Cricket for Americans: 6 Aug. 2019: So what’s USA Cricket up to?

More nonsense and shenanigans, as always.

Peter Della Penna — as he always does — has the full scoop over at Cricinfo. And you should really just go read that. But here’s the gist: The USA is scheduled to play their first ever One Day Internationals on US soil this fall as part of the Cricket World Cup League Two. Their opponents are Papua New Guinea and Namibia.

There was a great deal of consternation over what venue the matches would be played at. First it was at a ground in North Carolina, then at one of two different grounds in California, and now finally at Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida, which just recently hosted the T20s between India and the West Indies. Also, because of scheduling conflicts at that stadium, the ODIs that were originally scheduled for Sept. 7-14 have been pushed back a week.

So what’s the problem? Well, first of all, as Peter points out, September is the height of hurricane season in that part of the world. But more than that, because Namibia don’t arrive in the US until Sept. 15, and because the US is due to leave for an extended training camp in India on Sept. 21, all teams will be forced to play games on back to back days. And because of the scheduling quirk, all four of the US ODIs will be played on weekdays, making it very difficult for even the most diehard US cricket fans to attend the matches. Which is a shame both for the fans and the players.

I have followed USA cricket for a long time, and I have grown very used to these types of fiascos over the years, especially when USACA was in charge. But after USACA was given the heave-ho by the ICC and USA Cricket stepped in to right the ship, I thought those days were over. I was, apparently, wrong.

And that’s the thing: As a fan, it’s annoying, but fine. I wasn’t planning on traveling to the games, so the non-weekend really doesn’t affect me. Mostly, personally, I am just annoyed that US cricket is still in such a shambles. Two steps forward, two steps back. It really is a shame. However, from a different perspective, I feel terrible for the players. They seem like a really great group of likable and entertaining cricketers, and they all deserve better than the treatment they are currently receiving from USA Cricket. The fact that two of them — Ali Khan and Hayden Walsh Jr. — turned down central contacts with USA Cricket therefore does not surprise me. I don’t blame them. Normally, in the club v country debate, I always side with country — in cricket at least — but I don’t blame the players at all for doing what they feel is best for the careers considering the ship-shod manner in which USA Cricket is running the show.

I feel terrible, sometimes, for not being a stronger supporter of the US national team. I want to. I really do. But every six months or so something like this happens and I roll my eyes and see what else is going on in the game. And I know that I am not alone in that regard. There’s lots of things that USA Cricket needs to accomplish to grow the game in this country. One of them is convert the already existing cricket fans living in the United States. And they just can’t stop failing at that goal.

Life isn’t short

In the end, it was a good Test, but by no means a great one, and Australia won running away, downhill, with a tailwind. It lasted four and a half days. The big story lines are Steve Smith and England’s woeful performance. But there were other stories. Stories that were above-the-fold news on Cricinfo but now seem like they happened a thousand years ago. Rory Burns’ remarkable all day century. Australia falling off a cliff at 122/8. Stuart Broad’s five-for. Jimmy Anderson pulling up injured and then coming out to bat in the first innings. Broad and Woakes’ 65 run partnership. Warner doing the opposite of Steve Smith in his return to Test cricket. The coin toss. The rain delay. The fancy dress. And the list goes on.

The story, for me, though, is day five. In the morning. The stadium sparse and quiet after a rollicking weekend. Low clouds. A dull murmur from the crowd. The commentators mostly silent. A few wickets go down and the wind comes out of the day’s sails and Australia start to pull away and the outcome becomes less and less muddy. It’s Australia’s day and the fans all know it. But they stick around. Applauding politely here, chanting impolitely there. It feels like a wind down. It’s a falling action. The teams are just playing out the overs. The mood in the stadium is night and day compared to Sunday or Saturday. It’s like the morning after a party and the last few drunks are still out drinking on the patio as the sun rises.

I love a quiet Monday day five. It’s one of my favorite things in sport. And today delivered, even if the England batsmen did not. Every day of every Test is its own story, with different heroes and different goats. Moeen Ali. Rory Burns. Steve Smith. Nathan Lyon. But a Monday day five is like a different planet. Not even the same game. And it goes to prove just how vast a Test match is.

“Life is short” is a common idiom. But the opposite is true: life is actually very, very long. Five days is a drop in the bucket of our lifetimes. If we live to be 70 we will experience over 25,000 days. Five days is .02% of our whole lives. But look at all that happened in those five days, just at Edgebaston? 1,291 runs. 187.8 overs. Over 1,100 deliveries. And then there was El Paso. And Dayton. India revoking the status of Kashmir. Strikes in Hong Kong. An air strike in Libya that killed 43. A ferry capsizing in the Philippines killing 31. Russian police cracking down on protesters, arresting 800 people. 500,000 at the Pride Parade in Amsterdam. Ebola spreading out of the Congo. A terrorist attack in Yemen killing 19. All of that — and more, so much more, small moments of kindness, quiet moments of tenderness, car accidents, walks on beaches. Births, deaths, and everything imaginable in between.

Since Thursday, there were 54 Major League Baseball games. But just one Test. Five days. Life is very short, but it is also very long. And that was proven out once again this morning in Birmingham.

On to the next one then.

Cricket for Americans: 4 Aug. 2019: A team game?

Cricket: a team game or not a team game? That’s the question.

I have always said that cricket is an individual sport in the guise of a team sport. It’s closer to golf or tennis than it is to soccer or gridiron football. Batsmen are put in the spotlight and asked to perform, all on their own, against whatever attack the opposition decides to throw at them. Sure, they have their teammate at the other end of crease to help them here and there, but that’s more or less in a consulting role than anything else. The same is true with bowlers. They are on an island with the exception of their fielders. They are given the ball and expected to perform. There are no pinch hitters or relief pitchers, for even in baseball there’s an escape hatch or a do-over. Batters get foyr or five at bats. Pitchers get the hook if it’s not their day. Cricket is an individual sport, and each player is asked to perform almost entirely on their own.

At the same time, it’s also a team game. You have to trust your teammates to do their jobs. For the fielders behind you to get to balls, for the batsman at the other end of the crease to listen to your calls for a run or not. It takes eleven people to win a cricket match. And in a Test match, that’s more true than any other format. Everyone is going to bat at least once. And all the bowlers including the part timers will be expected to carry water for the team. You can’t win without a good lower order. Or with just one superstar. You need the entire team to make the magic necessary to pull out a win in the game’s most rigorous format.

One could look at the first Ashes Test — now on day four with Australia still batting in their second innings with three wickets in hand and ahead by 365 runs, probably an insurmountable total — and make both arguments successfully. Australia is not in this position without the heroic batting of one man: Steve Smith. While simultaneously, England lost Jimmy Anderson after day one, leaving them one shy of their 11, thereby putting the rest of their bowling attack in a real pickle of a bind. And it won’t just affect this Test, but probably the next few to come, as Broad and Woakes and Co. are gassed and it’s only day four of the first Test, which means either you go with shattered bowlers for the second Test or bring out the second string, some of which would be making their Test debut.

Australia can’t win without Steve Smith. England can’t win without all 11.

One could counter with the notion that it’s an individual sport, as the sentence “England can’t win without Jimmy Anderson” could make sense. But that’s not entirely the case. I think England would be in a much better position today if they had sat Anderson and started any other front line quick. Curran or Archer or Stone. Anyone. And they would be better off. Meanwhile, Australia — without Smith’s 142 and 144 — would be in heaps of trouble if his ban had been, say, 24 months instead of just 12. Their lead is, as mentioned, 365 runs — Smith scored 286 of those.

And, so, both arguments hold water. It’s a team game but also one where one superstar can put that team on his back and carry them over the finish line — even in Test cricket. It might not happen often, but it happens. And it’s happening right now in Edgebaston. Cricket, despite all the innings and all the overs and all the Tests and all the deliveries, despite all the knowledge accumulated over the years, still throws up surprises nearly every day.

I read a tweet the other day which sort of aligns here.

People have been trying to shove cricket — even Test cricket — into a one-size-fits-all box now for many years. But despite that, you still have Tests like we are having in Birmingham. A Test with a superstar carrying the day. And a Test proving that you need all 11 to win. All in the same game somehow. There’s a million different ways to lose in Test cricket, and a million different ways to lose, more so than any other game. It’s five days of putting squares pegs into round holes, and figuring out how to do it successfully.

And there’s still one day left. And four more Tests after that.

Redemption

Oh, what a word.

An act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake.
Deliverance; rescue.
Deliverance from sin; salvation.
Atonement for guilt.

Stuart Broad
Steven Smith
Rory Burns

All three experienced it in one form or another during the first two days of the first Ashes Test.

Broad: who was shown the bench in Sri Lanka last year, and forced to fight for his once guaranteed spot as a new generation of quicks emerged, and who changed his run up and worked and worked and worked and yesterday he took five Australian wickets.

Smith: much to the chagrin of the Edgebaston faithful shook off his 12 month ban for ball tampering and with swagger and a dirty uniform hit an already-famous century, barging Australian back into the match after they’d been left for dead at 122 for eight. A dream of a comeback. A fairy tale, almost. But also earned, just like Broad’s, in the nets and in the gym.

Burns: Finally — after years of scoring buckets of runs for Surrey and sitting on the sidelines as England desperately looked for replacement openers for Cook and Strauss —  he was given the opening spot. And the critics rolled their eyes. And the fans groaned. Not good enough for England, they said. Maybe Cook will come out of retirement, they dreamed. But then Burns walked out this morning and silenced them all, scoring a remarkable 125* off of 282 balls. He batted all day on a tricky, sticky pitch. Six hours of concentration and effort. And he will be out there again come tomorrow.

Broad, Smith, Burns. Burying demons and raising their eyes to the sky. And it’s only been two days. What will tomorrow bring? Or the next day? Or the day after that? What heroes will emerge when the second innings kicks off probably some time late tomorrow?

Test cricket is remarkable in that regard. There is so much room. So much space. All other sports — including cricket’s other two formats — are like wild animals trapped in cages. Everything is contained by time. While Test cricket is allowed to drift in the wind. To go where the day takes it. This allows for days like today. Days like yesterday. Sure, redemption happens in all sports, but in Test cricket there’s just a little more room for it.

Redemption can also, of course, exist outside of sport. But it’s not the same. Like all things in life, redemption is often colored by reality. Life is swirls of gray. Sport is black and white. And in sport redemption happens quicker. In life it’s a slow grind against time. And even when we do nothing but work toward it, sometimes it never really happens. Or at least never feels like it. And so that’s why these stories in cricket are so great, why they attract us all, why we love them: because we all know it’s the closest we will ever get to being fully cleansed of all our past sins, and still be young and have light in our eyes.

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From Sir Henry to Steven Smith: a history of cremation in England

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. — Book of Genesis, chapter 22, verse 9.

Despite its inclusion in the bible, and it’s long history among ancient societies, cremation was more or less obsolete by the 5th Century C.E. This was for the most part because of the spread of Christianity and their belief in life after death and the strict rites of the Christian burial.

By the Middle Ages, cremation wasn’t just shunned in Europe, it was illegal — and it stayed that way right up until the last couple of decades of the 19th Century, when attitudes started to change.

Which leads us to England in January, 1874, where Sir Henry Thompson called some folks over to his house on Wimpole Street in the Marylebone neighborhood of London — a 30 minute walk from Lord’s Cricket Ground — and together they formed The Cremation Society of England.

Their first step was to find out if cremation was legal in England or not, so Sir Henry and his society went to court and were told that cremation was not, technically, illegal. Sir Henry and his band of merry men then bought some land near the Great Northern Cemetery of London in Woking (not on consecrated ground, as was initially the plan until the Bishop of Rochester said nope, nope, nope) and built a furnace based on an Italian’s design and on March 17, 1879, they cremated a horse and it was a huge success.

The press ate all this up. Scandal! Intrigue! The Church! Modernity! Burning bodies, oh my! Human smoke in the air!

Now, the inhabitants of Woking didn’t want anything to do with breathing human body smoke — even though the horse produced very little, if any — and so the Home Office stepped in and said no more cremations until Parliament gave the thumbs up, and the Cremation Society’s furnace in Woking went dark.

Until 1882. When Captain Hanham of Dorset asked Sir Henry to cremate two of his family members. The Home Secretary, again, said no. More scandal. More press. And so Hanham built his own furnace and cremated the bodies of his wife and mother himself. Even more scandal. Even more press.

The following year a Dr. William Price attempted to cremate the body of his five month old son named Jesus Christ (Dr. Price was 83 years old in 1883 and claimed to be a Druid High Priest, just for context’s sake) and was arrested for trying and went to court. The resulting trial ended in Dr. Price’s favor, and Justice Stephen said that cremation was not illegal as long as you didn’t bug anyone. Today there are 291 operating crematories in the UK. And in 2017 there were 1.4 million cremations — more than half of all the deaths in the UK that year.

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Two years before — in late August of 1882 — just as Captain Hanham was petitioning the Home Secretary — Australia beat England by seven runs at the Oval in London. It was a low scoring affair on a tricky wicket — in the first innings Australia only scored 63 in 80 overs. With two wickets left on the second day of the two day Test, England needed just seven runs with two wickets in hand but Harry Boyle got them both and the English crowd went deathly silent until, in true cricketing spirit, they stormed the field to congratulate the Aussie bowlers on their fine display.

Two days later, you know the story, The Sporting Times ran their now famous death notice:

At the time cremation wasn’t legal. It was scandal. And so that was the joke. England were just bystanders; collateral damage. The Sporting Times was poking fun at the Home Secretary. And the Bishop of Rochester. And the Cremation Society. And Captain Hanham. And probably all those pearl clutchers in Woking. 

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Today in Birmingham, Australia’s openers trotted out for the first match of the 71st Ashes series, 145 years after Sir Henry Thompson and his Cremation Society were formed. There have been 330 Tests since the first official Ashes Series in 1882-3 in Australia. And it’s now considered the peak of Test cricket. It’s a summer’s long festival of the game, with a hype machine and packed houses. For the players, they are remembered for how they played in the Ashes more than anything else they do. It’s the granddaddy of cricket, and beloved not just in England and Australia but around the world. Every cricket fan everywhere woke up early today and watched. Because it’s the Ashes.

A butterfly flaps its wings in California, and a tornado is spawned in Texas. Sir Henry attended a conference in Vienna in 1873 where a crematory and the resulting ashes were on display, and today Steven Smith scored 144 to barge Australia back into the match. History is always happening.