Cricket for Americans: 4 Feb. 2019: Superb Owl

Yesterday was the Super Bowl here in the US.

And everyone has agreed: it well and thoroughly sucked.

From Deadspin:

It was a record-setter. Surely that can’t be a bad thing? Well, those Super Bowl records:

  • Fewest points in a game
  • Fewest points in a game by a winning team
  • Fewest points through three quarters
  • Fewest touchdowns in a game
  • Fewest passing touchdowns in a game (tied)
  • Fewest points in a game by one team (tied)
  • Fewest touchdowns in a game by one team (tied)
  • Most consecutive drives by one team ending in a punt

That last one? Woof.

Now, I get it, sport, like all other forms of entertainment — art, music, literature, movies, whatever — is a matter of taste. Some people like action movies, others don’t; some people like heavy metal, others don’t; some people like the NFL, others like Test cricket. Neither side is right, and neither side is wrong. There is quality and there is dreck, that’s the difference, it’s not the medium or the genre. Which is why I will freely admit that Test cricket has produced some woeful matches over the years — many of them in Barbados and Antigua featuring the same two sides, which is why the sparse crowd was primarily vacationing Brits there more for the drink and the sun than the cricket (and fair play to them) — and that the NFL has put on some hugely entertaining games — but there’s no way on earth people could stand up and say that NFL is the superior product — something many, many Americans believe. NFL fans, more than any other, consider their league the greatest show on earth, and would never allow for the argument that a bat and ball sport from England where the players wear sweaters could be more entertaining than their showpiece game.

But it can be. Just like, on occasion, the NFL can be vastly more entertaining than Test cricket.

We paint with such broad strokes when we discuss matters of taste. It creates an insularity that keeps us from trying new things, from experiencing events outside our comfort zone. I didn’t tune into last night’s NFL game, but I like to think that it was more a matter of logistics than anything else (I don’t own a TV). That said, however, I can be just as guilty of the above as anyone else.

There’s quality, and there’s dreck. Just because it’s the NFL doesn’t mean it’s consistently one or the other, same deal with Test cricket. But this past weekend, the NFL was surely pure dreck, while Test cricket was a real joy down in Antigua.

And, so, NFL fans, give cricket a chance, you might be disappointed, but you also might not be, and either way: you can say you tried something new. And you will have something to flip over to during another interminable five hour game that’s 90% commercials. Oh, wait, there I go again. I promise to give your game another chance, now and again, just give mine the same courtesy.

Related: Last night while you slept.

Until tomorrow.

 

 

Cricket for Americans: 3 Feb. 2019: Greatly exaggerated

After Australia’s first Test win on English soil in 1882, a satirical obituary for English cricket was published in The Sporting Times. English cricket had died, it said, and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia” for burial. Hence, the Ashes.

Yesterday, after the Windies wrapped up the second Test against in England in Antigua, James Morgan, writing for his really great blog, The Full Toss, said, more or less, that the ECB had no interest in the long format of the game and that unless something changes, English test teams outside of England are screwed, and that there’s zero ambition from the board room to change that. Which is just a fancy way of saying that English cricket died yesterday afternoon at the Sir Vivi Oval.

Meanwhile, writing for the Independent, Jonathan Liew said that:

We frequently hear about players exploring the outer limits of their talent. We hear a lot less about exploring the inner limits. How long can you stay in the fight? How far are you willing to go in order to find a way? How much, ultimately, do you really, really not want to get out? But England don’t really seem that interested in those sorts of questions. Perhaps because they’re terrified of what they might find. Perhaps they’re worried that, if they deconstruct their games and search deep within, they might find nothing at all.

“In a sense, it’s a form of intellectual laziness,” he continues. “A fundamental inability to reflect, a fundamental absence of thought.”

Yikes.

And that’s just two sources. England cricket fans from the sportswriters to the average fans were collectively losing their shit yesterday. The gist of it is summed up in James’ post: the ECB doesn’t give a shit about anything but turning a profit, and are slowing strangling the Test game to death.

And he/they might be right. This might be the final nail for Test cricket in England. Writes Morgan: “(W)hat young player coming through the system wants to score 1,000 runs in the championship when they can make a lot more money in a hell of a lot less time by prostituting themselves to a shiny new Hundred franchise from next summer onwards?”

I don’t have an answer to that.

Wait. Yes I do. And his name is Shimron Hetmyer.

22 years old. Raised on the NBA and the IPL during a time of terrible West Indian cricket teams. But there he is, donning the whites and grinding out runs all the same. Why? Because the glory — the real glory — is in the five day game. Despite all the ECB’s efforts to the contrary, it’s Test cricket that turns heads, that makes kids want to be cricketers. It was that way before, it is that way now, and it will be that way forever.

This is a blip, not a trend. A speed bump, not a roadblock. English cricket didn’t die in 1882. And it didn’t die yesterday in Antigua. Yes, there are problems, and yes they need to work toward solutions, but an Ashes series win this summer in front of packed houses will inspire ten times the kids than next summer’s farcical “Hundred” will. Kids are smart. They see through the bullshit. They know the real heroes are the ones scoring those 1,000 Championship runs and winning Test matches all over the world.

Until tomorrow.

 

Cricket for Americans: 2 Feb. 2019: Unshackled

The first sugar plantation in Antigua was establish in 1674. Within four years half of the island’s population was made of up African slaves — most of them from West Africa. As the industry grew, there was at one time as many as 190 slave labor sugar plantations on the island.

Slavery was abolished in 1834. But many former slaves and their descendants continued to work on the sugar plantations for paltry wages.  The sugar plantations in the Caribbean were the birthplace of western capitalism. And they are a rotten smear on our shared history. Whole generations of Africans were kidnapped and shipped across the ocean to live in horrendous conditions in the service of white masters.

The largest sugar plantation — Betty’s Hope, which produced 20 plus tons of sugar a day — housed some 400 slaves. But while many of us are aware of how sugar built the British empire, very few of us are aware of the day to day lives of those that did the actual work. To this day, very little is known, other than the fact that the island’s population is comprised mostly of descendants of those British owned slaves.

This afternoon at the Sir Vivian Richards Oval in Antigua — five miles or so as the crow flies from the site of Betty’s Hope plantation — those same descendants pummeled their former masters at their own game. England played poorly, surely, but that shouldn’t take away from how brilliant the Windies were. England were out-batted, out-bowled, out-thought and out-played. It was a thorough and aggressive beheading of what was though to be a very good England side by a Windies side that no one really gave all that much thought to.

Watching Campbell put Anderson’s first ball of the third over into the seats to win the match was about an emphatic an ending as one would hope for. A whallop that traveled back in time and sent a warm breeze through the worn out hands of their great, great, great, great-grandparents.

Trivially, it’s been said a thousand times before and it will be said again, but cricket needs a strong West Indies team, and that includes their Test playing team. Today we saw 11 Windies players play Test cricket at the absolute height of brilliance, wiping the floor with the 3rd ranked Test team in the world. A team of Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson, brushed aside with ease by the long arms of Jason Holder. If this is the future of West Indies cricket, then it’s the future of cricket, and that future looks very bright indeed.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 1 Feb. 2019: Chance would be a fine thing

Cricket — especially Test cricket — is a relentlessly fair game. 99 times out of 100, the better team will win. Upsets are the rarest of the rare. You don’t get giant killings like you do in other sports. This has to do with how long the matches are, of course, as over five days the better team normally rises to the top, but also because the game removes that one thing that Davids have relied on against Goliaths throughout history: luck.

There is shocking little luck in cricket. Good or bad. The matches are engineered to the point where a good captain leaves absolutely nothing to chance: who to bowl from which end and when, where to place the field, who to drop, who to keep. There are no deflected shots spinning into the back of the net in cricket. Other than the occasional rainstorm which can save a draw for a team on their way to a loss, there is less luck in cricket than just about any other team sport. That’s just the nature of team games: you get that many people out on a field, strange things will happen. Just not in cricket.

Except of course for the coin toss.

Before every Test match, the two captains don their sport coats and head out to the center for the coin toss. With the winner deciding whether they want to bat or bowl first. I was thinking about that today as the West Indies ground down the English attack once again — Darren Bravo has been at the crease for an impressive four hours plus — and I remembered the coin toss yesterday: won by Jason Holder who chose to bowl on a pea green damp pitch that had his bowlers salivating, and they had England on the ropes, panting, right out of the gates. But then the worm turned, as they say, right about the time England went out to bowl, and they have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Windies but just can’t get them all out. And Bravo just keeps batting on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

If England had won the toss and were given the chance to bowl on that same friendly surface, does their attack scuttle the Windies in the same manner? Maybe. More than likely. The West Indies have a long tail and if those first few wickets fell, then it could have all been over before lunch.

But it wasn’t. Because of a coin flip. And so, in this case, you could say that a coin toss — the epitome of luck — decided the match.

Of course, that’s not entirely true, they still have to play the game, but it still had a rather large impact on the match.

There’s been talk of late to get rid of the toss altogether. To do what they do in England’s first class league: allow the visiting captain to decide whether they want to bat or bowl first. But, I don’t know, I rather like the coin toss. It’s tradition, of course, but more than that: it adds just a swipe of fate and luck into a game devoid of free will, of chaos. And I rather like that about it. Toss the coin, see how it lands, play the game.

Until tomorrow.