Cricket for Americans: 12 Feb. 2019: Rooty

Joe Root is the captain of England, and has been since February of 2017. He’s also one of the top five best batsman in the world right now. He’s not a towering presence at only six foot tall, and he’s soft spoken and a little baby faced, but he hits centuries, and he wins, and has won the respect of cricketers past and present the world over.

He hasn’t had the best Test series in the Caribbean this winter. As a captain, he’s gotten a lot wrong, and his batting has fallen off a cliff.

But Joe Root’s last few days have been a lot better. He scored a lovely century at Gros Islet in his second innings to put England firmly in the ascendancy. But more important than that, he called out an opponent for using a homophobic slur. No one is saying what Gabriel said, but Root didn’t like it, and so he said something. It seems like such a simple thing, but I think it took more bravery than any of this match winning knocks combined. It would have been so much easier to just keep quiet. But he didn’t. He held true to his convictions, and put Gabriel in his place. And it took on even more weight considering how well respected Root is among his peers.

And with that, cricket took a massive leap into the 21st century, opening doors to new fans, new players; young people who might now see that cricket is a safe place for them.

The game still has its issues, for sure, with race and gender and homophobia. But this one small bit of bravery from Root will do more for the sport than any “all are welcome” PR campaign could ever do.

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England just clinched the dead rubber against the West Indies, after a courageous 102 not out from Roston Chase forced the game into its fourth day — to hold your nerve when your team is collapsing around you is one of my favorite things in the game.

For England, it was a meaningless result, of course, but one they really had to win if they wanted to save any sort of face.

The result comes with a bit of an asterisk, of course, as the Windies’ captain and talisman, Jason Holder, had to serve a one match ban due to slow over rates in the first two Tests.

Now, this is one of cricket’s little intricacies that even the veteran fans get annoyed with. Ostensibly, the rules make sense: 15 overs an hour is the target rate for captains to hit, it keeps the game moving, makes sure that fans get all the overs that they paid for, and ensures that both teams have an equal shot at winning the match. But it can get tricky, especially if you employ more quicks than spinners, as the quicks take far longer to work through an over than the spinners do, and then when you add in match bans for the captains of the slower team, it gets even trickier. On top of all that, the bans feel arbitrary and tend to affect everyone but the “big three” Test nations (India, England and Australia).

And so with that in mind: full credit to Root and England for the win, but that asterisk next to the W looms large, almost as large as Jason Holder’s wing span.

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Elsewhere, Bangladesh are in New Zealand for a trio of ODIs. We will learn a lot about New Zealand in those three matches. Are they good enough to compete for a spot in a World Cup Final? Are they the true dark horse? Or are they just not quiet good enough? Bangladesh are not England or India or South Africa, but they are a tricky side that can test teams not fully prepared.

Also of note, what should be an interesting two Test series between South Africa and Sri Lanka kicks off tomorrow. Those two Tests are followed by five ODIs. Another test for another side that has dreams of lifting the trophy this summer in England, South Africa in this case.

Lots of cricket, just like always.

Until tomorrow.

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