Complicit

It is a shockingly aggressive accusation of everyone, including myself, that was watching the IPL final on Sunday. And it has taken me a couple of days to figure how exactly I feel about it.

On the one hand, it was kind of a buzz kill. Not in a bad way, mind you, because when else should one make such a statement? Before the match when no one is paying attention? After the match when everyone has stopped caring? No: you make it during the final itself, when Twitter is crawling with IPL fans. To do it any other time would be cowardly.

But it did make me feel like a bit of a chump.

Which brings me to my other hand: he was right.

Cricket is beyond corrupt, and spot fixing is a symptom of a march larger disease, but either way: we as fans are part of the problem. Every time we tune into a match, purchase a ticket, or buy an online subscription we are telling the powers that be that we are totally happy with, as Devanshu put it later, “business as usual.”

And you will notice I did not single out the IPL either. There have been spot fixing convictions in Test cricket and County Cricket. As I have mentioned in previous posts, singling out the IPL solves nothing. This is cricket’s problem, not the IPL’s problem.

So what to do then?

Stop watching?

That’s one course of action. Stop paying for anything cricket related. Turn off the computer and go outside. Attack the powers that be where it counts: their pocketbooks. And if enough people do that, the sport will (hopefully) take notice and make attempts to heal itself – or if not: die.

But that is a course of action that most of us, myself included, are simply unwilling to take, because we cannot pick and choose and say “I will watch the Ashes but I am going to boycott the IPL.”

It’s all or nothing – or nothing changes.

Another course of action is to do what baseball fans in America did with regard to steroids: hope someone else fixes it for you while you keep on going to games and buying Barry Bonds jerseys. It took an investigation from the United States government to force Major League Baseball and the Players Union to implement a testing system with actual consequences.

And so we just keep watching cricket and hope the ICC, or the United Nations (??), or a third party helps us out of our jam.

But that is another course that I am not willing to take. First of all, it will never happen, and second of all, while it might make me a hypocrite, I am going to continue to speak out against all of the meaningless matches and the sport’s relationship with gambling organizations.

And that’s third course right there: telling the powers that be that “business as usual” is perfectly fine, we are all just going to complain about it now and again.

And maybe the third course is exactly what the sport needs.

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I am a big believer in the important role journalism plays in a democracy. A strong and independent press is vital to its very survival. And yet good journalism is going away. Probably forever.

Cricket has an army of wonderful journalists covering it. But they are all beholden to page views and subscriptions and ratings.

But cricket has something else that is not beholden to those things: its strong, vital, and diverse blogging community.

And so I am going to keep watching, but I am also going to keep writing. And I hope all of my fellow bloggers continue to do the same.

It’s okay to watch the IPL final, but it’s not okay if you do not use your voice to speak out when you see corruption ruining this sport we all love so dearly. We can longer afford to turn a blind eye.

And that is my call to my fellow cricket bloggers: if you see something, say something. It is vital to cricket’s survival.

Sooner or later, they will start listening.

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Horsham

Sussex vs Somerset at Horsham, County Championship
Somerset 76 & 108; Sussex 300
Sussex won by an innings and 116 runs

Steve Magoffin is a 33 year old medium fast Australian who has played 93 First Class matches for Queensland, Surrey, Sussex, Western Australia, and Worcestershire. Over those 93 matches, he has taken 334 wickets with an economy rate of 2.63.

Yet he has never played for Australia at the international level.

This brings to mind two thoughts: One: considering Australia’s current problems, it’s a shame that they are not giving bowlers such as Magoffin further consideration. Two: It also goes to show how difficult it is to break into an international side. There are countless journeyman professionals such as Magoffin who have long and successful careers at the County level, but never get a sniff of the Test or even one day squad.

Something to remember when we are all watching the Champions Trophy and the Ashes this summer: we really are watching the very best cricketers on earth.

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Magoffin’s eight first inning wickets for Sussex against Somerset last week buried his opponents before the first drinks break. The hosts were all out for only 76 runs before lunch on day one, and Sussex’s quiet and efficient 300 was all they needed.

Magoffin took another four wickets in the second innings, while only giving up 11 runs in 12.3 overs.

His full match stats are nothing if not impressive:

23.3-9-31-12

That’s a good couple of days at the office.

Hopefully it at the very least turned a couple of heads over at Cricket Australia.

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That’s two wins on the trot now for Sussex in the County Championship, and they have yet to lose a match in that tournament. They currently sit at the top of the table – one point clear of Middlesex but with a match in hand; all of this despite the fact that several of their key players (Joyce, Prior…et al) have been away on international duty.

Sussex vs Kent at Horsham, Yorkshire Bank 40
Sussex 222; Kent 202
Sussex won by 20 runs

I have given Sussex a little stick lately for relying too often on one stand out performance from one player, and how that might start to become a problem.

The YB40 match against Kent yesterday bucked that trend. They had five batsmen score over 30 runs; and four bowlers each took two wickets.

It was not a drubbing, but it was an efficient team effort and sorely what Sussex needed in this competition.

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Horsham Cricket Club is one of three official grounds used by Sussex throughout the season. The matches there this week were part of the Horsham Cricket Festival.

Creative Commons - Photo links to source
Creative Commons – Photo links to source

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Next up for Sussex: Warwickshire at Hove in another 40 over match on May 30th.

A Good Day

There has been a lot of bad news in cricket lately. I am not going to go into a detailed reaction, but some weeks it is hard to be a cricket fan – and this has been one of those weeks.

However, thankfully, in the cricketing backwater of  Dublin, Ireland, the entire world has been able to witness entertaining, swashbuckling cricket played with joy and abandon to help us all forget about corruption and scandal for at least a little while.

The first Ireland vs Pakistan ODI ended in a thrilling tie – and the second appears to be going Pakistan’s way despite a brilliant century from Sussex’s Ed Joyce.

But the best part of the matches has been the fact that Cricket Ireland has streamed the matches live, free, and worldwide on its website. The Cricket Couch wrote a great post about it, he said better than I ever could:

It was throwback to an earlier time.  A time when cricket was innocent and the pictures shot with cameras you could count with the fingers on one hand; Almost an amateurish feel to the angles and the switch to the different views trying to track the ball down; The voices telling you what you need to know rather than trying to capture your attention so that they could peddle you a product; No graphics besides the odd look at the scorecard and a demand of the viewer to pay attention to the live pictures because there weren’t many replays on the screen; A window in to the past that in fact gave us a peek in to the future of cricket broadcasts.

If the ones that are in charge of running the sport are really keen on growing the sport and its fan base, the path is laid out right in front of them.

Nothing more really needs to be added, except this: it was a really, really good day for cricket – and the sport sorely needed a good day. Cheers to Cricket Ireland.

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Today is: the IPL final, day three of England vs New Zealand, and the aforementioned Ireland vs Pakistan ODI. So today I am going avoid Cricinfo and Twitter and just watch the cricket.

Sussex match reports to follow tomorrow.

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All it Takes is One

Derbyshire vs Sussex at County Ground, Derby
Derbyshire 223 & 219; Sussex 401 & 23
Sussex won by 9 wickets

That’s what Sussex needed: a comprehensive win.

In a lot of ways, it was a formula for winning a four day cricket match when fielding first: bowl your opponents out on the first day; put up a big first innings total; then bowl your opponents out again with enough time left on day four to win it.

Comprehensive might be the wrong. Efficient comes close. But the only real way to put it is that Sussex got the job done with a very even handed attack (only one bowler had more than three wickets in either innings) (Magoffin’s four in Derbyshire’s second innings) and two monster innings from Michael Yardy (153 off of 236) and  Chris Jordan’s blistering 92 off of 105 – the latter could in a lot of ways could be called a match winning innings.

No other Sussex batsman scored over 25 runs in either innings.

It goes to show that despite cricket being a team orientated game – every player gets at least one, if not two, chances to make an impact, which is very unlike most sports – games can also be turned on their heads by massive individual performances like Yardy’s, Jordan’s, or Stuart Broad’s second innings against New Zealand at Lord’s last week (more on that in a second).

Michael Yardy was involved in eight different partnerships in his first innings 153. Time after time after, his partner would fall, but he kept his head while all those around him were losing theirs. The first four fell in just 20.1 overs and if Yardy had fallen too, the match would very well had been lost.

And for Chris Jordan to enter the match when his team were teetering at 109/5 and give his team the two things they so desperately needed, runs and stability, probably won the match for his team.

For Sussex, there were, really, no other standout performances with the ball or with the bat for the club.

I would say this is worrisome, but right now they are positively routing Somerset in a four day match at Horsham, so I am not too worried about it. Steve Magoffin and his outstanding 11-4-20-8 in Somerset’s first innings are the standout performance this go ’round. Full match report on that one to follow in a couple days.

Netherlands vs Sussex Sportpark Thurlede, Yorkshire Bank 40
Netherlands 28-2
No result

Sussex has now lost fully 50% of its YB40 matches to rain.

A shame.

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Some other matches worth mentioned are, as previously noted, England’s absolute shellacking of New Zealand at Lord’s as well as Pakistan’s upcoming two One Day Internationals against Ireland, in Ireland.

There is not a lot more to say about the former match. It’s really a shame. I felt awful for New Zealand players and supporters. A collapse like that can have long lasting negative effects.

I really did think the Kiwis had a chance to win back on two, and after bowling England out for only 213 on day three, New Zealand had set themselves a very achievable target of 239 with five sessions to go (barring any rain). But they were bowled out for only 68 in less than two hours of play.

Awful. Just awful.

Hopefully Headingley goes better for the tourists. First ball is Friday morning.

And regarding Stuart Broad: what a performance. He has a lot to prove still to England supporters (and selectors) but I think he might have turned a corner at Lord’s. We shall see.

Regarding the latter two matches, Cricket Ireland has been hyping the, excuse me, living shit out of them since the tour was announced last winter. I really don’t care who wins, and the matches are of course not available to watch here in the States, but I do hope for blue skies, big crowds, and supremely entertaining matches. Cricket needs a strong Ireland and a strong Pakistan.

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“This is horrendous.”

There is of course a lot to write about these days in World Cricket. The IPL playoffs, the England vs New Zealand Test series, County Cricket…etc. And I will write about all of those things soon enough. But not tonight.

Tonight I want to talk about football.

I write a lot on here about how nice it is to be a neutral cricket fan. I don’t sweat every ball, my heart never gets broken, and as long as the match is entertaining, I honestly don’t care who wins. It is a phenomenally enjoyable way to watch a sport

Football, however, is a different story.

On Sunday morning, in case you weren’t aware, Arsenal needed to win away at Newcastle in order to seal the fourth and final Champions League position. A draw or a loss would mean that Tottenham could pip them for the spot with a win – the thought of which turned my stomach.

When I first started following Arsenal, I never thought I would get on board with the rivalry with Spurs – since it is for all intents and purposes a local rivalry, something that I just cannot identify with having not grown up in North London. I thought my enemies would be Chelsea and Manchester United.

Boy was I wrong.

It’s too strong a word, but I hate Tottenham. Hate their players and their fans – especially the ones here in town.

It makes me feel silly, and a little stupid, and it is not an emotion that I talk about at parties. But for two hours every weekend, I am allowed to massage my hidden feelings with my fellow Arsenal fans. Which I think is acceptable. I have the rest of the week to be a grown up.

And so Champions League football was at stake, but also at stake was the absolute need to finish ahead of Spurs.

Arsenal took a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute. The Tottenham match was scoreless until the 89th minute when Bale, of course, scored. His goal meant a Newcastle equalizer would knock Arsenal down to fifth. I would be incomprehensibly despondent if that happened. For reals.

The next five minutes can be summed up in one singular Tweet:

It was not fun. It was physically painful. Every Arsenal fan on earth just KNEW that Newcastle was going to score. We all saw it happening.

If you have access, the replay is available on ESPN3. I urge you to watch the final five minutes. I watched it tonight and even though I knew what was going to happen I still broke into a cold sweat. But the best part is the away fans. Shifting, screaming, gripping each others’ shoulders, checking their watches…you can see the pain and the misery in their eyes.

Of course, the goal never came. Arsenal finished fourth, and all was right in the universe.

But that abject misery stuck with me for the rest of the day. Why do we do this to ourselves? Those away fans paid really good money, and took a train 300 miles north on a Sunday morning – all to be absolutely tortured. I woke up at 8:00am and biked 10 miles downtown to the local Arsenal pub, and spent money, and drank pints, and bought food – all to be downright miserable for 90 minutes.

And I would not have it any other way. It was a fucking blast. Some of you will understand, some of you will not. There is torture in being a sports fan. Authentic and painful torture. But there is also relief, and camaraderie, and unbearable joy. And of all the sports, football is the one that provides all of the above emotions, the positive and the negatives, in spades.

I am happy the season is over though. For now I can go back to putting my feet up with a good cup of coffee and a good book and the cricket in the background. Occasionally I will yawn, or give an audible groan of delight at a cover drive, but otherwise watching Test cricket is the most relaxing and peaceful part of my week.

Sometimes I am bummed that I do not have a cricket team to support. This is not one of those times.

News Round-Up

A lot happening; a lot to cover.

First: the spot fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League. Honestly, we all should have seen this coming. Gambling is a force of nature in cricket, and there are so many meaningless matches, and greed is a basic element of being human, and the game itself is easily manipulated by players who know what they are doing.

It’s a shame, really.

But let’s not blame the IPL. Or the BCCI. Or India. Or Southeast Asia. Or the T20 format. For lest we forget, just last year Englishman Mervyn Westfield was banned for five years for spot fixing. Not in the IPL, but in the supposed last holy sanctuary of the game: county cricket.

The problem cannot be boiled down into just a Indian problem, or just a T20 problem. If we do that then nothing is solved. This is a cricket problem. Fans, the media, the players, the owners, the boards. We are all culpable, and we all need to work toward a solution.

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This situation reminds me of baseball’s steroid problem from a few years back. It is easy now for us fans to look back and wag our fingers at Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and call them cheats. It is easy for fans to blame the owners and the league and the players’ union for not instituting proper testing procedures until forced to by the federal government.

But we, the fans, are just as responsible  We all KNEW everyone was juicing, but we still bought tickets, and went to the games, and turned a blind eye. If we had stopped going to the games, the owners and the league and the players’ union would have made a more concerted effort to clean up the sport.

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I saw Bonds hit home run number 713 at Pac Bell and it was a remarkable moment. I also saw him hit a double off the walk at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. It was the hardest hit ball I had ever seen in my entire life.

And, so, I am at fault. I am guilty.

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The situation is different with cricket, of course. But we as fans need to stand together against all of the meaningless matches; need to stand together against the gambling scourge that is ruining this game we love.

Alone we are powerless. But if we stand together we can change the world.

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Also, shoot, Test cricket is back. And I have not watched any of it except for a minute or two this morning. I have been staying up too late, been too busy at work, and just have not had the time.

But I love the fact that it is happening in the background as I go about my mornings. Love checking the scores every hour or so.  Love that New Zealand is taking England to task.

And I really love the New Zealand cricketers. They play a fun brand of the game and really seem to have a personality – far different than England’s machine like way of going about their business on the pitch.  I fancy them to win this match and really put the hosts on their heels.

I have watched a great deal of Kiwi cricket over the last couple of years. They just always seem to be on when I have time to watch. From their brilliant win at Hobart a couple years ago to their near victory over England this past march, they have really put World Cricket on notice. They might not always win, but if they do go down, they will go down fighting.

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All of that said, I do not care for their uniforms. Not sure how you could possible screw up white pants and a white shirt, but they figured out how.

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Finally, Pakistan is in the UK for matches against Ireland and Scotland; a warm up for the Champions Trophy. The fact that they are there, playing ODIs in English-like conditions makes me think they have a real shot at making noise in that tournament. We shall see.

Pakistan vs New Zealand in the final?

You heard it hear first.

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#engvnz

Tomorrow: Test cricket returns.

Sure, it was back a few weeks ago with Zimbabwe vs Bangladesh, but for all intents and purposes, Test cricket has been on hiatus since England’s brilliant draw with New Zealand at Auckland on the 26th of March.

Sure, it has been less than two months, but it feels like it has been an incredibly long time.

A lot has happened in the last month and three quarters.

March the 26th was pre-Boston bombing, pre-Bangladeshi building collapse, pre-Pakistani elections…

On March the 26th: Margaret Thatcher was still alive; so was Roger Ebert, Jonathon Winters, Richie Havens, and George Jones.

On March the 26th, gay marriage was illegal in New Zealand and Minnesota. Now it is not.

On March the 26th, there were 1,428 Americans who were alive but would die over the next 50 days as a result of gun related violence.

On March the 26th, Yemen had experienced 51 fewer US drone strikes.

On March the 26th, Arsenal was four points behind Tottenham in the league table. Today they are one point ahead of them.

WWWDWDWW = Arsenal Football Club’s record since 26 March.

WDWDWDW = Tottenham Hotspur’s record since 26 March.

On March 26, there had been zero sixes hit in IPL6.

Today there have been 574.

574.

I guess what I am trying to say is: it’s been a while, and I am ready for it to be back.

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The first Test is at Lord’s. It is going to be cool, cloudy, and there are really good chances of rain both tomorrow and Saturday.

As such, my prediction is a rain shortened draw.

And that’s my prediction for the series, too.

That’s not to say that it will not be entertaining. Both teams left something on the table in New Zealand last March – and both have something to prove.

Is England still a potential world number one?

Is New Zealand’s recent resurgence for real?

I guess we will find out.

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The picture in the masthead above, and the picture of me on the About page of this blog, were both taken on the same day: 1 March 2011. It was my one and only trip to London. My wife and I walked from our hotel in Trafalgar Square up to 221b Baker Street, Lord’s, Abbey Road Studios, and Regent’s park. It was one of the more perfect days of my entire life.

And so I love when matches are at Lord’s – as they always remind me of that magnificent day.

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First ball tomorrow is at 5am Minneapolis time. I hope to see all of you on Twitter.

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