Cricket for Americans: 13 April 2019: The IPL

I equivocate almost daily on the IPL. Part of me wants to tell every American sports fan I know to watch the IPL, That it will change their mind about the game, make them a convert. And that’s not hyperbole, it will, it’s great theater. Some of the best in sport.

Unfortunately, though, it’s just that: theater. It has its moments of course, but mostly it’s utterly lacking in substance, while other formats and competitions literally have substance dripping over their edges. I was listening to the BBC radio coverage of the Championship yesterday at work and I was awash in all that depth, all that substance, all that history. It was everything I loved and love about the game. Pastoral yet with a bit of teeth and history. But I could never use that as an introduction to the game for an American sports fan. They would be bored to tears. “What is this nonsense?” They would ask. “It’s like listening to golf on the radio,” they would say.

And I can’t blame them,

And so I drift back to the IPL. It’s big and loud and, well, American. Big hits and highlight reel catches, two things you don’t see as much in the longer, older formats. It’s all rock n roll and lights on the bails and cheerleaders. But there are some aspects of the game that exist across all formats. The bowling, for instance. In the IPL, you still get a taste of the bowling you would see in non-IPL cricket. Quicks and spins and balls that move like you wouldn’t believe. And when the sixes aren’t coming, you can sometimes see great running between the wickets; I do love aggressive running between the wickets. And crowds. That’s something great about the IPL. The stadiums are full and loud, and prove just how insane Indians are for cricket. It’s like a religion only more. And while the IPL can legimitately called Americanized Cricket, it’s also steeped in the rich culture of India — a culture most Americans are rarely exposed to. In that sense, just like all cricket, the IPL can make us better global citizens. But you miss out on so much. Yeah, the stadiums are full, but you miss out on the nuances of cricket crowds. Like when a small section of the crowd applauds a bowler returning to his fielding position near them after a productive spell with the ball. Or fans lazing about on green grass having a beer and a nap in the sun as the game drones on across the lawn. And fielding arrangements. You miss out on those too. Slips and gullys and silly point. In the IPL, and most T20, it’s just the same boring field over after over after over. Can I in good conscience use the IPL as an introduction to cricket when it is lacking in some of the best things about the game?

I can. It’s a great cricket starter pack. And despite its flaws, I think it will serve not as barrier to the rest of the game, but as a big toe in the water. A great way to get to know the game’s basic rules, see some great cricket, see the game’s biggest stars, and get lost in the Big Show the IPL is. And, so, American sports fans: watch the IPL. The entire tournament is on Hotstar which you can access for free with a subscription to Willow. Matches are almost every morning. Be sure to tune when Royal Challenges Bangalore are playing. They are not a good side, but they do have Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the world right now and maybe ever (them’s fightin’ words, I know).

Watch the IPL, and think of it as the appetizer of a three course meal, with the other two, far more substantive, courses happening this summer in England: the 50 over World Cup, and the Ashes. In the former you will see the best in the world compete across England and Wales in pursuit of cricket’s biggest one day prize. And then later in the summer, the Ashes, which is test cricket at its zenith. Watch the IPL so you’re well versed and ready to be entertained by the best the game has to offer.

Watch the IPL. And listen to the BBC radio coverage of the County Championship. Do that too.

Until tomorrow.

 

 

Anniversary

Today is this blog’s 8th anniversary. It feels like much longer than that. But the internet doesn’t lie.

It was eight years ago today that I signed up for a free account on WordPress and posted for the first time: Bangladesh v Australia at Dhaka, 2nd ODI.

Do us both a favor and don’t read that.

2,922 days later, here we are.

594 posts, 556 comments, 56,000+ page views.

Yesterday I posted about how I was in awe of my mentions in the Wisden Almanack, I am also in awe of those numbers above. I will never not be.

I remember the first morning like it was yesterday. Deep in a suburban office park, in a cube on the ground floor with a window that looked into the backyard of a small home, where an old man tended to his garden, and a family of ducks lived under the low branches of a pine tree. It was a month after I got back from London, where I snapped the picture in the masthead. I signed up, logged on, wrote, and hit publish. I had no idea where it would lead, and it led here, eight years later: still logging on, still writing, still hitting publish.

There was some real highlights. Two stand out, the post about Sachin and my dad, and the post about Twitter Strike Rate. Lightning struck twice with those; I never thought I would see stats like I saw for those two posts.

Mostly, though, traffic is light, and that’s fine. This isn’t about going viral, or making money, or churning out content(tm), this site is about a familiar place where I can log in and write, whenever I want, about whatever I want (though I do try to keep it about cricket as often as possible, honestly I do). For the last eight years, it’s been here. Through dead dogs, and sisters with cancer, and World Cups. Through ball tampering, mankads, spot fixing, divorce and new jobs. Here I am. Logging in, writing, and hitting publish.

But I don’t know if I would still be here if wasn’t for you, my readers. And so whether you’ve been reading me since day one and or this is your first time visiting: thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and following. From the bottom of my heart: thank you.

Thank you for giving me this place to call home.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 10 April, 2019: Wisden Wisdom

The 2019 Wisden Almanack was published today.

The yearly volume — colloquially known as the ‘bible of cricket’ — has been published since 1864 without interruption, making it by far the longest running sport annual ever.

It contains a synopsis of cricket match reports for the England national team and extensive coverage of the English domestic competitions, including the women’s game. Its contents also feature coverage of the game internationally, book reviews, records matched or beaten, several pages of commentary on the state of the game (some of the best cricket writing around), and a section devoted to awards: the two stand out awards are the Wisden Leading Cricketer of the World award, and the traditional Wisden Cricketers of the Year list.

The Leading Cricketer of the World award has only only been around since 2004, and this year it was won again — for the third year running — by India’s Virat Kohli. And well deserved, too. There is no one in the game right now quite like Kohli. Watching him bat is like watching a summer’s day dance with Christmas morning. There’s nothing quite like it on earth. And he not only bats like no one else, he commands the field in the captain’s armband like no one else. The numbers, of course, speak for themselves: 2,375 at 68.37 across all formats, 700 more than his closest rival, England’s Joe Root. Those runs included 11 centuries in just 37 innings, most of them outside the familiar confines of southeast Asia.

The other on-field award of note — the Wisden Cricketers of the Year list — is the oldest award in cricket. It’s been around in its current format since 1902, though it dates back a little further than that, albeit with different criteria. Traditionally, it names five players who had the greatest impact on the preceding English Cricket season, and with only two exceptions — Plum Warner and Jack Hobbs — no one has received the award more than once. So it might just be the most coveted award in all of sport. This year Wisden’s five cricketers were Virat Kohli (for his performance during India’s tour of England), England internationals Jos Buttler and Sam Curran, Surrey captain Rory Burns, and women’s international Tammy Beaumont.

Other awards include Leading Women’s Cricketer of the World, T20 Cricketer of the World, etc. There are also awards for media: book, photo, etc.

It’s a handsome volume, and while difficult to find outside the UK, worth picking up if you are able to track one down. Amazon has them for sale for a rather outrageous price, and I am not sure if Wisden ships internationally, but I have an email into them checking.

I am looking to pick one up because, well, I was mentioned in it this year. Brian Carpenter writes a summary of Cricket blogs for the Almanack every year, and in this edition he was gracious enough to mention this nonsense here. I could not be more honored.

And it’s the second time he’s done so! He kindly gave me a mention back in 2015, as well.

It’s a small thing, but it means the world to me, and it is just such a joy to know that I am being read, and that people seem to like it now and again. And that across the globe cricketing pundits and cricketers past and present are cracking open the latest Almanack, flipping through, and possibly seeing my name, and coming to visit and perhaps read, or at least give me a passing thought.

I wrote a novel a while back. And the original ending has since been scrapped. But a quick synopsis is that a troubled middle aged man steals a priceless sculpture from a museum, a piece that meant the world to him, was his whole being. He ran from the law, met a girl, was caught, served time, and later returned with the girl to the museum to see the sculpture again:

They sat on the bench a while longer. And then he got up, took her hand and led her through the museum doors. And again it all came rushing back. The smell of the building, the music, the noise. But he pushed through it all. He checked in at security and then they were climbing the stairs to the second floor and then they were in the gallery and then there it was.

She sucked in her breath and let go of his hand. She put her fingertips as close to the glass as she could without actually touching it. Time flattened out and then stopped altogether. They stood there, as if they were in a place where time didn’t exist, separated from the whole world.

“I remember the first time I held it, I was sitting on my couch,” she said, suddenly. “And you were sitting on my floor. It feels like yesterday. It will always feel like yesterday. I remember that whole day like it just happened. It was a Sunday. I woke up and did laundry and called into work and then you were at my door and … and now here we are. And here it is,” she trailed off, moved her fingers across the glass.

They were quiet.

“Look,” she said, after a minute, pointing at the information card on the glass.

Underneath the piece’s provenance, which he knew by heart, was one new sentence:

Stolen in January, 2017; recovered in April, 2017.

“You’re part of its history now,” she said.

“So are you.”

She put her arm around his waist and her head on his shoulder.

A guard walked by. A school group filled the lobby with noise.

She pulled away, took a tissue from her purse, dried her tears, put the tissue away, took his hand, and looked up at him. “So what’s next?”   

“There’s a van Gogh in the gallery across the hall.”

“Show me.”

So he did.

~the end~

I couldn’t help but think of one line from that now scrapped ending when I received the news this morning about my inclusion in the Wisden Almanack: ‘You’re part of its history now.”

Cricket’s history is its spine, its infrastructure, it’s what holds the whole messy affair together. And the Wisden Almanack is how that history is recorded. And so with the small mention in this year’s Almanack, my blog is now part of cricket’s long, impressive, vast history.

I will never not be in awe of that.

Cricket for Americans: 02 April 2019: Rise as one

The IPL is literally the only thing happening in world cricket right now. Everything else stops and the world watches as the game’s best players bask in the Indian floodlights.

Of course, that is not entirely true. Domestic leagues all over the world are happening. Pick up games on baseball fields in Minnesota or back alleys in Colombo are happening. Everywhere, all the time, people are playing cricket. Men, women, children. In South Africa and Zimbabwe and Nepal and Ireland and Australia. From the southern coast of Hobart all the way up to the Scottish highlands. Cricket.

Right now. Just now. As you read this. Someone, somewhere, was bowled.

The IPL commands the spotlight, of course. But the great part about cricket is that it’s a global game, beloved by so many billions. It’s an old game, an ancient game, some might say a dying game, but we are all everyone of us dying, and cricket’s age gives its globalism. Over the decades and centuries, thanks to an empire built on tea and ships and bravado, it spread to the very tips of the world. And in that spreading bound us together. I am typing this right now in a brick walk up next to a bakery in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, it’s dark and cold and wind driven. And someone else is waking up in Mumbai right now, the day dawning rippled with heat and humidity, and they are flipping open their laptop, logging onto Cricinfo, and wondering what they are going to write about that day.

What connects us? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except cricket. We exist on different ends of this big old world, and yet we are tied together by this silly little bat and ball game.

The IPL might not be everyone’s cup of team, and some — or many — might bemoan the stranglehold it has on the cricketing calendar, but the IPL, like all cricket, is a reminder of how big the game is, and how loved it is, and how its age and the ties it binds its fans together with make it strong, and will continue to make it strong. People the world over stop and watch the IPL, a sign of cricket’s power, and that fact should make that tea easier for some to swallow, bitter thought it may be, because that is a sign that cricket, despite how old and tired it is, is very much alive, and even thriving.

In a world that is so connected it’s disconnected, cricket connects us. And I think that’s pretty special.

Until tomorrow.