To the Lighthouse

But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, evenly, with indefatigable fingers. They lengthen; they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumns trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.

– Virginia Woolf, cricketer

Virginia-Woolf-and-sister-Venessa-Woolf
Virginia and sister Vanessa, c 1896.

A Little Thing

I was utterly flattered to be counted among the inspirations for this wonderful, wonderful post from Chris Smith (@chrisps01) on his blog, Declaration Game.

Over the last week or so, I have gone back more than a dozen times to read and re-read the final two paragraphs. I think they are truly perfect:

Watching, say, a Test match: in between overs, the sound of applause, distinct but feint through distance, will drift across the ground. There’s no action for the crowd to respond to and nobody around you is clapping. But some 150 metres away a fielder is jogging or walking away from the square, with hand raised, holding hat or cap, towards a section of the crowd. It’s the bowler whose over has just finished, perhaps having taken a wicket, or completed a spell, but definitely having impressed. And now that bowler is returning to his fielding position close to the boundary, close to a section of the crowd who, independent of allegiance, identify with the bowler and welcome him back.

On the other side of the ground, the noise feels like a reaction to an event already viewed and understood. Or simply an echo delayed by the reach of the ground. At a distance, the harshness of clapping is tempered, not hand smacking hand, but raindrops on a roof, hooves on soft ground; insistent and gentle. Above all it’s the warmth of cricket and its people.

Now is the time to find the balance: getting the big things right, so we can enjoy the beauty of the little things.

It is writing like that that gives me hope for this game. Despite the position paper. Despite everything.

And I love the sentiment expressed in the sentence “…the warmth of cricket and its people.” Being a cricket blogger, I am exposed to said warmth on nearly a daily basis. And I am given hope for the future of cricket every single time.

The paragraphs sum up everything that is great about cricket – and about Test cricket in particular – and reinforces why we all need to act as proper stewards of this grand old game. It has more wonderful traditions than every other sport put together, and those traditions need to be protected.

Throwback

There is something really special about barebones Internet/TV coverage of a cricket match. Just one or two cameras, no on screen overlays and sparse commentary. Whenever I watch one I feel like I have stepped back in time to an era I sadly missed as a newcomer to the game.

Subash (aka the Cricket Couch) said it best in a post about Cricket Ireland’s stream of the Ireland-Pakistan ODI:

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…

Subash, in the same post, also brings up the great point that Internet broadcasts such as the one discussed above are the future of world cricket. And if the ICC truly is interested in growing the game, then they need to make cricket more accessible via online streaming:

There is no doubt in my mind that endeavors like the one witnessed today from Ireland Cricket streaming an ODI on YouTube is the way forward in terms of the global consumption of the sport, which would allow it to expose it even a wider audience and hence a more robust long term health.

Spot on analysis as usual.

I bring this all up because today we are being treated to two such streams: Australia Women vs England women in a series deciding ODI, and Hong Kong versus Kenya in a World Cup Qualifier.

The former match will be on the ECB’s website, and the latter on the ICC’s website.

For free.

I am looking forward to taking in as much of both matches as possible, and I urge you to do the same. For while these matches will be – to paraphrase Subash – a window into the past and simultaneously a look into the future – they are doubly important to take an interest in considering the contents of the now infamous “position paper”.

It is my opinion that considering direction the ICC appears to be headed in, the future of the games lies not in tonight’s dead rubber Australia-England ODI, it lies instead in the women’s game and in the hands of the Associates. And it is up to us to support them.

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Note: the ICC will stream three more world cup qualifiers after tonight’s match. Full schedule here.

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Finally today: yes you read that right: Hong Kong has a shot at getting into the World Cup. More than that though, because of their top six finish, they are now listed as a top eight Associate side and therefore qualify for the World Cricket League Championship and have been elevated to full ODI status. A great accomplishment for sure!

The downside to all of this, however, is that – as pointed out here – Hong Kong does not have an international quality cricket facility. And while they will receive US$350,000 for their participation in the WCL from the ICC, that of course does them no good right now.

It would be a real shame if this burgeoning side was forced to play its “home” matches at a neutral venue. They are far too many nomadic sides in World Cricket as it is. I do hope they are able to build or renovate a facility in time for the WCL.

Working for the Few

The executive summary from the latest Oxfam Briefing Paper, dated 20 January, 2014 and entitled ‘Working for the Few’ (emphasis mine):

Economic inequality is rapidly increasing in the majority of
countries. The wealth of the world is divided in two: almost half
going to the richest one percent; the other half to the remaining 99
percent. The World Economic Forum has identified this as a major
risk to human progress. Extreme economic inequality and political
capture are too often interdependent. Left unchecked, political
institutions become undermined and governments overwhelmingly
serve the interests of economic elites to the detriment of ordinary
people. Extreme inequality is not inevitable, and it can and must be reversed quickly.

Sound familiar?

Full report here (PDF).

Twitter Strike Rate: Stadiums

Context.

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One of my favorite Twitter accounts is the official account of Lord’s Cricket Ground: @homeofcricket. Sure they do their fair share of ticket and event pimping, but they also tweet out pictures of the ground covered in snow or of the pitch on the morning before a big match. It’s that kind of stuff that makes me love Twitter generally and I wish more grounds did it. Some of the County Grounds do it, of course, but very few of the major Test grounds, which is why the spreadsheet ranking the major Test grounds’ Twitter accounts is so small:

The Lord’s account is obviously the most successful. They do a really nice job with it and I am surprised more grounds have not taken the time to follow their lead. Cricket grounds may be inanimate objects officially, but they are actually living and breathing monuments to the memories of millions of cricket fans the world over. The outcry when Perth hosted its last Test is just one example of this. I think the management team of all grounds would find it beneficial to give their stadiums a Twitter account, and thereby a touch of humanity.

Caveats:

**Five Test minimum

**These are ground specific accounts only. I left out @trentbridge, for instance, because that is Lancashire CCC’s official account handle and I covered the Counties already.

**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.

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This isn’t our game; it never was…

It has taken me a couple days of reflection on the news out of the ICC earlier this week in order to form a semblance of an opinion.

I have always been an optimist when it comes to Test cricket’s future. The game has been around for 130+ years. It has seen action in three different centuries. It has survived two world wars, the introduction of the helmet and DRS. It has seen half its member nations go nuclear, two of which against the better wishes of the international community, and still it soldiers on. It has survived the introduction of two new formats, the IPL, the Big Bash League and dwindling attendance records. It has weathered the storms of Kashmir, the Mumbai and Pakistan terror attacks, and countless other attempts to derail it – both external and internal.

Cricket will be fine, I always say, even Test cricket. It has battled against history and time throughout its entire existence. It can handle whatever you want to throw at it. Do your worst, cricket will still be standing.

And cricket supporters, as @dbackwardpoint mentions, do a lot of crying wolf when it comes to the death of the game’s oldest format:

I remember when the ICC planned to kick the Associates out of the 50 over World Cup and supporters the world over were up in arms. It was the death of World Cricket, they said. But it wasn’t. The ICC heard the fervor and reversed course and the most powerful Associate member, Ireland, is stronger than ever.

And so I admit, my first reaction to the leaked revamp paper was “relax, everyone. It’s cool. Cricket will be fine. Just like it always is.”

But for some reason, after a few more days reading and reflecting, I realized that this time things were different somehow. The Internet was not littered with “the sky is falling” loonies, it was instead my favorite cricket journalists and bloggers writing logical and reasoned pieces on why this could really and truly be the final nail in the coffin of this game we love. It was reasonable people whose opinion about the game I deeply respect, figuratively dropping to their knees and wailing in despair for the future of this game that has brought them so much joy.

It comes down to this: one of the biggest problems in world cricket is too much power in the hands of too few. And the leaked proposal puts even more power in the hands of even fewer people.

And that spells death knell.

And so now that we have decided this is a problem – what can we do to fight it?

Step number one of course is hoping that cooler heads prevail and the proposal is sent to the incinerator where belongs – but what’s step number two?

The always brilliant Jarrod Kimber – cricket’s white knight if it ever had one – suggests, as he always does, just doing something simple: writing to the heads of CA, the ECB and BCCI. The links to their contact pages are here, here and here, respectively. I have done so, and suggest you do the same. It takes all of 15 minutes.

As Kimber says, the ICC is counting on our silence, but now is not the time for silence. It is the time for action. I cannot do what I have always done and just assume the game is going to be fine. It needs our help to continue.

The good news? Again as mentioned by Kimber in the piece for Cricinfo above, there are a lot of good people working to help keep the game alive. Let us not stand idly by as they carry this weight alone, let us – the collective massives – help shoulder their burden.

For the game does not belong to England, India and Australia. It does not belong to the Test playing nations and it does not belong to the ICC. It does not belong to the advertisers or the TV networks. It does not belong to the players. It doesn’t even belong to us. It instead belongs to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. We are all stewards of this game, and we must act accordingly.

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So what else should we do to help preserve this game? Well, based on some inspiring tweets from the aforementioned DeepBackwardPoint, I suggest that we all find a way to support cricket in all its forms and at all its many levels. Don’t just watch Tests between the big three. Watch and support the Associates and the Women’s game. Financially support your local club, or better yet sign up and start playing. Contribute a few bucks to your favorite blogger or buy one of their t-shirts. If you live in the States, pay $15 a month for Willow and watch legal streams of Ranji, County Cricket and lesser Test nations.

Personally, I am going to make an effort to learn more about the Associates and the Women’s game – and in turn write more about them. First step is making sure I add their matches to the Internet Schedule for US Viewers. It is not updated accordingly yet, but I hope to have it done soon. Hopefully this will be a tool we can all use to support “outsider” cricket. Bookmark it and check back often, as it is updated every Sunday. And then take in a ladies Test match, or maybe a First Class match between Ireland and Nepal. There is lots of cricket out there, and the best way to ensure it stays that way is to not ignore it as too many of us have been doing.

The other day I talked about finding the little things in the game, and using those to inspire my blog posts. Along those same lines, there are dozens of cricket matches every day of the week on every corner of this big old world, and there are dozen stories in each them just waiting to be told. And those are the stories I want to tell. And hopefully by telling them I will be doing something tangible – in my own small way – to make sure those stories are there for the telling for the next thousand years.

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The Highway is Alive Tonight

I live about 500 feet from Highway 36, a major freeway that runs between Northeast Minneapolis and the Eastside of St. Paul. It is an elevated road, and looks down over my neighborhood. In the winter when the trees are bare I can see the cars whizzing by when I walk out front to get the mail.

The noise took some getting used to – as it is only two lanes and therefore does not necessitate a sound barrier (which is fine because interstates divided our neighborhoods enough, the last thing we need are walls to further divide us) – but over the years I have gotten used to it. I barely notice the hum any longer – and when I do I don’t mind it. As I mentioned it is not a major interstate like I-94 or I-35W, so it quiets down at night.

Sometimes, when I am alone, and I hear the hum – when I am laying in bed, or sitting on the front stoop – I often contemplate as to whether or not the passengers in those cars I hear are thinking about me. Wondering who I am. What my story is in this little sunken, tree lined neighborhood jammed between two downtowns.

And of course they are, because we have all been there, too. We have all pushed our face up against the passenger window as our car flew through Kansas or Oklahoma or Upstate New York or Montana and looked out at those neighborhoods in the middle of this vast land – those tiny lights in an endless landscape of lights – and wondered who those people were down there. We wondered about their great loves, their tragedies, their great failures, their great successes. Their darkest moments. Their greatest joys.

But we – the melancholic passenger poet – were missing the point.

The beauty and magic of living a life day to day – hour to hour – minute to minute – is in the mundanity of existence. In the minutiae of every moment. A father coming home from work to have his burdened lifted just by seeing his daughter. A quiet evening with the ballgame on the radio for the housewife who wonders where the time has gone. Taking the trash out and catching the perfect sunset. Coming home to a warm, well lit house on a dark winter’s night.

That’s life in America. That’s life everywhere. That’s what makes this all count. That’s why we get up everyday. Not for the grand moments or the pinnacles or the valleys. But for that moment every single day when every little thing we do becomes worth it just for a few seconds.

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When it comes to cricket, I too often have been the car passenger counting streetlights from the turnpike. Watching the matches whiz by me, looking for the big stories, the big ideas – but those grand and great ideas are few and far between. The magic in cricket is in the little things. The quiet moments when the game breathes. The small stories of success. The perfect delivery. The one great cover drive. The perfect sunset over what cynical me would call just another meaningless One Day International:

cricket-sunset_1991392i

Those are the moments that I need to be writing about.

On Twitter I mentioned that I was out of things to say about cricket. But that is hardly the right case. I just need to start seeing the forest for the trees.

Or, I guess, vice versa, in my case.

Stop looking for the big picture – and look again at the small picture.

I often whine that cricket is too infinite for my American sensibilities. But that’s just not true. Cricket is just as finite as any other sport. We just need to look for the mundanity that gives it its ending and purpose. If we take too wide a view, we miss it.

That’s what two of most favorite bloggers – Gary Naylor and Jon Hotten – do. Find those small moments – those little moments of magic that make this game what it is, that give it depth, and pattern, and meaning – and write about them.

And so that is what I am going to do.

I am going start by, ahem, live tweeting – of all things – a Big Bash League match. Adelaide vs Brisbane. 20:45 eastern time here in the states.

I hope to see you all on Twitter.

We can find the little things together.