 deaths; breakfast, lunch, and dinner; from the crack of dawn in Minneapolis to the middle of the night in Melbourne: that’s the rhythm of Test cricket.

Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad

There is a great article from the, still brilliant after all of these years, Onion entitled “Please Click On Our Website’s Banner Ads“.

The gist of the satire is that news, and journalism, exist for one purpose: the selling of advertising.

A sample:

Oh, I’m sorry. Did you think The Onion actually cared about the integrity of its brand? Or that we paid even one single thought to the expectations of our readers? Or that the enduring quality of The Onion’s content mattered even in the slightest? Ha! That’s rich. No, none of that stuff matters at all. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we want tons of people to go to our website and click on our news stories, for sure. But the only reason we want this to happen is so that their eyes might, by chance, wander over, like little lost children, to a nearby ad. You think the New York Times is any different? Don’t kid yourself. What you are taking part in here is not a free exchange of information provided by The Onion as some sort of noble act of public service. Lord, no. What you are taking part in here is, essentially, a scam. A scam in which we trick you in to visiting our website and looking at ads so that some large, omnipotent corporation will give us a big stack of cash. Or a small stack of cash. Or, really, any amount of cash at all, preferably arranged in stacks.

And while it is a stretch, it is for the most part: true.

I work for a website here in Minneapolis called MinnPost.com. We are a non-profit, we are mission driven, and our founding philosophy is that a strong third estate is vital to a strong democracy.

And yet, the website we slave over every day is not our product.

Our product is our readers, for our readership (affluent, educated, older, local) is what we sell to advertisers, foundations, and sponsors.

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Every savvy Internet user knows that we are not Facebook’s or Google’s or Instagram’s customers, we are their product – which is why they have no problem taking away or changing services.

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And sport is no different.

The world “product” is part of the sporting lexicon. “The NY Yankees put an entertaining product on the field day in and day out.” But in sport, we, the fan, are the product. The product that the sports franchises sell to Pepsi, Miller beer, and Chevrolet.

I am not telling you anything you do not know.

It is something most savvy sports fans understand, and most either try to ignore or are simply okay with.

I fall into the latter category. For the most part I am happy to be a pawn in this game, because I enjoy sport, and sport does not exist without the advertising/franchise relationship, and because in a lot of ways it forces teams to at least try to compete on the field and to build and sculpt and refine an interesting and sustainable and global brand off the field.

But there has to be limits.

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I am reading Gideon Haigh’s book about the 2005 Ashes and in it he mentions how Shane Warne was a chain smoker. His brand was Benson & Hedges, of course, because they were cricket sponsors, and they gave him his smokes for free.

The most visible Australian athlete at the time, chain smoking, and playing in a tournament with a tobacco company as its lead sponsor.

It would be unheard of today. Tobacco’s relationship with sport is a black eye for all involved, we know that now.

Cricket’s relationship with B&H lasted until 2002, when finally, a ban on tobacco advertising was put into place.

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Like all industries, cricket has had to look into new sectors in which to find revenue during the recent worldwide recession. For the most part, no new sponsors have are even slightly raised eyebrows like B&H did, with two exceptions: junk food and gambling.

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First, the latter:

Gambling and sport have had a long relationship, from the Black Sox scandal to Pete Rose. But lately, it has come out that the relationship is far deeper than anyone (other than the FBI, it seems) suspected. Read Deep Backward Point‘s post about gambling and soccer and cricket: Soccer is in Trouble (and so are we).

Every time I see a Premier League team with a gambling website on its kit, I shudder. And it is more often than not, these days.

Soccer aside, if the ICC is serious about cleaning up its act, and keeping spot fixing and match fixing out of the game it is charged to protect, then its very first step should be to institute an immediate ban on gambling related sponsorships and advertising.

I know there are financial concerns for clubs and boards that go far beyond my understanding, but the very future of the game is at risk.

I call on the ICC to act and act now.

For whatever that is worth.

I rarely get on my soapbox, but like the proprietor of Deep Backward Point: I fear for the future of the game. Gambling threatens to taint our golden age forever.

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Regarding junk food, I am not as passionate, but I am passionate nonetheless.

KFC is the presenting and title sponsor of a widely popular tournament in Australian cricket, and that’s a problem.

Let’s take a sample meal from KFC: Two pieces of original recipe chicken, a biscuit, some fries, and a 20oz Pepsi (cough, IPL, cough). Using the nutrition information from KFC’swebsite, I come up with the following:

1,200 calories
141 grams of carbs
51 grams of fat
2,785 mg of sodium
71 grams of sugar

That is shocking.

That is poison. No other way to put it.

And the fact that world’s greatest cricketers are running around the MCG with “KFC” on their chests (not to mention on the sight screens and the field boards and God knows where else) is borderline criminal.

Yes, criminal: there is a serious obesity problem in every first world nation on earth. It is a health care crisis heretofore unseen since polio.

According to the sources I found, the three year deal between Cricket Australia and KFC is worth between US$1million and US$2million. Not a great deal of money at the end of the day. And probably not worth it. And here’s why:

It’s not something people like to admit, but kids the world over look up to athletes, and while that should not direct their behavior, it should at the very least be a guide. And the cricket boards and clubs should follow suit, they should not put the purveyors of poison on the chests of children’s heroes.

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Historian’s are going to look back on cricket’s relationships with gambling and junk food with the same sideways glances we now reserve for cricket’s former relationship with tobacco. Let us act now to end those relationships before there is one giant black cloud of junk food and gambling forever associated with this golden age of cricket.

A Cricketing Golden Age?

“This is a great time to become involved with cricket. With the advent and expansion of T20 and what in many ways has been a golden age of Test cricket over the last fifteen years or so (higher scoring rates, fewer draws, many all-time greats playing – Lara, Warne, SRT) the game is much more varied, interesting and colourful than it was when I was young.” – Brian Carpenter of Different Shades of Green, commenting on my post Why Cricket?

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Are we in a golden age of cricket?

It’s a question I have a difficult time answering, as this is the only cricketing age I have ever known, but despite my ignorance I do agree with Brian that we are in a golden age of Test cricket, and I will take it even further and say that we are experiencing a time that will be looked back on by cricket historians as a magical era for this game we all love.

On the pitch we get see Amla, Cook, Sangakarra, Clarke, and Chanderpaul.

Steyn, Ajmal, Philander, and Ashwin.

Plus countless others.

And if the U19 World Cup last August was any indication, a whole new generation of class and quality is ready to their place.

We are being treated to new tournaments like the IPL and the FLt20 and the Test Championship, but we still have the old standbys County Cricket and Shield Cricket and the Ranji Trophy and the Ashes.

Domestic cricket, because of the t20, maybe very well be stronger than it ever has been.

And speaking of the Ashes, it’s competitive again, something it wasn’t for nearly an entire generation.

The West Indies, and Pakistan, and New Zealand are all resurgent, while South Africa is dominating and Australia and India and England all nip at their heals – catching them only to fall back, while another resumes the chase.

Some might say that it is a dark time for Test cricket because teams cannot win under alien conditions, but England just traveled to India and won for the first time in nearly 30 years.

There are problems on the pitch, yes – lots of lopsided Test wins in three days, for one – but all three formats have featured joyful, fun, thrilling cricket over the last three or four years.

Again, I am speaking with a lack of experience, but also I think from a position of strength: I am an American, I am brand new to the sport, and I have stuck with it now for going on six years: I think that speaks volumes as to the state of cricket.

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Furthermore, we are living in a golden age of how one follows the game. Twitter, Cricinfo, the blogosphere, Willow.TV, and ESPN3 are all just examples of how technology has completely changed the way people experience cricket.

ESPN3 broadcasts Bangladesh’s home matches in the United States; Willow will be showing every ball of the IPL and the Ashes live; and on Twitter the ICC might retweet your Champions League prediction to their 600,000 followers.

We have The Two Chucks, and Alternative Cricket, and the Cricket Couch, and the Cordon – writers and podcasters and bloggers that when it comes to how cricket is covered have to be called game-changers.

And yet we still have Wisden, and Richie Benaud and Bumble and Aggers and Haigh – plus there is a new generation, a whole host of young cricket journalists doing great work like Peter Della Penna who has the thankless and difficult task of covering American cricket.

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We have access to limitless amounts of data and statistics. We have a thousand different ways to watch and read about some of the best players to ever play the game – and we can watch them playing in three different formats, on six different continents, 24 hours a day. And the game now attracts fans and players from every corner of the globe. Cricket is blossoming in America, in Eastern Europe, in China.

Cricket is not England’s game, or India’s. It is truly an international game.

A golden age? It’s arguable. But I like to think we are in one, and that it is just going to get better.

The IPL: International and American

There was quite the lively debate on Twitter last night after I put up my post about the IPL, and it inspired one subject that is worthy of further discussion:

Is the IPL an international tournament, or a domestic tournament?

And if it is a domestic tournament, why does it receive the kind of negative attention that it does, while other domestic T20 tournaments, the FLt20 and the BBL for instance, do not?

My opinion is that it is an international tournament.

It is international because of its worldwide appeal; an appeal which exists, for the most part, thanks to the players it attracts – these are not just your run of the mill cricketing mercenaries, in other words, these are the best players in the world, and therefore the whole world is going to tune in to watch, despite the fact that the teams are, for the most part, Indian.

And just speaking anecdotally, as Twitter user Jamie Harrison put it, the FLt20 feels like county cricket, and I agree. I will also add that the IPL feels like the World Cup, the BBL, as one example, does not.

And because it is an international tournament, not a domestic one, it leaves itself open to the kind of abuse and hand wringing and posts like mine last night that all big international tournaments receive.

See also:

The Champions Trophy
The 2007 World Cup

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I have been watching the replay of the opening IPL match in the background tonight as I wrote this post and did some other work, and here a couple quickfire thoughts:

1. The cricket itself has this sloppy feel to it that, in a lot of ways, I like sometimes. Test cricket can feel very rigid occasionally, the IPL has a bit of swagger.

2. Great atmosphere in the ground.

3. Brett Lee’s ball to get Unmukt Chand was something very, very special.

4. Hoping things get better for Chand. I have had my eye on him since the U19s last year. Part of me feels that the IPL is going to hurt his young career, not help it, despite the exposure.

5. Love watching Sunil Narine bowl. Barely 24 years old. Bright future ahead of him.

6. A lot of cricket fans outside of India lament the pop music and the theatrics and the dancers and the light shows that the IPL employs. What a lot of cricket fans do not realize however is that these are not conventions merely of the IPL, these are American sporting conventions, as well. Every professional American sport, all four of the big ones anyway, play pop music between every break in play, and often times during play itself. There are light shows and mascots and dance troupes – even during the most important games. Attending a game in America is more about the overall experience and less about the actual match.

Therefore, in that respect, the IPL feels very, well, American.

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All of the above said, I am still counting the days until Test cricket is back.

This is the year.

To watch the IPL, or to not watch the IPL, that is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of countless DLF maximums,
Or take arms against a sea of meaningless matches,
And by opposing end them? To watch baseball instead; to sleep.

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Every year, for the past six years, I think to myself: this is the year. This is the year I watch the IPL. This is the year I pick a team to support, that I watch more than just the final, that I actually immerse myself in the IPL experience.

All 76 matches will be available live on Willow.TV and in “HD” (what that means exactly, I am not sure). The matches are all on at very reasonable hours here in the states. And the tournament features the vast majority of the very best and most exciting cricketers on the planet.

But for some reason, I can’t do it. I just cannot bring  myself to tune in.
The tournament just feels so daunting at first. 76 matches? 76!? Does there really need to be that many? And then there is the pop music and the dancers and the shouting commentators and the sloppy batting and the useless bowling.

But it’s not like I dislike the T20 as a format; I think it has its merits and belongs in the same league as the ODI and the Test formats, and I think there is room for all three to co-exist peacefully.

I don’t think that the T20, or the IPL specifically, is killing cricket. In fact, I think it is doing the opposite, I think it is propping cricket up, allowing us to continue to have the sort of Test matches and series that we love to salivate over. But I think it is more than just some sort of necessary evil, I think it is an unnecessary positive – like a chocolate chip cookie or a cold pint of beer. T20 cricket is popular for a reason, and the reason is not just that the Twitter generation has a short attention span, it is because T20 cricket is fun to watch.

The India vs Pakistan T20 series this past December was some of the most exciting and thrilling cricket I had ever seen.

So why can’t I get on board with the IPL?

Is it because I am unable to connect with any of the teams? Surely this has not been a problem for me before, ever, in my entire life.

I have been to London a grand total of one time yet I live and die with the Arsenal, and I do not support any particular cricket playing nation but find almost all cricket matches thrilling and interesting and stimulating.

Here’s what I think the problem is: it’s new.

One of the reasons I fell in love with cricket all those years ago was because of its long and storied history. And the IPL has no roots.

Even when two Test nations are playing a T20, there is still history between the sides. And the ODI has been around long enough to form its own roots outside of the Test format.

But the IPL, and the SLPL, and the BPL, and the Big Bash League, just all feel so…purposeful in their invention. And that purpose was to make a shitload of money, money, money. They feel chemical. Corporate. Mercenary. Plastic.

The pop-up T20 league is the test tube baby of world cricket.

Cricket’s other competitions have a more organic and natural feel to them. They have been allowed to breath, to grow, to contract, like ivy on a brick wall. I am speaking specifically of County Cricket, and other older domestic competitions, and of course all those matches on the international calendar.

The West Indies vs Australia is organic; the Melbourne Renegades vs the Brisbane Heat is genetically modified.

But all the competitions had to start somewhere. And the IPL has been around for six seasons now. It isn’t going anywhere. And I really should just stop my moaning and embrace it.

And so this year, I am really going to watch. I really am. I mean it.

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