Cricket for Americans: 28 Feb. 2019: USA! USA!

Yes, Virginia, there is a US national cricket team.

In fact, they just announced their 14 man squad for their first International T20s ever, against the UAE in Dubai in mid-March. These will be their first official one day matches since they played two ODIs at the ICC Champions Trophy in 2004. (They lost both, to New Zealand by 210 runs and to Australia by nine wickets.)

Also in Dubai the US men will play some 50 over games in preparation for the World Cricket League (division 2) tournament in Namibia in April. The top four teams from that tournament will advance to the World Cricket Cup (division 2) tournament which will take place over two years starting in 2020 which is the first leg of the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup.

They have long road to hoe before they earn any sort of international success, but they have already come a long way, with promotion to full Associate status last year as well as promotion from WCL division 3 with a win over Singapore in Onan this past November.

As an American, I have always felt guilt for not following — much less supporting — the US men’s team. But I will pay better attention, hopefully, with the blog taking the direction that it has. The T20Is mentioned above will, hopefully, be streamed somewhere, I will take a peek around and let you know. Either way, for US cricket coverage, you can’t beat Peter Della Penna, give him a follow on Twitter if you want updates on what the US is up to when it comes to cricket.

There is a women’s national team, as well, but I am not finding a lot about them. If you know what’s next for them in the coming year, please do post in the comments.

**UPDATE**

Here’s what’s on tap for the US Women, courtesy of Andrew Nixon, a writer for CricketEurope and someone else you should definitely follow.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 26 Feb. 2019: Life is change

Cricket, it never ceases to amaze me in its consistent complexity.

Today I learned about something call the Kolpak rule, a rule that says that players from nations associated with the EU can play cricket in EU nations without counting against any homegrown rules. Or something like that. Basically, players from South Africa or Zimbabwe or Barbados can play cricket for, say, Yorkshire, without counting as one of Yorkshire’s eight allowed overseas players.

The latest “defector” is South African fast bowler Duanne Olivier, who turned his back on international cricket today to go play domestic cricket in England.

Cricket South Africa (CSA) Chief Exec Thabang Moroe had this to say regarding Olivier’s decision to effectively end his international cricketing career:

If one looks at the bigger picture this is not good news for the global game either that a player who has just broken into the top 20 on the ICC Test match bowling rankings for the first time should opt effectively to bring down the curtain on his international career in favour of playing only in domestic leagues.

Now, I don’t personally think that is the case. 42 South African players have left the international team via the Kolpak rule since 2004, which isn’t exactly a mass exodus. And who knows what effect Brexit could have on the ruling, so this all might be a moot point soon. But even if it’s not, I have — in just the decade-plus that I have been following the game — heard a thousand different things that were going to be the ultimate death of Test and/or international cricket. From the IPL to the Kolpak ruling. And none of them have. And the game keeps churning on and churning out great matches. It’s like people who think the next big scandal is going to be the one that brings down Donald Trump, but he always gets past it and he always will. Not that I think that’s a good thing, but anyway.

Back to cricket: I am reminded of this Tweet from a few days ago:

Test cricket — and international cricket — are not dying. They will be fine. They have been around for almost 150 years and there’s no reason why they won’t be around for 150 more.

But, that said, the quote from Moroe made me think of this Tweet from a Scottish cricket writer:

I disagree with the overall sentiment. I will watch the World Cup and I think it will be a great tournament. And while the teams are, more or less, the same, the players are different. It’s just the kits that will be same as they were four years ago in Australia and New Zealand. But the news regarding Olivier is a reminder of the comforting notion that the game will evolve — because of rules like Kolpak, and the IPL, and even The Hundred — and maybe the international game will weaken and eventually fall away. But it will be replaced, possibly, by something even better, something where we get to see new teams and new faces on new pitches, and not just the same old teams at the same old venues, as great as those teams and venues and pitches might be.

Cricket, like life, is constant change. But don’t confuse change with death. It’s the opposite. Change is breathing, evolution, forward motion. If you’re new to the game, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere. It might look very different than it does today, but then again so will everything else. As cricket fans we have to learn to deal with the constant exaggerated reports of our favorite game’s imminent demise. It’s part of the package.

The game will never stop changing, will never stop teaching, and in that regard will always be interesting. Maybe not always great, but it will never not get our attention.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 25 Feb. 2019: A hard rain

The third ODI between England and the Windies in St. George’s was abandoned today because of the rain.

This is something you are going to need to get used to. Cricket takes place, primarily, in some of the dampest places on earth. Southeast Asia, New Zealand, the UK: damp, damp, damp. Cardiff, in Wales, for instance, which is the host city for four World Cup matches this summer, receives 115 cm of rainfall per year. The US gets, on average, about half that.

And so while we are all looking forward with great gusto to what should be really fun summer of cricket in England, I guarantee you will pull up Willow TV at least a half dozen times June through August and see something similar to this image:

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And your heart will sink. Gray banks of cloud, covers on the pitch, empty stands. You will check the weather and see what the Cricinfo commentators have to say, and you will cross your fingers that the storm will move off and then it will and then a new start time will be announced as they need to let the outfield dry and then five minutes before the new start time it will start to rain again.

Sometimes, though, the storm really does move off which means, if it’s a one day game, they have to either cut the overs played or — if one team has already been batting for a spell — employ something called Duckworth-Lewis to decide the new score that the other team will have to chase. Some people understand the rule and how it works. I don’t. You probably won’t either. A sample:

The original D/L model started by assuming that the number of runs that can still be scored (called Z), for a given number of overs remaining (called u) and wickets lost (called w), takes the following exponential decay relationship where the constant Z is the asymptotic average total score in unlimited overs (under one-day rules), and b is the exponential decay constant. Both vary with w (only). The values of these two parameters for each w from 0 to 9 were estimated from scores from ‘hundreds of one-day internationals’ and ‘extensive research and experimentation’, though were not disclosed due to ‘commercial confidentiality’.

So there you go.

Long story short: it’s gonna rain, and it’s gonna be a bummer when it does. Those are the only cold, hard facts of cricket.

That makes three things in life that you can rely on:

Death, taxes, and a washout in Wales.

Cricket for Americans: 23 Feb. 2019: Lankā

Today in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at the bottom of the world, Sri Lanka beat their hosts in a Test match to win the series 2-0.

It was the first time Sri Lanka had won a Test series in South Africa. In fact, it was the first time any Asian nation had won a Test series in South Africa. But the fact that it was Sri Lanka makes it even more special.

Sri Lanka has documented history that dates back more than 3,000 years, and there’s evidence of humans on the island going back 125,000 years. It was an important harbor on the Silk Road. It was conquered by the British at the beginning of the 19th century and held through the middle of the 20th. Independence was followed by a 30 year civil war lasting from the early 1980s all the way to 2009, when peace was finally declared. The war took the lives of over 100,000, and displaced over 800,000. Five years before the war ended, on the day after Christmas, a tsunami struck the island and killed more than 35,000.

It is a beautiful nation, blue sky and heat and beach. There are elephants and leopards. It is acacias and ebony and ironwood. Nearly a quarter of the island is forest. It is a nation of Buddhists. A nation of kindness. A nation where all of that beauty has been consistently throughout history marred by war and tragedy.

And it is a nation that loves cricket.

The Colombo Cricket Club was formed way back in 1832. And the national team has been playing First Class cricket since the 1920s. They were promoted to Test status in 1981 and won their first Test match in 1985, beating India in Colombo. In 1996, they won the World Cup. In 2014 they won the World Twenty20. All of this success, despite having one of the more corrupt cricketing systems on earth.

A island nation that once provided the world its cinnamon and coffee, that now provides it its tea and its beaches. A nation with pearls in its harbors. A nation, as Jarrod Kimber wrote, with Test quality bowlers playing cricket in Colombo backstreets who will never bowl with a hard ball in their lives. A tiny island nation that produced Muttiah Muralitharan, the greatest bowler of all time, according to Wisden, plus Lasith Malinga, and Rangana Herath. And Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene.

And a nation that today, in the late afternoon Colombo time, watched from the other side of a vast sea as its heroes pummeled the second best Test team in the world on their own patch, and become the first Asian nation to do so. Before Bangladesh, before Pakistan, before India. An island nation of just 65,000 square kilometers in the middle of the Indian ocean. An island that the Persians and Arabs referred to as Sarandīb, the origin of the word ” serendipity.”

Pearls, cinnamon, coffee, cricketers. And now a Test match series win to savor.

Until tomorrow.

 

 

 

Cricket for Americans: 22 Feb. 2019: The Hundred

This summer, the England Cricket Board will bring us cricket’s fourth format: The Hundred.

I haven’t been really paying attention to the news around it. In this way, it reminds me of when the IPL first launched and all the controversy surrounding it’s defunct-before-a-ball-was-bowled precursor, the ICL. Sure, I read all the jokes and the tweets, but mostly all I know is that it is roundly despised and is quite the laughingstock among cricket’s active fanbase.

Here’s just one example via The Full Toss.

But today I did some reading, and for the benefit of my American readers new to the game — the whole point of this ongoing series — here’s what we can expect this summer in England and Wales.

The Hundred is just that, hundred deliveries per innings. So, over the course of a game, it’s 40 deliveries shorter than the current shortest form, the T20. Whether these 20 minutes or so will end up attracting new people to the game in the same that the T20 has (in theory) is hard to tell. But the shorter matches will appeal to terrestrial television, as the BBC will be airing 10 matches over the course of the summer.

Now, Wiki says the games will be made up of 15 traditional six ball overs, with one 10 ball over at the end. But as near as I can tell, overs can be either five or 10 balls, but either way bowlers will switch ends after 10 balls.

The league will feature eight city-based teams and will take place over 38 days over the height of the English summer holidays and will feature both a mens’s league and a women’s league (this is good news! And might be the one thing that actually grows the game).

Reaction has been mixed. England captain, Joe Root, is on board. As is, as mentioned, the BBC. But Indian players will probably skip it, and it will be interesting to see if what other nations follow their lead. And cricket’s base supporters hate it. They think it’s a joke and that it will further erode the already dangerously eroded first class championship, which in the end will have long lasting and negative affects on England’s Test team, which still has to be seen as their marque product. And, well, they think’s dumb marketing PR nonsense created by people who don’t know a lick about cricket but think they understand media and flash and profit.

But here’s the deal: people — even those in cricket’s already existing hardcore base — will still watch next summer. It will be new and the cricket will be fun and yeah it’s silly and we don’t need an even shorter version of the game but still. It will be fun. And we will all watch.

It’s summed up nicely in this tweet:

We’ll watch, and it will be fun, because we all watch the T20 and The Hundred isn’t all that different from the T20, which is kind of a joke in and of itself.

The first reply to Tickner’s is, however, equally as astute:

Yeah, the cricket will be fun, but is that really how it should be measured? Shouldn’t we measure it instead on how it does the one thing it is supposed to do: grow the game domestically? And how it avoids doing the one thing that we are all worried it is going to do: further distract from and erode away first class cricket?

So, next year, let’s all tune in, and have a drink and watch the big hits, and let the sellouts and TV contracts fill the coffers of the clubs involved, but let’s also keep telling the administrators what we really want: competitive first class and test cricket, and in order to achieve that, those two formats need to remain everyone’s priority. And let’s keep an eye on those clubs and their coffers, ensuring that money from The Hundred is reinvested in ways that will protect and grow the game throughout England and throughout the world.

*

Speaking of competitive first class cricket: Shield cricket, Australia’s first class league, starts up again this weekend, with several spots on this summer’s Ashes squad still vacant. ALL Shield cricket matches are available to stream on Cricket Australia’s website. First ball is usually around 5:30 p.m. CT.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 21 Feb. 2019: Gayle reconsidered

Scoring in cricket is one of the simpler rules to understand. You get a run every time one of the two batsmen runs from their end to the other without the fielding team returning the ball. In this way you can score one, two or three runs at most, usually, per hit. But if you hit the ball over the boundary rope after it takes a bounce, you get four runs. If you hit the ball over the boundary rope on a fly, it counts as six.

And so the “six” isn’t a new thing to cricket. It’s been around for ages. But before the invention of limited overs cricket, it really didn’t happen all that often. It was an aggressive and foolhardy shot in a game that rewarded patience and discipline. But now the short formats reward lightning fast piling up of runs. And so the six has become the SIX. And batsmen are being bred with more brute force. Some say it’s the natural progression of the game in a modern entertainment era. I say the game is not just evolving, it’s morphing into a completely different sport. But that is neither here nor there.

Yesterday I watched the highlights of Chris Gayle’s innings against England in Bridgetown. Six after six after six not just over the boundary rope but out of the stadium. And for the first time it really struck me how much the game has changed, even since I started paying attention. The players are bigger and stronger and can hit the bar with more force and for greater distance than they could even just 10-12 years ago. It’s not about the pure cover drive, it’s about pure strength, muscle.

In fact the game is changing so fast, and so much, in that regard, that soon it might require rule changes. They would be similar to football’s recent change to protect against helmet to helmet hits, or back in the 80s when they reconfigured the javelin because the elite were able to throw it too far and they were landing on the running track. Because that’s the thing: it isn’t just about changing the rules to encourage fewer sixes, or moving the boundary rope like they did with the college 3-point line, or anything like that, they are going to need to change the rules because someone is going to get hurt, or even killed. And it has already happened: in 2014 an umpire in Israel was killed after being struck by a straight drive.

Sixes and big hits over the shed are fun, but cricket’s governing body might need to step in and do something before it spirals out of control and becomes too dangerous for the players and umpires on the other side of those big hits.

#

Speaking of Gayle. The always astute Independent sportswriter, Jonathon Liew, tweeted this yesterday after the Windies loss to England in the first ODI:

To cricketing newbs, including me, that seems ridiculous. His century was the only thing that made it interesting, and he got them to a par score of 360 that took England all but eight balls to chase down.

But Jonathon’s point is a valid one, and goes to show how complex the game really is, despite how simple it seems on the outside. Gayle’s innings, some might say, strangled the West Indian batting lineup. He batted too long, and too slowly, and let too many balls drift by his bat. Compare his innings to that of England’s opener, Jason Roy: 123 runs off of 85 balls for a strike rate (the the average number of runs scored per 100 balls faced, the higher the strike rate, the quicker a batsman scores) of 144.7, while Gayle needed 129 balls to score 135 runs for a strike rate of just over 100.

44 more balls — 7.2 overs of a 50 over match, or nearly 15% of all deliveries the West Indies faced — to score just 12 more runs. Despite all those sixes, all those big hits, all those oohs and aahs, Gayle’s effort was a stranglehold, and he focused too much on those sixes. Roy meanwhile only scored three sixes, but hit 15 fours. Gayle’s numbers were almost opposite.

And so while the six is fun, and can help batters score lots of runs very quickly, it doesn’t always win matches, and sometimes it can even lose them.

Cricket, eh?

The game has changed, but not completely, and maybe not forever.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 20 Feb. 2019: Gayle force winds

Chris Gayle is back!

One of the greatest batsman of the T20 era has started his ODI retirement tour in the first ODI between The West Indies and England down in Bridgetown. And he did it with style, scoring a slow starting but innings saving 135 off of 129 balls with four threes and 12 sixes before Stokes bowled him in the 47th over. Being the opener, all told he batted for 216 minutes, nearly four hours. (In true West Indian character, though, his century will not be enough. Most of the rest of the lineup did little or nothing with the bat, and their attack has allowed England to score rather freely in the chase.)

It was a quintessential Gayle innings: aggressive but also somehow disciplined. He is best known for his blistering T20 performances in the IPL and for the West Indies, but he can also slow down and bat all day in a Test match if he wants. In 2009, he batted for nearly eight hours against Australia, grinding out a 165 not out to save a match. And he’s only the fourth batsman to score two triple centuries in Test matches.

But limited overs cricket, especially the T20, is where he has thrived: the fastest ever ODI double century, only the third batsman to score a century off of 11 countries in ODIs, the first batsman to score a T20 century, most sixes in T20 cricket, 10,000 domestic T20 runs, the fastest T20 half century (off of 12 balls!), highest number of sixes in a T20 innings. And on and on.

Gayle is one of cricket’s great showman. He is also one of its most flawed individuals. His poor treatment of female reporters is well documented, and his fights with the West Indian cricket board over everything from sponsorship contracts to coaching styles — justified or not — tend to have overshadowed his performances on the field. Rightfully so, in the case of the former.

What will his legacy be? It’s hard to tell. I would like to think it would be as the person who saved West Indian cricket — the teams that he played for were not always good, and were sometimes downright terrible, but now the country boasts a stable of young talent. But then again he was a cricket mercenary who played T20 wherever the money was, while refusing over and over again to play for his national team. A harbinger of the dystopian domestic league nightmare we all worry about it? Possibly While his sixes in the IPL were fun, it’s his patient Test match tons which the game sorely needed.

And his treatment of women should be a lesson to all young players: don’t do this.

He’s a flawed showman, who will leave a conflicted and difficult legacy for the historians to parse through.

But he is still a joy to watch bat. And while that might not be his only legacy, it will be a big part of it. Maybe, for now, we just enjoy him while we can.