Cricket for Americans: 25 June 2019: Same old England

We are nearing the end of the group stage. Australia have booked their place in the knockout stage, and India and New Zealand won’t be far along. The fourth and final semi-final spot is now up for grabs, as favorites and hosts England lost for the second straight time today. With that loss England now sit on eight points with two matches left to play, and Bangladesh are breathing down their necks on seven points and also have two matches left to play. England hold the advantage in Net Run Rate if it comes to that.

But here’s the rub for England: their last two matches are against New Zealand and India — two powerhouses — while Bangladesh plays India and Pakistan. England definitely will need to play out of their minds to beat both India and New Zealand, for while I don’t see Bangladesh beating India, they have a good shot at beating Pakistan. If England lose those matches and Bangladesh loses to India but beats Pakistan, then they would leap frog England into 4th. What a thing that would be! There are 4.4 million people of Bangladeshi descent in the UK and they would blow the roof off the country if they make it to the knockouts.

And that’s really the only story left of the group stage, unless New Zealand or India fall off a cliff, but iI don’t see that happening, so all eyes will be on England and Bangladesh. The former plays India on the 30th of June and New Zealand on June 3. And the latter play India on July 2 and Pakistan on July 5. Those are the dates to pay attention to.

One other thing to note is that as we near the end of the tournament, the players are beat up, sore and worn out — we all saw Ben Stokes hobbling out there today — and so days off become of paramount importance. England will have four days off before the India game compared to India’s two, but will only have two days off to New Zealand’s three in that match. Meanwhile, Bangladesh have SEVEN days off before they play India on July 2, while India will only have had ONE. For their last match they will have two days rest before playing Pakistan while Pakistan will have had six. I think, right now, looking at those numbers, it’s a bit of a wash, but if Bangladesh beat a worn out India on July 2 then England should be very, very worried.

You also have to take in account that as New Zealand and India qualify, they might start resting players, which would be a real shame. I hope they don’t and the twilight stages of this tournament entertain us as completely as possible.

Until next time.

Cricket for Americans: 18 June 2019: World Cup Update

There hasn’t been much to update on, because of all the rain, but we have gotten some matches in these last few days. England, India and Australia all continued their winning ways, while the West Indies and Afghanistan continued their losing ways (so much for my prediction that the Windies were going to make a little noise this tournament). The most interesting result and by far the most entertaining match of the last half dozen was Bangladesh’s defeat of the aforementioned hard luck Windies by seven wickets. And they did it by chasing down a massive total of 321 and got there with 51 balls left in their quiver. Amazing.

We are now at about the halfway mark of the group stage. Every team has played five matches except for Australia and India, who play theirs Thursday and Saturday respectively. The top four, to no one’s surprise, consists of England, India, Australia and New Zealand. If the group stage ended tomorrow, England would play India, and Australia would play New Zealand — two positively mouth-watering semi-finals.

On the cusp are Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who are two and three points out of 4th place. Each of them only has two losses though, so they could theoretically still lose one and stay under the dreaded four loss mark, but it’s going to take some slip ups from the top four to get either into the semi-finals, and I am not sure I see that happening. Today was a real litmus test for England — the only team I could see choking out of the knock out stage — but they clinically and efficiently dispatched Afghanistan to squash any lingering doubts regarding their character. All that said, this Bangladesh side has been damned impressive and if there are any slip-ups that just might be able to take advantage of it.

The real bummer for Sri Lanka is they have lost two full matches to rain. I would be hard pressed to say that they lost four points, but you could argue that they lost one if they had beaten Pakistan or Bangladesh and the other match had still been a rain out … but that’s a bit too much whatifism for my taste.

Speaking of Pakistan, they along with South Africa and the West Indies are not mathematically eliminated but are too far gone to realistically qualify for the knockout stage. Meanwhile, Afghanistan, despite all the heart in the world, are out, and can just look to play spoiler in their final five games.

Big matches on the horizon include Bangladesh vs Australia on Thursday — with the former looking to cause a big-four slip-up themselves — and the massive England vs Australia a week from today.

This has been a pretty great World Cup so far. The only bummer has been the rain. Here’s hoping for a dry few weeks and a memorable second half of the group stage.

Until next time.

 

Cricket for Americans: 11 June 2019: Another World Cup update.

Rain again today. The third washout of the tournament, and the second day in row. Today it was Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, yesterday it was South Africa v West Indies, and back on June 7 it was Pakistan v Sri Lanka. You have to feel for the Sri Lankans, losing two full matches to rain, but honestly they probably would have only won one of those matches — maybe — so the 2 points from the no-results is probably fair or even more than fair. But I am sure they players and their fans would much rather the games were played.

The Bangladesh coach bemoaned the lack of reserve days at the tournament. I get where he is coming from, but logistically I don’t know how possible it really is. It would be a nightmare. But, also, doable. There is a lot of money at this tournament — more on that in a second — and you’d think that the ECB and the ICC could have figured out a way to make it happen. The sad part is that if no-results start happening every other day for the next few weeks — something probable but unlikely — then it might cost England a chance at hosting a future World Cup. The ECB, by not pushing for reserve days, might have really shot themselves in the foot. Here’s hoping for sunnier weather.

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Also for today, I recommend an article about the match day ‘experience’ from Alex Ferguson over at The Full Toss. It’s a disappointing read. Not because of Alex’s report, but because of stuff like this:

Every five minutes it seemed you were told to jump up, wave at this, scream at that – all because the ICC wanted someone to do that at the behest of a sponsor.

And this:

Look, we didn’t mind the ‘hydration break’ (sponsored Powerade, the piss-poor version of Gatorade), because that happens at test matches. We don’t mind an Arab airline sponsoring the big screen so we could tell who was out and not out. We get corporate sponsorship because that’s what happens during other sports. We get it: In our consumerist society people are going to try and sell you ****, and you get on with it.

However, during cricket matches getting overly advertised to is an absolute pain-in-the-ass. It was like the ICC had looked at the IPL and thought: “How can we make this EVEN MORE ANNOYING?” without the cars, cheerleaders and stupid time-outs?

Well, somehow they managed it.  Every two or three overs, it was imperative that people were told to jump up and down to get their faces on a camera. Or wave their sponsored ‘4’ and ‘6’ signs. Or show who you were supporting by ‘yays’ and ‘nays’.

I hate that kind of stuff at games, no matter the sport. T-shirt cannons and rock music and everywhere you look some sort of corporate dystopian nightmare that David Foster Wallace would have been proud of.

It’s a shame. Cricket doesn’t need this.

The good news is that it’s not entirely apparent what all is happening when watching on TV from afar. The loud music between overs and the constant shots of people mugging for the camera get old, but the cricket is always the priority. Because, at the end, that’s all that matters. Again from Ferguson:

Thankfully the game itself was fantastic. Australia looked like they were going to get wiped off the face of the earth until Steve Smith, Alex Carey and Nathan Counter-Nile rescued them. And then the Windies – who had looked comfortable – started to look less like a team of World Cup players than a team full of IPL players (Shai Hope apart).

And that’s the beauty of cricket: even in the face of all that ridiculous late-stage-capitalism nonsense, the game shines through.

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Lastly for today, last night I watched game 5 of the NBA Finals (stop laughing, I have a friend from Toronto here in town), one moment sticks out: The Toronto fans cheering when Golden State superstar, Kevin Durant, went down injured. My first thought was: that would never happen in cricket. For all the eye rolling we all do at the “spirit of cricket,” it really does keep the stuff we saw last night in Toronto out of the game. When an opposing player scores a beautiful 100, for instance the fans for the other team applaud for him. It’s really remarkable.

There is, of course, at this tournament, some booing being directed at Australia’s David Warner and Steve Smith for their participation in a ball tampering incident last year, but I really think that that is apples and oranges. It’s one thing to cheer an injury, and something different entirely when it is booing players who have cheated. The latter might happen in cricket, but the former never would.

A walk in the summer

Decided to occasionally use this space to write about stuff other than cricket. Feel free to ignore. It’s just I need a place to put all this and Medium is lame these days. 

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Two summers after our father died, my brother, sister and I went to Cincinnat for a week. We stayed with my grandparents — my father’s parents — in their big house on the big lot that they built after the war. On the second to last day we were there we went with my uncle — my father’s older brother — and aunt and their youngest daughter to a water park. Also with us were several people from my aunt’s family. The Cornells. People I didn’t know. With them was a younger cousin named Stormy, who wore a slim black one piece swimsuit and had long damp black hair. I asked her about her name, but she didn’t hear me.

It was a hot blue sky high sun Cincinnati summer day. The kind of summer day of youth that somehow finds a way to last forever.

At the water park I sat on a towel on the concrete bored and hot and a teenager. I went up and down water slides. I felt out of place, distant, sad. My uncle seemed the same. He didn’t want to be there. I didn’t either. The day my dad died my uncle stormed onto the plane my grandparents were on as it sat at the gate before departing to Minnesota even though he didn’t have a ticket. Screaming and wailing and utterly despondent with grief. The flight attendants had to pull him off the plane. He didn’t fly in until the next day. At the funeral he shook with sadness. Cracking sobs. He looked like he was going to split in two. Cleave himself into a thousand pieces. Into dust.

At the water park after maybe 30 minutes my uncle suggested the two of us walk back to their house in Hyde Park. My aunt tried and failed to get a house key off her key ring. So we didn’t take keys, hoping that my cousin Brian freshly home from his freshman year of college would be there to let us in.

And so we walked. For hours. In that hot high sun. My neck turning red. Up and down all those southwestern Ohio hills. For hours and hours. Past malls and warehouses and neighborhoods and strip malls. Without shade, without pause. We just walked. And walked. And walked. And walked.

Finally we returned to his house where my cousin was and he let us in. He had just woken up. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. The night before he had been out with friends at the Steve Miller concert. The three of us drove to a late lunch in the village down the hill. My cousin drove. We listened to the doors. LA Woman. Motel Monday murder madness. Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness. I sat in the back. My uncle sat in the passenger seat. His window down. He thumbed along to the song on the roof of the car. He seemed free. Unrestrained. Happy. Somehow. Like everything was perfect and he could ask for nothing more. At the restaurant he ordered soup and it was too hot to eat to so he spooned ice cubes from his water glass into the soup to cool it.

That’s the clearest memory of the entire day. The site of those ice cubes drifting and melting and cooling his vegetable soup there in the dark diner while that summer day blazed away on the other side of giant windows on the far side of the room. Noise and dishes and conversation.

It’s a day that sticks out like few others. We all have them. Those childhood memories that for some reason stick and live forever in that space right below our hearts. I remember the sunburn and the sun and the sky. I remember Stormy’s eyes, Stormy’s swimsuit, Stormy ignoring me. I remember the hills and the broken sidewalks. I remember the smell of the chlorine. I remember my aunt struggling to remove the key from the keyring. I remember the boredom. I remember the sadness. I remember all those hills. I remember the ice cubes in the soup. I remember the heat. 

But I don’t remember what we talked about on that walk. It was hours and hours. Miles and miles. When we arrived back at my uncle’s house my cousin was shocked, in utter disbelief, that we had walked all that way. But I don’t remember a word of our conversation. Did we talk about school? My dad, his brother? Did we talk about aging and life and girls and the pit of sadness we both carried? Did we talk about the weather? Did we talk about the government? My uncle was a teacher and one Saturday at my grandparent’s house in their cool basement in my grandfather’s radio room my uncle interviewed me for a project he was working on for his master’s degree. We talked for an hour. Talked and talked and talked. I remember almost every word. We talked about growing up and school and my teachers and little league. When we were done my uncle realized he had never hit the record button on his tape recorder so we tried to recreate the entire conversation but it wasn’t the same and he was so upset. I remember his frustration. It rings out like a bell.

But I don’t remember a single word from the walk a few years later. Not a single one. Did we even talk at all? Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we walked in uncomfortable silence. Me and my uncle, my dad’s older brother. Me, his dead brother’s oldest son. Walking through the hot streets of Cincinnati. Two years after the worst moment of our lives. Two years after I watched him collapse at that Catholic church up the street from my house. Two years. The both of us still collapsing. Yet. We walked. The two of us. Maybe we didn’t talk. And maybe that was okay. Maybe we just wanted to remember. To be close to someone we had lost in the only way that was left. And maybe that’s why he seemed to happy in that car ride later. Tapping his fingers on the roof along with The Doors. Because for a few hours he had walked next to his dead brother. And maybe that’s why I remember the day so clearly, words or no words, because for a few hours I had walked next to my dead father. And so maybe it doesn’t matter what we talked about. Or if we didn’t talk at all. He saw me in all my sorrow there on that hot concrete wet towel, and took me away from there, and together we walked up all those hills. And together for a few hours we were okay.

All that heat, all that sun, all those miles, washing it all away. Somehow. A son with his uncle who was his dad. An uncle with his nephew who was his little brother, 15 and skinny and quiet with red hair and glasses and a sunburn and willing to walk for hours.

Cricket for Americans: 8 June 2019: World Cup update 4

Today Cricinfo threw out a number: 3.

That’s the maximum amount of losses a team could suffer in the group stage and still qualify for the semi-finals — which are still a month away. Currently, there are three teams with zero losses: New Zealand, Australia and India (though they have only played one match so far, more on that in a second) — that puts them in a prime position now 11 days into the tournament. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the West Indies, England and Bangladesh each only have one loss a piece. Not great, but if you beat the teams you should beat, then you will probably be okay. Afghanistan have two losses and will probably have three after their match with the quietly strong New Zealand today. While South Africa of course have already maxed out their losses at three, so they might not be out of it completely, but winning the rest of their matches is surely a bridge too far.

But, even with that caveat, every single team in the tournament is still alive for the knockouts. It’s early days, of course, but the more I say that the less and less true it is. I think we can stop saying it after each team has played five games, then we will have a crystal clear idea of who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the cusp.

Speaking of: Bangladesh, England, New Zealand and Afghanistan are playing their third matches of the tournament right now. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa have already played three. Australia and the West Indies have each played two.

India have still only played one. And don’t play their second until tomorrow, when they play Australia, which will be the Aussie’s third match. I don’t get it. Yes, they played their last match of the warm-ups on the last day possible, but so did Bangladesh and New Zealand, who are playing their third matches as we speak. I guess you have to take the IPL into account, but I don’t think that delayed their travel to England by that much, as they played their first warm-up on May 25, the first day New Zealand and Australia did, so you really can’t talk acclimation.

There is no conspiracy theory here that I am about to impart on you. But India does have a lot of pull with the ICC, whose tournament this is. India basically run the show, simply because that’s where all the money for the game is. And so if they wanted to have a lighter schedule earlier in the tournament — to give their players more time to acclimate, to rest after the IPL, to train on the English pitches — then they probably could have pulled that off. And if they wanted one of the other tournament favorites — South Africa, which is odd because India blew them out of the water in their last ODI series — if they wanted them to play three matches in seven days before their players even had a chance to shake the jet lag, they could probably do that too. Or, even if they didn’t see South Africa as a rival, but simply wanted their first game of the tournament to be against a team that had already played two matches so they would have film to watch beforehand and be playing a team that might be a little tired, then they could have done that. Winning those early games is vitally important.

Honestly, though, I don’t believe anything untoward is going on here. It’s a scheduling fluke, or maybe the ICC giving them extra days off because of the IPL. But even if it is innocent, it’s still not great optics. Cricket is corrupt, we all know that. And the big three — Australia, England and India — run the whole damn show, and tend to get whatever they want. And anything that even smells of favoritism for one of those sides — like, for example, the shoddy officiating in the West Indies vs Australia match that reeked of a pro-Australia bent — is going to get a light shone on it, and is going to color with corruption what has otherwise been a brilliant couple weeks of cricket.

Until next time.

Cricket for Americans: 7 June 2019: World Cup Update 3

Today’s match between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was abandoned without a ball bowled, thanks to a steady rain in Bristol. Which brings up an interesting lesson in the wide world of cricket: there are no make up matches. Well, I guess there could be for matches in knockout stages, but for group stage matches and regular tour matches the game is just abandoned and the points shared.

A while ago it was explained to me why this is. And it made sense at the time. But I can’t remember why it is. Mostly, I think it’s tradition, and keeps the weather from wreaking havoc on a tournament’s schedule. Pushing the match to tomorrow would give the two teams one fewer day of rest, which isn’t exactly fair, and if you started doing make up matches and giving teams equal days of rest, then the tournament would stretch on forever.

So, there you go, the points shared. But this has to be worrisome for the tournament’s organizers, and in a lot of ways a month long damp season is their worst nightmare. You lose matches so you lose revenue, and teams don’t get a fair shake at making the semi-finals. Imagine, if you will, if Pakistan miss out on the knockout stage by one point. That would be a real shame. But, the weather is the weather, it’s part of the game, both when the game is played and when it is not.

Since we last checked in, India beat South Africa, affectively ending the latter’s tournament. All they can do now is play spoiler. Meanwhile perennial dark horse New Zealand beat Bangladesh and Australia beat the West Indies. And so after 11 matches — including today’s washout — the table shapes up like this:

1. NZ, 2. Aus, 3. SL, 4. Pak, 5. WI, 6. Eng, 7. India, 8. Bang, 9. SA, 10. Afg.

Still very early days, of course, but New Zealand and Australia are well poised to make the knock out stage. Winning your early matches in this long group format is vital. It’s how you gain momentum, and allows you to rest players, and keeps you from having to play must-win after must-win after must-win at the death, which can be mentally exhausting on the players.

The last few days have also brought us our first bouts of controversy. To start, the officiating during Australia’s win over the West Indies has been roundly lambasted by both the press and the West Indies. There were numerous times when wickets were given against the chasing Windies after not one, not two, not three but four appeals. It was almost painful and the match commentators let the official have it — calling him weak. But the big moment was the blatant no-ball missed by the official on the delivery that preceded Chris Gayle’s wicket. If the no ball would have been called, Gayle would have had a free hit, instead he was walking back to the clubhouse on just 21 off of 17, and West Indies finished 15 runs short of the total Australia set them (in what was a thrilling and hard fought chase that was a real joy). It’s a shame. I don’t think the decision cost the West Indies the match, but it did kind of put a damper on a fun day of cricket.

Off the field there’s been controversy too — as there always seems to be in cricket. MS Dhoni’s wicket keeping gloves have a dagger on them that is similar to the regimental emblem of the Parachute Regiment of the Indian Territorial Army — of which Dhoni is an honorary Lt. Colonel. The ICC — which bans all messages on kits that display anything related to anything slightly political — was like “no way dude” and told him not to wear the gloves anymore. Now, considering what happened a few months ago in Kashmir the gloves can definitely be seen as an overtly political message. Personally, I think Dhoni had nothing of the sort in mind when he wore the gloves and even if he did it’s still rather innocuous. But I guess the ICC has to draw a hard line on this issue otherwise the floodgates will open. In a game that encompasses so much of the globe in all its glory and strife, that is probably for the best.

Dhoni and his national board have quietly accepted the decision. He will wear the gloves but cover the emblem with tape so the pearl clutchers can go back to watching cricket, safe from the knowledge that bad shit happens in the real world. Which I guess is okay too.

Cricket gonna cricket.

Cricket for Americans: 4 June 2019: World Cup Update 2

What a fun and unpredictable World Cup we have here.

On Sunday Bangladesh won its first match of the tournament, beating a lackluster, Dale Steyn-less South Africa who slumped to two losses in two matches. The highlight of that match — aside from the Bangladesh XI who played inspired, fun to watch cricket just like they always do, only this time they won — was the crowd. It was a sea of Bangladesh fans creating a really fun atmosphere. Even watching on a stream at my kitchen table as I wrote letters I could feel the energy steaming off the terraces. It was lovely. And it has been the seen of most of the matches so far. I guess that it is the blessing of having a tournament for a sport given global popularity by imperialism in the country that ruled that Empire. There are over half a million people of Bangladeshi ethnicity living in the United Kingdom, an influx that started in the 70s and continues to this day. The color and noise they brought to the Oval last Sunday is a testament to the life and culture they have brought to their new home.

Monday also saw a boisterous crowd of both Pakistanis and Brits as Pakistan shocked the cricketing world and beat England by 14 runs, batting for 348 which was too much for England to chase down, despite the first two centuries of the tournament from Root and Buttler. And, yes, this is the same Pakistan that were scuttled by the West Indies just a few days beforehand. And, yes, this is the same England that restricted South Africa to just 207 a few days before. Again, it is early days, but so far this tournament has not been an easy one to predict. I mean, who would have through that Joe Root would score the first century of the tournament?

Another first day happened today as Sri Lanka took on Afghanistan in Wales: rain. Something we can surely expect more of as the summer goes on. Sri Lanka won by 34 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis method, giving them their first win of the Cup and Afghanistan’s second loss.

Tomorrow is a big one, as we finally get to see India play. They are taking on South Africa who are desperate for a win. It’s not a must win game for them, but it is a must win game for them. And they are going to have to do it without Dale Steyn, who has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament. So if South Africa do win tomorrow — which I do not see them doing — their World Cup might more or less be over with the sad news about Steyn this morning. He is one of those players everyone — except the opposing batters — likes to watch steam in. He makes the game more fun, and adds fire to every match he plays in, and it is a shame to know that we won’t see him bowl this World Cup. And even more of a shame as this was probably his last World Cup of what has been a wonderful career. It would have been nice for him to top it all off with some five cricket hauls here and there over the next few weeks. Alas.

More to come in what has been a great tournament so far. All those that predicted that the format would strangle the excitement and make for a dull World Cup have not been proven wrong quite yet, but we are getting there.