Cricket for Americans: 05 March 2019: the T20

The first of three Twenty 20s between England and the West Indies starts in about 10 minutes.

This format has been around since 2001, when the ECB’s marketing manager, Stuart Robertson, introduced it as a replacement for the old Benson & Hedges cup. The first T20s were played in England in 2003 and were an immediate success (the cup final that first season at Lord’s attracted over 27,000 folks, an almost unheard of amount of folks at a county cricket match). And then the format whipped through world cricket like a wildfire, much to the chagrin of most of cricket’s old guard.

And so while cricket is an old game with old traditions, the T20 is only a few years older than Twitter, and didn’t even exist when the towers fell in New York. It’s not even old enough to drink yet in America. And in that sense it is still finding its feet a little. Sure, it benefits from the infrastructure that existed previously, but the game is still a teenager: occasionally awkward, a little unsure of itself, mouthy and moody and loud. And in that sense I tend to give its more annoying qualities a bit of a pass.

And what are those? The cheerleaders, the rock music, the mercenary leagues across the globe. But those are all more the nature of the world rather than a problem specific to cricket. People want — or are told they want — flash and loud and bang bang bang in all their entertainment, including sport. My bigger issue is with the cricket itself: it’s not as fun to watch. The best players are usually rested, and the game becomes less about nuance and more about swashbuckling and sledge. It’s the cricketing equivalent of the home run derby. And I find that a little boring. It’s not wrong or bad, it’s not just my cup of tea. Down the road a ways, I think the format will branch off and become a completely different sport played by completely different players on completely different teams. In the same way that gridiron football spun off from rugby. Or, probably more precisely, rugby league versus rugby union versus rugby sevens: same church, different pews.

That said, for now at least, it’s still cricket in the sun. And it might not be cricket at its zenith, but it still has the capability to entertain, to be fun, to give us a nice break from the day to day nonsense of our lives.

The Twenty20: it’s still cricket. That should be its tagline

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 03 March 2019: What me worry?

Yesterday the West Indies beat England by seven wickets with, gulp, 227 balls remaining. Their attack wiped the floor England’s with batsmen and the Chris Gayle did what Chris Gayle does, scoring a lightning fast 77 off of 27 balls to chase down England’s total in just 12.1 overs. It was England largest defeat ever in terms of balls scored.

The result evened the series at 2-2 and so the trophy was shared. But I think the West Indies can and should claim the victory, while England and their fans can and should be very, very worried heading into this summer’s World Cup. The number one team in the world was handed two staggering losses by the ninth ranked team in the world. Sure, it was on Windies home turf, but still: worry.

This was supposed to be THE year for England. Hosting a World Cup for the first time in 20 years whilst simultaneously sporting the number one ODI squad and maybe the best English ODI squad in a generation. But. Chinks in the armor have been discovered. One loss would have been one thing, an aberration, hey it happens, but two losses plus the ridiculous victory thanks to some insane death overs by Adil Rashid has to create some deal of consternation among England supporters.

The pitches will be different in soggy England this June, but the coronation that was supposed to happen is now most assuredly in doubt. This is now India’s tournament to win, and New Zealand’s or South Africa’s tournament to spoil. England will need to settle down and play out of their minds just to make the final. I am not sure now if I see that happening. But, for a neutral, it makes for a more interesting tournament, a few more plot lines to follow. So no complaints. Sorry not sorry, England. Chin up.

**

The sentence above reminded me of one thing I needed to teach Americans about cricket. “Their attack wiped the floor England’s batsmen … ” You might think, on first glance, that cricket is more or less like baseball. But it’s not. In fact it’s the opposite. In baseball, the pitcher is on defense while the batter is on offense. But in cricket, the bowler is the attack, while the batsman’s primary job is to defend his wicket, scoring runs is secondary.

Now, this isn’t quite as true in one day cricket, but in first class it is absolutely true. And once this is understood, the game ceases to be like gentlemanly baseball or fancy golf and takes on this interesting and fantasical light, and you see the game in a whole new way, and that’s when you know you’re hooked.

Not convinced?

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 02 March 2019: The Olympic Question

As an American cricket fan, I get asked the same questions over and over again by my fellow Americans who don’t follow the game: do they really stop for tea in the middle of the game? Are the games really five days how does that even work? What’s the deal with the sweaters? What will it take to make it work in America? Why isn’t cricket in the Olympics?

Those last two go hand in hand. For cricket entering the Olympics is one way to make it work in America, though it’s by no means a guarantee. But the Olympic question is an important one, because in answering it, you are able to teach people a lot about the game, and the people who run it.

So why isn’t cricket in the Olympics? First of all, it was, once, in 1900. Great Britain and France were the only two entrants and Great Britain won the gold. It was supposed to be at the 1904 games in St. Louis but it was scrapped due to lack of interest. And it hasn’t been back since.

Why? Especially now with the wildly popular Twenty20 format? A bombastic short format where the games last only three hours instead of an entire day or multiple days? The answer is two fold. The first half of it is simple logistics: Ireland, England and the West Indies compete as individual Test nations in cricket, but not in the Olympics. This is a hurdle, but not a tall one, as other sports — soccer and rugby — have overcome it without much of an issue.

The second half is answered with two words: England, and India. The England Cricket Board (ECB) and the Bureau of Cricket Control India (BCCI) are without any shadow of a doubt the two most powerful boards in world cricket, and they have long been opposed to cricket in the Olympics. Why? Money, silly! Sending players to the Olympics would make the nations miss out on a Test series or T20 league or some other money making machine that lines their coffers directly, instead of the Olympics which would be a high tide that would raise all boats. The Olympics are corrupt, but cricket is even more corrupt, and not only is the above a symptom of that disease, that greed which fuels so many decisions with regard to the future, globalisation of the game via the Olympics — something England and India preach but don’t really believe in — would shine a light on that corruption, and no one wields a brighter light these days than the International Olympic Committee.

So, yeah, simple: money. Right now India and England are making it hand over fist, so why would they want to change anything? Other than those changes which make the game more insular and more profitable?

But, that said, they are softening. There is talk of cricket at the 2024 games in Paris, as the host country’s Olympic committee has until after the 2020 games to suggest sports to the IOC at their board meeting.

If it does happen, there are logistical challenges. Not very many cities have an ICC approved cricket stadium. So where they would play is the first challenge. The second is who the they is, as in how would teams qualify for the event in the first place? And the third challenge is who plays for the teams that do end up qualifying? If the ICC has learned anything from baseball it’s that you need to put the best product possible on the field if the Olympics are going to have a strong and lasting positive impact on the global popularity of the game. Pros playing Olympic basketball changed that game forever, and really put it on the map internationally. But baseball’s experiment suffered as the national teams featured players who were far from the best the world had to offer. (Some might argue that baseball in the Olympics had the unfortunate role of having to compete with the game’s marquee product, Major League Baseball. And that’s valid. But that can be overcome, just as they did with hockey and the NHL. Shut the league down for a few weeks and give the fans of the game a real showboat of a tournament.)

And so, it will happen, probably. If India and England see a way to make money, they will vote for it, and then the other member nations will vote for it, too, more than likely unanimously, as national boards in places like Europe and South America — places where cricket isn’t popular — would see huge influxes of cash. So look for it in 2024, and then cross your fingers and hope they pull it off without looking like, well, without looking like what Olympic cricket has the real potential to end up looking like: boring nonsense played by mercenaries for corrupt plutocrats.

So there’s your answer, sports fans. My opinion? Keep it out. Find another way to grow the game outside the Olympics. Mainly because getting into bed with the IOC could somehow make the game even more corrupt. But also because I’m a purist and think they should kick all team sports out of the Games. Individual sports only.

And no breakdancing either.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 01 March 2019: What makes for great cricket?

There was lots of talk yesterday on Twitter about whether or not the fourth ODI between England and the West Indies (which England won by 29 runs to go 2-1 up in the series) was good, or entertaining, or great, or terrible, or boring, or all of the above.

The people who think it was great are like: duh, of course it was. There were a zillion sixes, over 800 total runs, 16 wickets, and the result was firmly in doubt until Rashid came on and took four wickets from nothing on a flat track. While the folks that believe the opposite was true are equally as sure of their opinion: too many sixes, it wasn’t cricket it was a home run derby, where’s the balance between bat and ball?

And I guess I can see both points of view. For the former, I can’t help but think of the movie Titantic. Bear with me. Sure, it’s overblown hollywood nonsense, but it’s also really fun. I have been saying it for years: if you don’t like Titanic, then you don’t like movies. Yesterday’s ODI was like cricket’s version of film Titanic. And if you didn’t like it, then you don’t like cricket. Relax. It’s sports. It’s not supposed to be so damned serious. As my dad would say: “Lighten up, Francis.”

That said, I think too many sixes makes for boring cricket. Sure they are fun once in a while, but like James Morgan from The Full Toss pointed out: you can have too much of a good thing. They slow the game down, they take away the nuances of cricket, make it a feat of brute strength instead, and if you start to genuinely chip away at the aforementioned balance between bat and ball, well, that really could be the thing that eventually kills cricket off.

But Morgan tweeted out his objections during England’s opening innings. Surely, once the match got through all its 98 overs he changed his mind, right? I mean, yeah, there were a lot of sixes, but come on! How could you not love how that matched ended!? Or Jos Butler’s cheeky salute!?

I guess I am trying to say that I see the point of the naysayers, but yesterday was not bad cricket, yesterday is not going to kill cricket, yesterday was FUN. And it’s okay for cricket to be fun now and again. We get cerebral enough, both in cricket and in reality. Let’s have some fun. Let’s let ourselves enjoy a show like we saw yesterday. Forget about bat/ball balance, forget about flat tracks, forget about life, and just watch some damned entertaining cricket. Then chill out with the Test match in New Zealand right after.

Shot, chaser.

That’ll do.

Until tomorrow.