Cricket for Americans: 22 Jan. 2019: Jet lagged

This summer Australia will fly to England for the World Cup and, later, the Ashes. It will take about, oh, let’s say, 22 hours, with probably a stop or two. They will cross through 11 time zones. So the 22 hour flight will actually land them 33 hours into the future. Almost half an entire day. Oof.

They are used to such travel, though, surely, and they will probably be able to sleep, and it’s not like they will be flying in the cattle car that we are all used to. And since they are a professional sports team, they will have doctors with regiments prepared to get them over the jet lag as quickly as possible. But, still, it’s amazing, when you think about it, that you fly to the other side of the world and then have to play cricket at the highest imaginable level just a few days later. I supposed at some point time becomes a little meaningless. They eat, sleep, play cricket. All that matters is answering the bell when it rings, like boxers in a 15 round marathon.

But it’s still better than it used be. When England first traveled to Australia to play cricket in 1861, they sailed from Liverpool on Oct. 20 and didn’t arrive in Melbourne until — gulp — Dec. 24. 65 days! Just to play a little cricket. One famous story I found is that the England team had to wait in quarantine after a breakout of typhoid — typhoid! — on their trip over in 1920. An boat travel didn’t disappear when Lindbergh skipped over the Atlantic in 1919, it was the go-to travel option up until the 1960s when jet travel finally made the journey at little easier.

But here’s the deal: I have been home since Saturday but I am still jet lagged and a little sick and travel is one of those things that I adore but every time I do it I’m like: humans aren’t supposed to do this. Like, our hunter-gatherer brains simply can’t handle the whiplash of intercontinental jet travel. I hope to remember how I feel right now when the Australian openers head out to the crease on June 1 in England against Afghanistan. I am going to bet they wished they had spent 60 days on boat instead. (Probably not, but you know what I mean.)

And all this travel is further reminder that cricket is not a sport dominated by domestic leagues, like every other team sport. It is a sport of nations. The rivalries aren’t between two teams in London, or two teams in Ohio, but between two countries 6,000 miles apart, one the colonizer, the other the colonized, the rivalry so intense teams would take to boats and travel across oceans for two months just for the chance to school them on their own patch. That’s pretty cool, I think.

Cricket for Americans: 21 Jan. 2019: MLK Day

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day in the United States. Officially, it is a day for all Americans to “reflect on the principles of racial equality and nonviolent social change espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.”  That language is from the law signed by Ronald Reagan in 1983.

Cricket, like all institutions, has racism embedded in its past, its present, and — sadly, probably — its future.

It was, in its earliest forms, not just the sport enjoyed by a colonizing white Empire, it was also their weapon of colonization, used to subdue native cultures and teach them proper English gentlemanly pursuits. And so when the West Indies came to England in the 1970s and 1980s and pummeled their former masters at their own game, the symbolism was not lost on many.

Cricket is also the sport that made South Africa a test playing nation in the 1880s, only to suspend their status in 1970 when the true horrors of Apartheid came into the international light. And while most boards agreed to not travel to South Africa for matches, players still organized what were known as “rebel tours” of the country. Thumbing their noses at the ICC, their national boards, and even the United Nations. England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Australia all participated in these tours. The players received bans and some had their careers effectively ended, but others were rewarded with captainships and long careers in the national side. Slaps on the wrist, in other words, for agreeing to play cricket in a nation that practiced institutionalized racial segregation for almost 50 years.

In the present day, the large scale racism of colonization and apartheid have, for now, disappeared into a recent past that we should try our best to collectively remember. But there is still racism in the game. It took, for example, until 2011 for the first Muslim, Usman Khawaja, to play for Australia at the international level, and there is still talk of the difficultly facing players of color in the Cricket Australia system. Which shouldn’t surprise too many, as Australian fans in Melbourne just had to be told, in two-thousand-god-damn-eight-teen, to cool it with the racist chants.

And then there are the little moments that remind us that racism is alive and well in cricket. Geoffrey Boycott — one of the cricketers who participated in a ‘rebel tour’ — and his “black face” comments, Dean Jones calling Hashim Amla a terrorist, and on and on and we’ll go, with no end in sight.

Are things getting better? Maybe. A little. But for me many of the punishments for racist behavior are too light, and while the ICC and the national boards talk a good game about zero tolerance and the like, most incidents — like the racial chants in Melbourne — are smoothed over and pushed aside, while silliness like ball tampering is punished with extreme prejudice. It’s almost as if the ICC is still afraid to touch the subject. Too many old racist white men on their boards? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly feels that way. I read a great article in The Guardian a few years back about how the Marylebone Cricket Club is killing cricket, as it caters solely to white upper class men, and tells us all that “cricket is an inward-looking and exclusive sport. It says to ethnic minorities and the working classes that they are not welcome.” The MCC owns Lord’s Cricket Ground, the hosting ground of the Cricket World Cup final this summer. So maybe we haven’t come that far after all.

Cricket is a global game, which is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to combatting racism. The optics of 11 white South Africans playing cricket against 11 black Zimbabweans are not the greatest. But the upside is that, as I wrote about yesterday, it gets us out of our bubbles and challenges us to learn more not just about people who look and live like us, but all people, everywhere.

Looking forward, the best that people like me can do, is listen. Listen to the stories from people of color and how they have encountered racism in the game, or anywhere. Listen and learn. When people who look like us start up with racist nonsense after a few too many Foster’s, then we can talk, tell them to shut it. But until then, we listen.

The comments are open.

Until then, I recommend watching Fire in Babylon, the story of those West Indian cricketers mentioned above, who threw off the shackles of their oppressor, sailed across an ocean, and showed them how to play their own game.

Cricket for Americans: 20 Jan. 2019: What did I miss?

Okay, so what did I miss?

New Zealand continued their winning ways with a T20 win over Sri Lanka, South Africa beat Pakistan in a Test match and in a One Day International, and Australia lost two ODIs to a rampant — rampant — India, an India who appear to grow into World Cup favorites more and more every time they take the pitch.

Plus there were matches in the ACC Western Region T20, the CSA Four Day Franchise Series, Three-Day Provincial Cup and One Day Provincial Cup, the Sri Lankan Premier League, the Ranji Trophy in India, the Bangladesh Premier League, the Big Bash League, Super Smash League, and a whole lot of tour warm-up matches across the globe.

And those were just the men’s matches. Last week alone saw action in several women’s international series and domestic competitions — T20Is between Thailand and Nepal, and Myanmar and Hong Kong, and Indonesia and the UAE and more in the Thailand T20 Women’s tournament; and domestic competitions in South Africa’s Women’s Provincial ODI and T20 leagues, New Zealand Cricket’s Women’s T20 League, and the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. It’s a post for another day, but the Women’s game continues to grow in leaps and bounds, as does the mainstream press’s coverage of it (though that’s a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation) and therefore must be part of any conversation with regard to the ‘future of the game.’

Off the field, there was news off a new CEO at the International Cricket Council (ICC), Scotland got themselves a new coach, Darren Bravo announced his return to the West Indian fold, there was lots of talk about MS Dhoni’s role in India’s World Cup squad, and the news that Logan Cup matches were called off due to civil unrest in Zimbabwe.

That last part deserves a little more attention.

In my last post before my vacation, I wrote about how Cricket was not a European sport, but the sport of a dead Empire. And because of just how vast said Empire was, cricket is popular in every corner of the globe, including in several places that aren’t entirely safe, are deeply corrupt, and that do not maintain the infrastructure — physical or economical — needed to fix those things. Zimbabwe is one of those countries. There have been general strikes happening throughout the country due to fuel shortages and rising costs of living, and with the announcement that the government would be further taxing gasoline, travel within the country has become dangerous and in some cases due to the lack of commuter Omnibusses, downright impossible. Furthermore, the government has suspended access to the internet in the country, making communication with outside organizations like ESPN — which has been trying to get in touch with Cricket Zimbabwe for clarity on the situation — very difficult.

And so while similar but far more innocuous protests in Paris receive global attention, the protests in Harare and its suburbs are largely under the West’s radar. ESPN is making efforts for information on what is happening, but is CNN, the BBC? Of course, they are, but it’s not news, it’s buried deep behind the American shutdown and Brexit.

This is why cricket is important: it is played just about anywhere in the same area code of a former English colony, so it sheds light on the corruption and poverty and government overreach that otherwise might go ignored by those of us in the West, including those of us who consider ourselves well informed. It’s a big old world, and there’s more than just Washington and London and Paris, it’s also Harare and Colombo and Lahore.

Cricket helps us remember that. It shines a light into dark places, and forces us to see the world from a broader perspective. Would I know about the problems in Zimbabwe if I hadn’t been a cricket fan? Maybe. But probably not. And that’s true for most Western-based cricket fans. Getting out of our bubble is important, and that includes the bubble of Western sport.

Cricket for Americans: 11 Jan. 2019: Cricket for Europeans

If you ask most Americans if they think that cricket is a European sport, they will be like, of course it is! And they will lump it in with rugby and soccer and be done with it. But cricket is most assuredly not a European sport. It’s huge in England, of course, and Ireland is now a Test nation though I am not convinced it is all that popular there, and there are smatterings of popularity in a few countries on the continent, but other than: zilch. It’s mostly England, and England’s former colonies: India, the Caribbean, Australia, etc. And based on a vote from a couple years back the majority of English don’t even consider themselves part of Europe anyway so there you go. It’s a global sport based on an old dead empire. Not European.

But, like I said, there are smatterings.

France, for instance, won a silver medal in the cricket event at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris — the only time that cricket has been featured in the Olympics (this is something else that confounds Americans, but that’s a post for another day). And there’s some circles of historians who think the game was actually invented in France — though the texts in question were probably referring to croquet, not cricket.

In 1789 the Marylebone Cricket Club was supposed to tour France but the French Revolution got in the way (the match was finally played in 1989, during bi-centennial celebrations of the Revolution). Then a century and a half later World War 2 decimated most of the clubs. In the last 30 years the game has seen a bit of a renaissance but it’s by no means what one would call a very big deal in France. The national team is an associate member — the same status that the US was just promoted to — and have been since 1987. They play some T20Is and compete in the European Division Championships and they do fine.

And then there’s the Netherlands. They do a little better than France. They’ve competed in four ODI World Cups, and currently have full ODI status. They also won a World Cup Qualifier tournament in 2001 and played in three T20 World Championships. AND their national teams plays in England’s one day domestic tournament.

Their most notable player is probably Ryan ten Doeschate — who has been called the best batsman not playing for a Test nation. He holds the highest batting average in ODI cricket with more than 20 innings — an impressive feat! Because of the ICC’s closed system, though, he’s turned into a bit of a mercenary, flying around the world to play in whatever domestic league will take him: Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia, India, South Africa, Bangladesh. Lots of folks see him as the scary nightmarish future of cricket, but that’s probably a bit unfair.

What’s next for the Dutch? They failed to qualify for this summer’s World Cup at the qualifying event back in the summer, so now their eyes are on the 2023 World Cup in India — qualification for that begins in 2020 and culminates in 2022.

I have always found European Cricket to be a fascinating part of the game. Players playing for little or no money on frozen northern European pitches in front of 0.0 fans just for the love of the game and the dream of a trip to a World Cup qualifier. There’s a great deal of consternation among Cricketing “people” — you know the vague shadowy government — about how to grow the game (or whether or not they even want the game to grow, but again that’s a story for another day) and I think it’s things like European Cricket that are going to do so. These little domestic leagues in Norway and the Netherlands that keep the game ticking, over by over.

A good site to keep tabs on what’s happening in Europe is CricketEurope.com.

Note: I am traveling Jan. 11-19 to Amsterdam and Paris, so Cricket for Americans will be going on hiatus until Jan. 20.

Cricket for Americans: 10 Jan. 2019: The Ashes

Oh, the Ashes.

It’s really the pinnacle of Test cricket, as far as I am concerned. Five Tests, Australia v England. A rivalry that dates back to 1882, when Australia first beat England in a Test match on English soil and The Sporting Times declared that English cricket had died, and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” The following year England went to Australia in an attempt to regain the Ashes.

And the rest is history. To date, the two sides have played 330 Ashes Test matches. Australia have won 134, England 106, and there have been 90 draws. At the series level, Australia have won 33, England 32, and there have been 5 draws. And so if England can beat Australia this summer, they will draw level with Australia in Ashes series victories, something that would have been damn near unthinkable back in, say, 2003.

Australia are the current holders of the trophy, having dismantled England 4-0 during the winter of 2017-18 in Australia. But things are a little different now. First of all, there’s the fact that Australia has not won an Ashes series in England since the summer of 2001 — winning the 5th Test at the Oval in London two weeks before the towers fell — and furthermore England have just come off a 3-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka, while Australia just crumbled to a series loss to India on their home soil for the first time. And Australia aren’t just a shambles on the field, their clubhouse and front office are a bit in disarray too. And, finally, the last blow to the Aussies: they only have one final Test series before this summer: two tests against Sri Lanka at home. While England have three Tests against the West Indies.

Advantage, in almost every aspect: England.

But this is cricket — Test cricket. And this is the Ashes. And this is Australia. And this is England. And Australia will have Steve Smith and David Warner back from their ball tampering bans. And England will have already had a long hard slog of a summer by the time the coin is flipped for the first Ashes test on 1 Aug. at Edgbaston.

I could see it going either way. Right now I am thinking 2-1 to England. But literally any other result could happen and I would not be too surprised. 5-0 Australia? 3-2 England? Series drawn? I wouldn’t bat an eye to any of those outcomes.

The good news for people in the states is that all five matches of the series are available on Willow.TV.

Here’s the rundown:

1 Aug.: Edgbaston, Birmingham
14 Aug.: Lord’s, London
22 Aug.: Headingley, Leeds
4 Sept.: Old Trafford, Manchester (no, not that Old Trafford, soccer fans)
12 Sept.: Kennington Oval, London

Savor these matches. Drink them in. They are the pinnacle of what cricket has to offer.

Well, they are the pinnacle until we get the Pakistan v India Test series that we all deserve.

 

 

Cricket for Americans: 9 Jan. 2019: Looking toward summer

As mentioned a few posts back, it’s a big summer for cricket. There’s the World Cup, and the Ashes, both of which take place in England.

The World Cup uses the ODI — one day international — format. That is: one team has 50 overs — 300 deliveries — or ten wickets (outs) (whichever comes first) to score has many runs as possible. Then the teams switch and the other team has 50 overs or 10 wickets to best that score. The games take, you guessed it, about a day, or about 6-8 hours depending on if both sides use their full allotment of overs.

The best ODI team right now — using the ICC’s rankings — is England. Followed by India and New Zealand. These three are, more or less, the favorites. The reigning champions, Australia, are ranked a distant 6th, but, annoyingly, you really can never count them out of an ODI World Cup.

Format wise, it’s something of a joke among cricket pundits, but it shouldn’t be so bad. It’s a single group of ten teams in the opening stage, with each team playing every team once. The top four teams then advance to the semi-finals, with the winners of those matches playing each other in the final at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London on 14 July at 4:30 a.m. central time. Mark your calendars. (The first match is at the Oval on 31 May. That’s right, the tournament lasts for six — SIX — weeks.)

Other than the hosts, England, and other three squads mentioned above, the tournament features South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and the West Indies. My guess for the semi-finals right now is England, New Zealand, India and South Africa, in that order. England will lose their semi, New Zealand will win theirs and then beat South Africa to lift the trophy. You heard it hear first.

There are some upcoming ODIs to keep an eye on as we move toward May: Australia play India in three ODIs starting on Friday, South Africa host Pakistan for five ODIs starting on 19 Jan., and England are in Caribbean for five ODIs against the West Indies, with the first one set for Feb. 20 in Bridgetown.

And then there’s the highlight series: New Zealand in India for their own set of five ODIs starting 22 Jan.

We will learn a lot over the next few weeks. Can England continue their strong run of form and beat up on weaker opposition? Can New Zealand win in unfamiliar conditions? Are Pakistan and South Africa good enough for the knockouts? What about India? Should they — and not the hosts — be the real favorites? Is Australia really in shambles, or are they just hiding in the tall grass?

We won’t get definitive answers to those questions, or course, but we will get close, and have a lot of fun along the way.

South Africa v Pakistan, Australia v India and West Indies v England are available for viewing in the States on Willow.TV, while India v New Zealand is on ESPN+ (formerly ESPN3).

At this point, I don’t know who is broadcasting the World Cup in the US. When I know, you’ll know.

Tomorrow: looking ahead to the Ashes. Until then.

Cricket for Americans: 8 Jan. 2019: Cricket for Americans

Okay here’s some news: today the International Cricket Council announced that USA Cricket was approved as an Associate Member.

What does this mean? Not a whole lot. At least not right now. In the future, it could mean higher profile matches against higher profile competition, but for now it puts them on same level as Lesotho, Seychelles and Vanuata. In the present term, it’s nice for a Cricket organization in America to be out from under the shadow of their predecessor, USACA — probably one of the more corrupt cricket associations in the world, and that is saying something — and to actually be looking toward the future instead of looking to line their pockets.

In the nearer term, the one day squad will be preparing to play in the World Cricket League’s 2nd division, with promotion to full ODI status the carrot at the end of that stick. It’s a long shot, but not unheard of. USA Cricket is also are looking toward forming a domestic, professional T20 league, which will help seed the game across the country.

So, not a huge, life altering deal, but always welcome to receive positive news with regard to Cricket in America.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, last December, the state sports authority announced that they were putting renewed focus on building youth cricket in that state. This news, when combined with the news regarding USA Cricket, puts a nice rosy glow on the game in the states today. A healthy youth program in concert with national administrators that aren’t corrupt is the best manner in which to grow the game here in America.

I don’t think cricket will ever be on par with the big five professional sports, or even the middling, regional sports like lacrosse, but I think it will find its place. And, really, it’s already here. Parks across America are littered with kids playing cricket. Those kids will have kids who will participate in well organized youth cricket and within one, maybe two, generations, I could surely see America competing for a possible promotion to Test status.

Stranger things have happened.