Concussed

An interesting article from my former employer, MinnPost, on the affect the better understanding of concussions is having on the popularity of youth (gridiron) football.

A sample:

According to a survey released Wednesday (but taken last July), most U.S. adults — 86 percent — are now aware that scientists have found a connection between concussions suffered on the gridiron and long-term brain injury.

And that knowledge, the survey also found, has left one in three Americans less likely to permit their sons to play football.

Some 13 percent said they absolutely wouldn’t let their child play the game.

In addition, 14 percent of the survey’s respondents said learning about the relationship between playing football and long-term brain injury has made watching the sport less enjoyable.

But it’s the changing attitudes among parents toward youth football that may, eventually, cause football to go the way of boxing and lose most of its large fan base. (Although difficult to imagine today, prizefighting was the most popular American spectator sport of the 1920s.)

Now, every sport has its problems with head injuries, not just football. Soccer, baseball, cricket. All of them. And I really don’t think the decline in popularity of boxing can be so easily explained.

But. Head injuries are a problem and none of the major professional sports leagues are doing anything about it.

The NFL is willing to let their sport die rather than make it safer.

And so this is an opportunity for the ICC: To become a global leader in making their sport safe for everyone: kids and adults alike.

I am not sure how to exactly go about doing that. But I do know two things for sure: 1.) For cricket to survive and grow, it needs to grow and cultivate the game at the youth level. And 2.) The backlash against head injuries is very, very real and is going to have a profound affect on youth sports. And so it follows that if cricket can be seen as the safe alternative to football and soccer for kids – the way soccer was in the 70s and 80s – then that could go very long way to not only ensuring the survival of the game, but also could serve to increase its global popularity.

The key of course is to make the game safer without taking the teeth out of what’s great about it.

Something for us all to think about.

Team sports are a huge part of growing up – and making cricket safe for kids could make it THE youth sport of the 21st century. In America, England, everywhere.

That’d be something, eh?

But based on what I found on ICC-Cricket.com, we have a lot of work to do:

concussion search

The Two Test Series

1st Test at Abu Dhabi:

South Africa 249 and 232
Pakistan 442 and 45

Pakistan won by 7 wickets

2nd Test at Dubai:

Pakistan 99 and 326
South Africa 517

South Africa won by an innings and 92 runs

3rd, 4th, and 5th Tests:

N/A

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Sigh…

The two Test series strikes again.

The thing is, the people in charge like them – surely because Tests are not as financially viable as a couple T20s – and prefer to schedule a few one-dayers instead of another Test or two. And the players seem okay with them. And the fans keep showing up for those meaningless ODIs despite all of their bitching on Twitter. And so I think, unfortunately, we are stuck with them.  So we might as well find a way to get used to them.

At first glance, of course, the World Test Championship is the answer, because it gives meaning to every single Test match. But upon further inspection – while yes that it is true – it still leaves the fan with too many unanswered questions.

Was the first Test a fluke? The SECOND!?

And so on.

Now of course even a five Test series can end in a draw. But in that case the draw would be the proper result. While in a two Test series there is nothing proper about any possible result. Well, except for maybe a 2-0 drubbing. But even in that case the aforementioned unanswered questions remain.

In a perfect world, every series is comprised of five Tests and the outcome of the series is what counts toward a squad’s ICC ranking – not the individual matches therein. But that’s not what the ICC wants. It’s almost as if they want as little meaning as possible in every series in order to add even more value to their tournaments. Even the Ashes feels silly now with two series happening in the same calendar year – a scheduling necessity because of the ICC’s Champions Trophy.

And so that is where we are at. And it is too bad.

But the good news is cricket – more so than every other sport when you think about it – is open to change. New formats, new rules, new equipment (the helmet, for instance, changed the game forever), new tournaments, new tour set ups…etc. The game – despite the fact that it appears on the outside to rely on strict adherence to tradition – changes. A lot. All the time even. Other sports don’t.

So while two Test series are the hot thing right now, they won’t be forever. In the meantime, let’s just keep in mind that two Tests are better than no Tests at all.

And keep bitching on Twitter, too, of course.

Clutchiness

My favorite baseball blog ever is the now defunct FireJoeMorgan.com.

Their ongoing theory was that there was no such thing as “clutch” in sports. That there were good baseball players and there were bad baseball players. And the former performed well when it mattered because they were excellent at the game – and while occasionally the latter performed well in big moments, under the lights, on the biggest stages, it was just a matter of a blind squirrel finding a nut, and that the sample sizes provided by baseball’s playoff system were just too small to use for true statistical analyses.

How a guy does over 162 games, that’s what matters, that’s how a player’s quality should be defined – it should not be defined by how they played for one week in October.

And I always agreed with them.

People that deride Sachin Tendulkar for only scoring centuries in losing causes or against Bangladesh come across as bitter old fools. Same with those who called Alex Rodriguez a choker because he never hit .450 in a Divisional Series or knocked in the game winning runs in game seven of the World Series.

The opposite is true, too. One great Ashes series followed by a lifetime of drudgery and ducks does not make a great player. Seasons, years, decades of performing at the highest quality makes one a great player – and those that are on winning teams get moved into an even higher category of greatness, whether they had great series or tournaments or not is beside the point.

I guess what I am trying to say is: MS Dhoni is great under pressure because he is a great cricketer – not because of some sort of phantom “clutchiness”.  He is just really good at scoring runs. Period.

Someone in the above Facebook thread mentioned how Rafael Nadal is better under pressure. Now while that is first of all like comparing apples to hand grenades, it is also total bullshit: Nadal is just really fucking good at tennis. Again: period. 

And let’s also put it this way: There is a ton of pressure in professional sport. All the time. In every game. In every situation. Being able to “clear the mechanism” and push the pressure to the side and maintain composure is what separates the professional from the amateur.

I have taken penalty kicks in my rec soccer league and have wanted to throw up beforehand. I was not mentally built for professional sport, in other words. But some people were born with that “thing” – and that thing is the ability to collect the ball in the 18 yard box, clear the mechanism, and score. That thing is to be able to stand in against Dale Steyn – no matter the situation – and perform.

Every professional athlete was born with a very high clutchiness rating, but some are simply better athletes than those around them, which is why they appear to perform better when it really matters.

I would rather have a guy that scores runs consistently over the long haul than a guy that only performs when it’s the playoffs.

You can have Kareem Abdul Jabar. I’ll take Alastair Cook.

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That said.

There is magic in sport. And that is why we all watch. For those unexpected moments when spin bowlers no one has ever heard of step up and score runs and runs and more runs when their team oh so desperately needs them to.  Those times when lifetime .280 hitters tear the cover off the ball for two weeks in October. Those closing pitchers who shut the opposition down when the game is on the line on such a consistent basis that you have no choice to think that maybe, just maybe, there is something to the whole idea of “clutch.”

Or maybe not.

Either way, those moments alone do not a great player make.

However: those moments are why we all love these games.

About last night

I never get to talk about cricket.

I read about cricket a lot, and I write about it some, and I watch it a bit (though not nearly as much as I would like) but I rarely, very rarely, get to talk about it.

Last night I got to talk about cricket.

I got to talk about it with fellow Minneapolis cricket nuts and long time Twitter pals, Jon and Diane. As well as (drumroll please) my absolute favorite cricket writer, Jarrod Kimber, and a surprise guest, Simon King, the founder of Cricinfo. (They were in town to film a documentary about the site, which as you know was invented in Minneapolis in the early 90s.)  (Simon, who basically invented the god damn Internet, isn’t on Twitter).

We met at a British pub, went to a chain fish joint, and finished the night at an Irish bar – never once leaving Nicollet Mall. And so we were unable to give our guests a good dose of local flavor, but that was neither here nor there, because I got to talk about cricket – with two guys who have watched the game from every corner of the globe – who understand it in ways I never will, who know the game like people know their own hands. Two people who have lived the dream: travel the world and write about cricket.

I will admit that I mostly listened and nodded (and drank beer), but it was still a discussion about an obsession that I never to discuss. And it was grand.

I am not going to tell you what we talked about in any detail, of course, but suffice it to say that this morning I considered myself at least 75% more knowledgable about the game – both on and off the field – and about Cricinfo. And of course we also talked about other things, such as Texas and the West Wing and Seinfeld and how fucking cold Minnesota is and Justin Verlander. But everything always swung back to the cricket, for that was the uniting force that brought us all together.

Me, my favorite cricket writer, the guy who invented Cricinfo, and two local pals.

It was a perfect night.

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In other news, I have a new job. It is a Communications role for One Heartland – a nonprofit that organizes camps for kids with HIV/AIDS, type 2 Diabetes, and social challenges such as homelessness. It is an amazing operation and I am incredibly proud to be a part of it. Plus, hey, I get to write. For a living. And so while it’s not writing about cricket, it’s still writing. For a living. So that’s something.

The days are long and the work challenging, but I still plan on posting here as much as possible.

Especially now that we are getting closer…and closer…and closer…to the Australian summer:

The Ashes start in just 36 days.

World Test Championship

I’m excited and here’s why:

1. Cricket needs to evolve to survive, and the need is just too urgent to allow it to do so organically. The World Test Championship is just the kind of forced evolution the game needs.
2. It adds meaning to all those meaningless two Test series.
3. “Every ball counts” is the best value proposition in sport.
4. It puts the first class game back in the spotlight – at all levels, international and domestic.
5. It does not put a cramp into any other current competitions.
6. The game is now finite. No, that’s a good thing.

And so next steps:

1. Decrease the ODI World Cup to six teams in order to make those tediously long ODI series at least a little more interesting
1a. Find a way to still involve the Associates
2. Involve the Associates in everything: including the World Test Championship
3. Find a better hash-tag. #wtc does not make me think of cricket, it makes me think of this.

Sachin

This is my tribute post to Sachin Tendulkar.

I never saw Sachin bat in person. Sachin never made me cry tears of joy in my living room. I never thought he was God. He did not define my childhood. He did not represent my nation’s coming of age. And his career for the most part while not in decline, was nearing its natural conclusion when I started following the sport.

But I am a cricket fan, and so I respected him as one of the all time greats, and I loved watching him bat, and I loved the adoration he commanded wherever he went. At the same time, however, I am not an Indian cricket supporter, and so his successes or failures did not affect me in the way they affected the one billion Indian cricket fans the world over.

There is no real reason for me to mourn his retirement from Test cricket – but I still do. Very much so.

I mourn because my friends the world over are mourning. I see them weep for their hero, weep for their childhoods. And I cannot help but empathize and get wrapped up in their sadness. It is never easy to see people you like in pain.

But it is more than that…

I mourn because the tributes I have been reading all day – whether they be 12o character tweets or 2,000 word essays or just simple pictures – have been heartbreakingly perfect and sad and full of that strange sort of melancholy we reserve for our childhood heroes, even if we only knew them as old men.

As I have mentioned time and again, cricket – and cricketers – inspire fantastic sportswriting, the best sportswriting, and so it would follow that the retirement of the greatest cricketer in a generation would generate beautiful tribute after tribute, and you all have not disappointed. I look forward to reading all of them. With a lump in my throat.

But it is more than that…

I mourn his retirement because I feel it might be one of the final nails in cricket’s coffin. If India turns its back on the game, then the game dies. And without Sachin, it will be far easier for India to do so – even with its current crop of rising stars lighting up the Wankhede.

As I tweeted earlier, I feel that cricket, the game, has lost its center of gravity, and is spinning uncontrollably into deep, dark, cold space. I am not sure if it can be saved. There will never be another Sachin – no one else will be able to elevate the sport quite like he did – and so this might be it, this might be how cricket dies. Historians will not write about DRS or matchfixing or the IPL when they talk about the death of the game, they will simple say: the game died with Sachin.

But it is still more…

A few months ago, I wrote a post about my dad and Sachin. Linking the two forever even though my dad probably didn’t know a blessed thing about cricket. And all the talk about Sachin’s debut in November of 1989 keeps bringing me back to that fateful day a month earlier. And I mourn my dad again. And I think about all the times Sachin batted: all those matches, all those runs, all those hundreds – and it just makes me realize how long my dad has really been gone. And how much has happened since he died. And it makes me so unbelievably sad.

And so I guess it worked. And I guess I was wrong above. My life is intrinsically linked to Sachin Tendulkar’s – tenuously linked but linked nonetheless – and now that he has retired, I feel like the grief for my dad should be changed in some way. But it hasn’t changed. And it won’t change. It will continue.

Sachin will soon be gone. But my grief will be here always.

And that is why I mourn Sachin’s retirement. All those reasons above.

Many of you are losing a hero, some of you are losing the last links to your youth, and all of us are losing the Patron Saint of this game we love. That right there is plenty of reason to mourn. But because I decided to write the post linked to above, Sachin’s career timeline also reminds me of my personal grief cycle – and that is enough to send me over the proverbial cliff.

And so I mourn.

God speed, Sachin.

We miss you already. 

Jack vs KP

Earlier today English and Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshere and English cricketer Kevin Pietersen got into a Twitter spat about some comments Wilshere made in a press conference about how the English national football team should be for English atheletes only. Comments that were later completely overblown by the English media (shocker).

Everyone who has read this blog knows how I feel about this particular topic: international sport is a farce and nothing more than an exercise in obsolete nationalism. It’s 20th century flag-waving bullshit and nothing more. The world has moved on, but sport for whatever reason (cough…$$$$…cough) has not. And this little spat between Wilshere and Pietersen just further proves my point: Pietersen –  a South African by birth but who plays for England’s national cricket team – is angry at an English footballer for saying that a Belgian/English/Albanian footballer shouldn’t be considered for England because he isn’t English enough. Or something.

So while I agree in the end with KP, it just goes to show what a circus international sport has become. If it wasn’t a circus and a farce, KP would be in the UAE preparing to play Pakistan and Wilshere wouldn’t have even been asked about Adnan Januzaj in the first place because of course he could never play for England – and if Jack did say something like “the English national football team should only select English players” it would be like him saying “the sky is blue“.

A circus. Through and through. It is time for sport to move out of the 20th century. Athletes like Mo Farah – who was born in Somalia but trains in Oregon and competes for the United Kingdom and whose favorite football team is Arsenal, a team owned by an American but based in north London and whose manager is French and whose best player is a German national of Turkish descent – athletes like Mo, and teams like Arsenal, are the future of sport. They will define sport in the 21st century. Borders are meaningless now. And sport needs to stop clinging to them.

My friend Tim over at 7amkickoff said it way better and also reminded us that we should ignore the wicketkeeper’s sledging and try to keep our eye on the ball:

I find it highly troubling that Qatar has been accused of using slave labor and of killing their migrant workers to build the stadiums which will host the World Cup and people are up in arms about whether Januzaj is going to corrupt the sanctity of the English national team.

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