Cricket for Americans: 26 May 2019: Is cricket hard to understand?

That’s been the debated topic over the last week on Twitter. It all stemmed from a press release from the ECB on The Hundred — their new format coming to a stream near you next summer — which stated that the format will be easier for non-cricket-aficionados to understand.

Now, most people think The Hundred is at best a joke and at worst the end of all cricket as we know it, so everything that even smells of it is roundly dismissed. So while the reaction was colored by this, it was still pretty on point: cricket is not by any means a complicated game. Or, at least, more complicated than other sports. You bowl, you bat, you score runs, you take wickets. I think it is far simpler than rugby or Aussie rules or gridiron football — as hardcore fans of those sports that I know actually prefer to watch them on tv so they have a better clue what is going on. But even those games can be understood by even the biggest sporting novice after an afternoon or so.

Cricket is simple enough, it doesn’t need dumbing down. But even if it did, I am not sure how The Hundred accomplishes that.

Then again, it is really complicated, once you start exploring the nuances. I have never known a game with so many nooks and crannies, back alleys, tunnels, underground roads. The game is ceaseless in its ability to surprise and delight even the longest term fan. That’s what keeps us all coming back, day in and day out. It’s terribly complicated. You can spend a lifetime studying the game and still not understand it all, still be dumbfounded by it, still get things wrong every day of the week. And that is what makes the game great. And that is something that The Hundred does accomplish. By further shortening the game, you take away its ability to surprise, you take away more of its nuances and back alleys. And yeah you make it less complicated, I guess, but not in a good way.

A lot of the ECB’s yes-men — I am looking at you, Michael Vaughn — are on board with the tournament, Mostly, it seems, because they like the idea of an eight team, city-based competition. And I get that. I think that part of The Hundred is actually kind of okay. Despite the fact that it removes promotion and relegation, which is one of the things about European sport that really sets it apart. It provides a level of danger to the sports that utilize it that other sports are missing. But I digress. The fact that it’s city-based is really the only thing going for it. Otherwise, it’s dumb, and it will — I think — have a profound and negative impact on the game, both in the UK and around the word, All for the sake of dumbing it down, making it less the game that we love. It simply does not need that. Sure, you might attract a few more people, but they won’t stick around, because the new format takes away the thing that keeps people around.

I hope I am wrong.

It’s not complicated, but it also is, and that’s what makes it great.

Until next time.


Update, it appears the World Cup is available for streaming on Hotstar US. I got a free subscription via my subscription to Willow to watch the IPL, and it seems my subscription is still valid. So there you go,

Cricket for Americans: 19 May 2019: So how do I watch the World Cup

They don’t make it easy for you, that’s for sure.

Previous World Cups have been available to stream in the US via a stream package on ESPN or Willow TV. I think in 2015 it was like $99 for the entire tournament, with a sliding scale charged if you signed up late in the tournament. It wasn’t ideal, but it was worth it. I probably would have watched more of the matches but the tournament was in New Zealand and Australia so the bulk of the matches were on in the middle of the night, which really wasn’t the stream provider’s fault.

This year, however, I still have yet to find a definitive answer to the question: how do I watch the World Cup this year? This is something the American sports fan is simply not used to. It’s easy to both watch on TV or stream most if not all American sports, via package deals or cable or satellite. This includes professional leagues as well as collegiate. And it also includes loads of international sport, mostly foreign soccer leagues but also pro cycling and skiiing and the Olympics of course plus Formula 1 and UFC. In other words, watching sports in America is super easy. And it just keeps getting easier. It’s probably easier than anywhere else on earth. It’s certainly far easier to watch English Premier League matches in the US than it is in, ironically, England. Expensive, sure, but easy.

Cricket? Not so much. I mean, I admit, it has come a long way. In 2007 I had to watch the final in a bar on a channel that literally no one got — Setanta, remember them? — and I am pretty sure I had to pay a cover. All to watch Adam Gilchrist bad with a squash ball in his glove for two hours and then have the match end on a damp whimper after Sri Lanka’s innings were cut short by rain. The next two World Cups were on the other side of the world so while streams were readily available, I still didn’t watch very much aside from the knockout matches. But this year the tournament is in England, with very reasonable match start times of 4:30 in the morning on my watch, and so even if I slept in I would still be able to watch the majority of the chase. So I got my credit card out and was ready to pay whatever Willow or ESPN asked of me.

Not so fast, Becker, said the universe.

I still have no idea who to freely give my money to in order to watch the damn cricket.

Per press releases and some friendly folks on Twitter, I have learned that the US streaming rights are shared by Willow TV and Hotstar, the Indian digital service. On Willow TV’s website they have all the matches listed, but they all say “TV channel or Sling TV only.” And that’s it. No other information on how to stream the matches.

So I went over to Sling TV’s website and looked at their packages available and saw no information about Willow TV. Finally, after a little digging, I found a World Cup page, for $10 a month you can get Willow TV via Sling and watch the World Cup. Fine. Okay. But I do I need a Sing TV package and the Willow TV channel? Or do I just need one? And if so, which one? Or do I need a Sling TV package, a Sling TV Willow TV subscription AND a Willow TV streaming subscription? Or is this like the IPL where my Willow TV subscription granted me access to Hotstar where I could watch those matches?

I am at a complete loss. I am willing to pay the money, but no one can tell me who to give it to. It’s so … unAmerican. In America, cable channels and cable companies and streaming services cannot wait to tell you what they offer and how to get it. Or sometimes it’s even easier: flip on the television and watch the game.. Hell, every single NFL game — from the preseason to the Super Bowl — is on free, over-the-air tv. Even international events like the soccer World Cup are for the most part available on over-the-air tv.

But so many hoops, just to watch the cricket.

Are you paying attention to this, USA Cricket?

Now, I get that this really isn’t their fault. USA Cricket might be an ICC associate member, but that means nothing when it comes to streaming rights of big tournaments that they aren’t even appearing in. And, honestly, right now, they have bigger fish to fry — with bright futures for both the men’s and women’s teams. But if they truly want to grow the game in the US — and it authentically seems that they do — then they need to make sure people who want to watch the best cricketers in the world, are able to do so, without too much trouble. I get that that they might not want to advertise a product that is superior to their own — MLS is probably still pissed at Fox Sports for making the EPL so easy to watch — but high tides raise all boats. Want to grow the game here? Make it easy for people to watch. People in America love sports. All sports. Put the semi-finals and final on TV, give them each a couple days of the ESPN hype machine and I guarantee people will tune in and a lot of them will dig it and a lot of those folks  have kids and the rest of the narrative writes itself.

Anyway, I think I have figured it out. I need to subscribe to a Sling TV package ($15 a month for the first month, $25 a month after that) and then add the Willow TV channel to the Sling package ($10 a month). So when you add it all up, for the two months I will need it, it shakes out like this: $40 for two months of Sling, $20 for two months of Willow TV on Sling, and $20 for two months of my regular Willow account which I know I could cancel but they make it so damn hard to do so it’s literally not worth it. Add it all up and it will cost me $80 to watch the World Cup this year.

$20 less than it cost me four years ago.

So I guess I should stop complaining.

But it still shouldn’t be this hard. And I am still not even sure the above will work.

Maybe I will just listen to the games on BBC radio instead.

Until next time.


Why We Write, part 5

I have not posted here since April 29. 18 days without a post. To be fair to myself, I have been frightfully busy with work — both my day job as well as some freelance. But that is really no excuse. There is always time to write. Always. There is always 20 minutes or an hour. All one needs to do is get up a little earlier, or stay up a little later. There is always time, always more time.

But I just have not written here. I have not written anything, save my journal. Not a letter, not a blog post, no work on my novel, nothing. And no desire to either. Which is the scary part. I want to write, mind, but I just don’t have the desire to, and yes they are two different things. The desire, in fact, for a lot of things, is missing. I feel clouded over, dulled, distracted.

And that’s the thing about depression, sometimes the cure is even worse. When I could barely lift my arms because I was so sad, I could at least still write. Now I still can’t lift my arms, and I am not even writing. It’s a disease that doesn’t make any clear sense to anyone: the depressed, the people around them, or the people that treat them. Everyone tries — well, some people try — to get better, or to help others get better, but there is no silver bullet, and sometimes the proposed cure is worse than the idea of spending the rest of your days unable to lift your arms.

I write about suicide now and again on this blog. Suicide and its sad connection to this game we love. And whenever I would write about it, I would write about how I could never understand that level of darkness. When it’s so dark you truly believe you will never see light again. I understand that now. I also understand loneliness and why it kills people. Don’t worry, I am fine, well, I will be fine anyway.

So I am here. Again. Forcing the laptop open, tying myself to a chair, wrenching open WordPress and trying to get back what the drugs have taken away from me. There’s been this thing that’s been around forever, this glorification of the depressed writer. Or writers who are scared to get better because they think they will stop writing. Or their writing will get worse. That they will become just another happy joe schmoe. Well I am here to tell that that is all bullshit. And if a writer believes that — truly believes that — then they are a fraud. I cannot tell you how badly I want to get better.

Hanif Abdurraqib wrote about the not-so-tenuous relationship between writing — and writers — and depression. He likened depression to a game of tug-a-war: sometimes you are on the losing end, sometimes the rope is slipping through your fingers, sometimes it is burning them, sometimes the opposing team is dragging you through the mud. But you are always — always — doing your best work when both your hands are on the rope. Lose that grip, and the work suffers, maybe even stops altogether, maybe even you stop altogether. And so we are all better off when we keep our hands on the rope, do what it takes to get better, to keep that grip, because that’s when we are at our best, as writers, as people. And because dead people can’t write.

And that is why I am here. Because not only do I do my best writing when both of my hands are on the rope, but because writing is how I keep that grip. It’s what keeps me going, what excites me, what motivates me. Even if no one ever reads it. It doesn’t matter. I am here. I am writing. And both of my hands are on the rope. I might be sad today, and I will probably be sad tomorrow, but I am not going to be a better writer if I stop taking these pills. Because if I do, not only might I stop writing, but I might stop altogether.

More cricket soon.


Other posts in the Why We Write series.

Why We Write

Why We Write, part 3

Why We Write, part 4

No idea what happened to part 2, or if it ever existed in the first place.