Match Day 10

In a, well, fitting end to Australia’s Champions Trophy, they lost to England in an abandoned match via the D/L method in soggy Birmingham. And so all three of their matches in the tournament were abandoned and in only one of those were enough overs played to have a winner. A real shame for the reigning world champions, but not a real shame for the tournament. I don’t mean to slog on Australia here, but I am sick of them winning everything all the time, and I am happy to see that some new blood (Bangladesh) will be playing for the chance at some silverware.

England’s win also means that the two teams that I predicted would go through from Group A (Australia and New Zealand) are packing their bags and taking Ubers to Heathrow. And with Group B still up in the air, the same thing could happen there too. We shall see. My money is still on India and South Africa progressing, but this tournament has thrown up its share of surprises so far, and the matches are far from un-winnable for Pakistan and Sri Lanka (Edit: or not. I was pretty tired when I wrote this is my excuse.) … so it could be an interesting couple of days, and then a very interesting semi-final round.

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In other cricket news, earlier today I was driving down to put air in my tires at the BP station across from a school about a mile from my house. In the school lot I often see people playing pick-up games of cricket. Mostly kids with only one set of stumps who look like they are just having fun. But today–this morning–it was a full blown match. Umpires, uniforms, cones to mark the end lines, two sets up stumps. I watched for a little bit but it’s Saturday and I had errands to run so I moved on. It looked like a lot of fun. Though I felt bad for the fielders: it’s hot–damn hot–today and windy too. And there were standing square under the sun in dark uniforms. They must have been scorching. But I smiled because they still clapped their hands and cheered on their bowlers after every delivery. The spirt of cricket is alive and well in Roseville, Minn.

I have, in the last couple of years, given up on the idea of the sport taking hold here. But here what looked to be a thriving little youth league–players were kids, but a little older than what I usually see, maybe between 12 and 15 years old–was happening on a Saturday morning, on a baseball field, in middle America USA. Maybe, just maybe, I was wrong, and the sport has a future here.

Until tomorrow.

Match Day 9

Bangladesh beat New Zealand earlier today, and now the minnows who are longer minnows can go through to the knockout stage if England beat Australia tomorrow. That’s a mighty big if, and in a fair world Australia—who had two matches abandoned due to rain—go through because, let’s be honest, they are the better squad.

No matter what happens tomorrow, though, today is about Bangladesh. They knocked the World Cup runners up out of the tournament, and they did it not with style as much as with grit and determination—which is even more impressive. They had their backs to the wall at several points in their chase and they could have easily slumped to the loss and no one really would have blamed them, but the didn’t do that. They just kept coming at the Kiwis in a relentless chase that they had no answer for. It was an impressive and well deserved win.

The win for Bangladesh marks the third (!!) surprise result in this tournament, and surprise results just don’t happen all that often in this game. And I think those surprises have given this tournament a real boost instead of the usual slog through the group stages we see in other major tournaments. It’s a welcome change, in other words. Let’s hope the ICC sees the results and says something like “hey, we should keep this tournament around” and not something like “see, there shouldn’t be any associates in the World Cup.” For despite how fun this tournament has been (rain outs notwithstanding) taking the associates of the World Cup wouldn’t make it a better tournament, it would just water down its spirit. It would no longer be the World Cup, it would be the Champions Trophy II (Electric Boogaloo)—and no one wants that.

But I am making it sound here like Bangladesh never win. They do win. They made it the Quarterfinals of the last World Cup, and have won over 100 ODIs since their first in 1986. And they have won three out of the four they have played this year already. And they are ranked 6th in the world. There was lots of talk today about the Bangladesh squad that beat Australia in Cardiff 12 years ago, but there’s no doubt that the current side is better, and keeps getting better, and hopefully will keep getting better. It’s been said before but the future of this game rests not on Australia, England and India, it rests on Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan. And that’s why this win for Bangladesh doesn’t mean there should be fewer non-Test sides in the World Cup, it means there should be more.

Today was a good day for Bangladesh, and it was an even better day for cricket.

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Tomorrow, then, becomes a true quarter-final. Australia win and they go through. Any other result—including a wash out—and Bangladesh moves on. Then Saturday and Sunday bring us two more quarterfinals. What a fine tournament this has been so far, and we are just getting started, with six straight knock out matches to come.

Forecasts (all temps in fahrenheit):

Tomorrow in Birmingham (Australia v England):

Day: Cloudy with light rain developing later in the day. High 69F. Winds SSW at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 40%. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

Night: Cloudy skies early, followed by partial clearing. A few sprinkles possible. Low 56F. Winds SSW at 10 to 20 mph.

Saturday in London (India v South Africa (this has gotten Match of the Tournament written all over it—and what a forecast!)):

Day: Sunshine along with some cloudy intervals. High 73F. Winds SSW at 15 to 25 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

Night: Mainly clear early, then a few clouds later on. Low around 60F. Winds SSW at 10 to 20 mph.

Sunday in Cardiff (Sri Lanka vs Pakistan):

Day: Cloudy early, becoming windy with a few showers later in the day. High 63F. Winds WSW at 20 to 30 mph. Chance of rain 30%. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

Night: Windy and partly cloudy early. Mostly cloudy with diminishing winds later at night. Low near 55F. Winds WSW at 20 to 30 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph.

Not too bad all around!

Enjoy the cricket, everyone. Tournaments like this don’t come around all that often.

Match Day 7

When I was a kid we would take our vacations at two cottages that belonged to my Grandparents in the upper Peninsula of michigan. They sat on Lake Brevort which was a medium sized lake right outside the tiny village of Moran, Michigan, about an hour north of the Mackinac bridge which connected the lower peninsula to its northern neighbor.

There wasn’t a lot to Moran. A gas station where I would buy soda and baseball cards and candy and my dad and his brothers would buy beer, a hole-in-the-wall dive bar that was always changing ownership and names, and a Catholic church. Moran sat at the intersection of state road M-128–two lanes of black top that crossed the entire peninsula, north to south–and Dukes Road, which ran all the way down to the lake, passing machine shops and bait shops and trailer parks and abandoned farms and an apple orchard and two cemeteries before cresting a hill and bringing the lake into sight.

Brevort Lake was resorts and permanent homes on its eastern side, and all Hiawatha National Forest on its western side–a thick, dark wood interrupted here and there with tall sand dunes. The lake was fed by the Carp River but despite the name there weren’t a lot of fish in the lake. There was a small public swimming area, but our cottages had no sandy beach, just an inlet for my grandfather’s row boat and rocks which were made of the old concrete boardwalk that used to run along the shore but was demolished in the 1980s. There was a fire pit lined with stones near the lake on the southwestern edge of the property line.

The cottages were mirror twins: a bathroom, a main room which served as kitchen and living room, plus two bedrooms and a front porch that looked over the lake. The north cottage was brown and yellow and smacked of 1970s fashion, while the south cottage was comfortable and dark. Both cottages faced west into the lake and would fill with light in the late afternoons followed by sunsets over the lake that were always spectacular and at night the windows would be open and there would be a chill in the air and the only sound would be the waves lapping against the rocks and in the morning the sunlight would be speckled coming through the trees between the road and the cottages and the lake would be still as glass and the smell of fresh coffee would fill the air.

Every summer we would go up there for a week. Driving up the ten hours on I-75 from Cincinnati, my dad in his ball cap with his cigarettes singing Peter, Paul and Mary with mother in the passenger seat, and my sister and I and later our little brother in the back. Sometimes we went up with my dad’s brothers and their families, sometimes with my grandparents–my dad’s parents, who owned the cottages–and sometimes it was just our small family. While we were there we would take the row boat to the drop off and row back, we would go to Lake Michigan and swim in the tall waves of the big lake, we would fish, we would cook hot dogs over the campfire for lunch with the sun on our necks, we would take my Uncle Chuck’s power boat to the sand dunes and run up and down them for hours, we would hike in the national forest swatting away deer flies, we would play touch football in the cottage side yards, we would walk out into the lake until we reached the sandbar, broken sea shells cutting our feet and the water up to our chests, we would drive into St. Ignance and eat walleye at Huron’s Landing, we would get sunburned, eaten a live by mosquitos and eat ourselves sick with marshmallows cooked over the campfire as the sun went down and the lake and forest grew dark.

The summer I was ten years old we had just moved from Cincinnati to upstate New York. We went up to the cottages that year with my dad’s brother Chuck–the one with the aforementioned speedboat, a 1970 wooden beauty–his wife Randee, and their two sons Henry and Andrew. Henry was three years older than me and a year older than my sister. He was short and dark and talked non-stop and his energy was boundless. Andrew was a year older than me and was tall and thin and light and was just cool about everything. I worshipped them both.

That week it rained for the first three days we were there. We played cards inside and watched television on tiny black and white TVs that maybe got three channels if you were lucky. We drove into town and walked the streets of St. Ignace and bought fudge. Andrew had a bow and arrow set that he was dying to use but his parents wouldn’t let him out in the rain so he pouted the entire time. My sister and I fought. My brother and I fought. Henry and Andrew fought. My parents fought. Their parents fought. On the second day during a brief respite from the rain my brother was outside and crawling on my parents car and broke a windshield wiper so on day three we drove through the pouring rain with only one wiper to get the other fixed. Everything was wet. Everything leaked. It was miserable.

On day four the rain finally stopped. It was still deeply overcast and the clouds were low and the air thick with damp but it wasn’t raining. So we all got into our cars and drove to the head of the blue blaze trail in the national forest, nicknamed such as the trail was marked by blue streaks of paint about a foot tall on trees every 200 feet or so. We put on our boots and packed plastic to sit on if we needed a rest and put our rain jackets in backpacks just in case and headed out. We hiked for hours through the dense forest of pine and oak and ferns taller than I was. No one talked. The only smell was that of the damp forest ground.

We hiked for two hours before we came across a marshy clearing that marked our turnaround spot. Emerging from the tree line we saw the sky was dark and threatening above us. My father and his brother stood next each other, looking out into the marsh at the horizon and the blue-grey clouds. After a few moments the sky started to spit rain. You could hear it on the marsh and on the tops of the trees behind us. My uncle sighed and turned to my father.

“Damn rain,” he said.

“God damn rain,” my father replied, keeping his eyes on the horizon.

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Match Day 6

And just like that, England–the team I didn’t think had a chance–are through to the knockout stages after a convincing albeit unentertaining win over New Zealand today in the Welsh wind and rain.

They are through on their own merit, don’t get me wrong, they did what they were supposed to do: they won their matches. But they are also through because it rained, as all three other teams had a match abandoned due to rain. If New Zealand had gone on to beat Australia had gone on to beat Bangladesh, the table would look like this:

Australia: 4
England: 4
New Zealand: 2
Bangladesh: 0

Meaning England would have had to beat Australia on the final day in order to maybe squeak into the knock outs on Net Run Rate, as they certainly couldn’t rely on Bangladesh beating New Zealand.

But it rained, and England are through, and Australia are on the outside looking in, and New Zealand are in deep trouble, and Bangladesh are in with a shout. Who could have predicted that? Not me.

Now while some might be upset at how the rain has thus far affected the tournament, and that it’s a shame that Australia–the number one ranked side in the world and the World Cup trophy holders–could be packing their bags early, they really isn’t much to complain about. Rain is a part of cricket, it’s in the marrow of its bones. It’s another subplot to this game we love because it is full of so many subplots, layers, tunnels within tunnels. So while I understand complaints about the farcical ending to the Australia-Bangladesh match, that’s on Duckworth-Lewis, not on the rain, and it certainly isn’t on England. I mean, it’s not like they cheated. They won their matches, it rained, and they are moving on.

Plus now they get the added benefit of potentially knockout the Old Enemy out of the tournament in what would otherwise be a dead rubber. And nobody likes a dead rubber.

Speaking of that, what are the implications here? Who goes through?

Here’s how it shakes out (all of the below assumes a New Zealand win):

If England beat Australia, then England and New Zealand go through.

If Australia beat England, then England and Australia go through.

But since this is the 2017 Champions Trophy and it’s June and it’s the British Isles, you have to assume rain.

If England beat Australia and the Bangladesh-New Zealand match is abandoned, then New Zealand (probably) squeak through via NRR.

If Australia beat England and the Bangladesh-New Zealand match is abandoned, then Australia go through as before, Net Run Rate not needed.

Now, if it rains in Birmingham on Saturday and Australia-England is abandoned, then New Zealand go through with a win over Bangladesh, based on NRR (again, probably).

But, hey, since they have to play the games, I shouldn’t count out Bangladesh here: if they beat New Zealand and if England beats Australia then, yes, Bangladesh goes through. Holy hannah now that would be something. I’d avoid the Aussie bars in the UK for the time being if that happens, haha.

My prediction? England and Australia make it to the knockouts. Which is too bad, because I rather like New Zealand.

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Tomorrow brings us more matches from Group B, and it feels like it has been years since we have seen these teams. Pakistan against South Africa is tomorrow with India against Sri Lanka the next day. South Africa and India are through to the knockouts with wins, which makes these must win matches for their opponents. I think Pakistan are out, but I wouldn’t bat an eye if Sri Lanka put up a fight.

Unless it rains, of course.

Until tomorrow.

Match Day 5

Australia were cruising to victory over Bangladesh in London today but the covers just came on and the players headed for the changing rooms. What a gift for England and New Zealand an abandoned match would be! And it looks like rain is going to continue off and on for the rest of the evening:

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Australia and Bangladesh sharing a point would throw this group into turmoil. It would put England in command with two points and a game in hand, put Australia on two points with only one match left to play (against England) and New Zealand and Bangladesh would each have a point a piece. Tomorrow’s match between England and New Zealand is already a must win for both squads (more so for England, despite what Cricinfo says) and today’s rain adds even more implications to what is shaping to be THE match of the group stage. And the rain would mean that Australia would have to beat England to move on. Something that’s not impossible, of course, in fact most would give the edge to Australia, but it’s a still a tricky tie and a win is not guaranteed.

Oh, and the weather tomorrow in Cardiff? Rain in the morning then clearing after noon. Thank goodness.

There’s still talk of more cricket tonight in London, though, so I’ll stop counting my chickens. And even if the storm blows through and Australia hit whatever target they pull out of the Duckworth/Lewis hat, tomorrow is still set up to be an interesting day.

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If the rain holds and Bangladesh get their (rather undeserved, frankly) point, then they could, potentially–very potentially–go through to the knock outs. It would take them beating New Zealand AND England beating Australia, and those are two very big asks. But still, it could happen. It won’t though, We all know that. If you ran New Zealand versus Bangladesh through a computer simulation, the Kiwis would win 99 out of 100 matches. They are simply the better side, and in cricket there just aren’t the giant killings you see in other sports (football, mainly). The better team wins in cricket. That’s just how it works. The games still need to played, of course, and in most cases who the better team is is not entirely certain, and when it is certain the margin is thin enough for other factors to come into play (the toss, the conditions, home field advantage). But not in this case.

I understand that, on merit, Bangladesh deserve to the be there. But I can’t help but wonder how much more competitive and entertaining this group would be if the West Indies were there instead of Bangladesh. As it is the three other teams can count on an almost a guaranteed two points. And that simply isn’t fair, to the group, the tournament and to Bangladesh.

We shouldn’t have a team needing to rely on rain in order to salvage points from matches. That’s no way to run a tournament.

But that’s neither here nor there. Bangladesh are in the tournament, and if it rains tomorrow in Cardiff, and in London on Friday, and on Saturday in Birmingham–three things not altogether unlikely–then this group could turn from being highly predictable to the opposite. In spades.

Cardiff tomorrow:

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London on Friday:

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Birmingham on Saturday:

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Ahh, June in the British Isles, what a time to hold a cricket tournament.

 

London

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Last Saturday 200 Twin Cities Arsenal supporters and I gathered at The Local Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis to watch the FA Cup final. Before kickoff there was a moment of silence held for the victims of the Manchester bombing. The moment of silence was impeccably observed at the ground … and at the the Pub. You could hear a pin drop in the bar, servers and bartenders stopped what they were doing, and we all just bowed our heads and paid our silent respects to the people who lost their lives for nothing more than attending a pop concert. It was awe-inspiring.

Minneapolis based Arsenal supporters are motley crew, emblematic of the Great American Melting Pot. We are Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Who Gives a Shits. We are black, white, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, gay and straight and in between. We are from Zimbabwe and Duluth and Cyprus and Ohio. We are doctors and truck drivers and barbers and shoe salesmen. But despite these differences–differences that in the world outside football might be a bridge too far–we all stood, we were all silent, we were all respectful. And I think that moment of silence at the Pub, that spirit of comradery, that belief that we are all one, that we are all in this together, that we are all human … that is how we will defeat our enemies. I am going to hold that moment of silence in my heart for the rest of my life, and I think others that were there will as well.

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I love London. It is my favorite city in the world. I have walked those streets, crossed those bridges. And so this attack and the one in March have a personal affect on me. But I know, and we all know, that London will be fine. It’s the capital of the western world, it’s big and diverse and rich and beautiful, and so it has always been under attack by the evil in this world, and it will always be under attack. But whether it’s Nazis or ISIS or some future enemy we have yet to imagine, London will be fine.

And this is where it would be okay to point out my hypocrisy. There have been terrorist attacks all over the world that have claimed more lives than yesterday’s. In May alone there were 147 terrorist incidents. 15 of these took place in Afghanistan–a cricket loving country if there ever was one–and one of those killed more than 100 people and injured close to 500. That attack was just on May 31. Five days ago. And yet it was ignored by the west (for the most part) and ignored on this blog. London will be okay, but I don’t know if we can say the same thing for Kabul. And it’s not just Afghanistan, there were three terrorist incidents in India stemming from the Kashmir conflict that claimed the lives of 10 people. And there was the bombing in Mastung, Pakistan that took the lives of nearly 30 people. Plus attacks in Gwadar and Quetta and Kohat.

I have no answer to the charge of hypocrisy. I am guilty, no doubt. My only defense is that I see London as a spiritual home, and I promise to do better, to see the world as a global citizen, and not just a citizen of the west. This is something that cricket has helped me to do, but I still have a long way to go. We all need to do more than pray for peace, we need to be that peace every single day of the year.

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And speaking of cricket, while it seems to trite to talk about a silly bat and ball sport after what happened last night, the games must go on, and in those games, maybe we can find the spirit of togetherness I found in the pub that Saturday morning. Furthermore, to see enemies India and Pakistan playing a peaceful game of cricket should give us all hope for the future, despite what happened in the Kashmir region last month (see above).

India for their part dismantled Pakistan in damp Birmingham in a rain shortened match, winning by an impressive 124 runs. And with today’s match we have now seen all eight teams play, and the cream is definitely rising to the crop: South Africa and India look the most impressive, with New Zealand nipping at their heels. Tomorrow Australia play Bangladesh in London and despite obvious security concerns, the game will be played as scheduled.

Until tomorrow then.

Stay safe, everyone.

Match Days 2 & 3

Yesterday threw up a not unexpected curve ball: rain. New Zealand looked dominant and Australia probably felt lucky to get away with their shared point. It’s too bad for the Kiwis as they looked like the better side yesterday and a win would have booked their ticket to the knockouts, but now they have to negotiate a tricky match against the hosts, England, and get past the Bangladesh banana peel. Meanwhile Australia are still in the group’s driver’s seat, based solely on their formidable ODI form as of late. I mean, they are the defending World Champions.

The shared point might have affectively closed the door on England, however. Their hopes surely would have sat with one side leaving the match on zero points. But with both walking away with a point England’s match against New Zealand is now probably a must-win affair, and even a win in that match guarantees them nothing. But then again even before the tournament started the match was a must-win game for England. And that’s the thing about this tournament–as Mark Nichols pointed out on Cricinfo a few days back–there’s no margin for error in this tournament. In the World Cup, the field is so wide and the differences in quality so vast–which is a GOOD thing, don’t get me wrong–that a side can suffer through two or even three slip-ups and still move forward. This tournament? Not so much. Lose a toss on a batting friendly pitch and you might be going home. It feels like every ball matters, ever run in, every wide, every fielding change.

Speaking of which–and also on Cricinfo–Andrew Miller extols the virtues of this tournament. And it’s nice to see the punditry finally coming around on it. It’s a great tournament, and I know it’s future is in doubt, but I hope it sticks around. Here’s Miller:

Or perhaps there was just something inherently satisfying about a tournament designed to produce a hectic sprint for the title. The eight best teams in the world, engaged crowds, a maximum of five matches each … one false move and you’re as good as out. It’s the exact same formula, in fact, that the ATP uses for its hugely successful end-of-season World Tour Finals, and in an era when the World Cup – for all the money it generates – has found itself locked into a cumbersome six-week schedule that drains the goodwill of even its most ardent supporters, such a simple nod to top-notch entertainment is a valuable PR exercise, apart from anything else.

The “PR exercise” is a bit of a backhanded compliment, but he has a point there too. And it’s why I am pulling for England to do well. A home team storming their way to the final and winning it all at the Oval would be something truly grand for not just the ECB, but for the game as whole.

Furthermore, this tournament is giving us something very ODIs do, even those in the World Cup: full stadiums. They are predicting the grounds to be at least 90% full over the next two weeks of play. Big, diverse crowds spread out across three cities and a home team storming to a trophy: that sounds like a recipe for a great tournament.

England vs New Zealand is Tuesday in Cardiff. Mark your calendars, it should be a good one.

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Today it’s South Africa v Sri Lanka at the Oval in London. Sri Lanka won the toss and chose to field, and South Africa put up a hefty but achievable score of 299. I don’t see Sri Lanka beating India in their second match, making this one yet another must-win affair in a tournament full of them. We’ll see how it goes, but my money is on South Africa successfully defending their total. But I’ve been wrong before. Heck I am wrong most of the time.

Tomorrow brings us India vs Pakistan in Birmingham. Another match to savor. It’s interesting to note as well that–based on 2011 counts–nearly 20% of that city’s population identifies as either Indian or Pakistani. This should make a full crowd and a rollicking ground. I can’t wait. Until tomorrow then.