Cricket for Americans: 19 Feb. 2019: And the guns fell silent

Via Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

On 14 February 2019, a convoy of 78 vehicles transporting more than 2,500 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel from Jammu to Srinagar was traveling on National Highway 44. The convoy had left Jammu around 3:30 IST and was carrying a large number of personnel due to the highway having been shut down for two days prior. The convoy was scheduled to reach the destination before sunset.

At Lethpora near Awantipora, around 15:15 IST, a bus carrying security personnel was rammed by a Mahindra Scorpio SUV carrying explosives. It caused a blast which killed 40 CRPF personnel of the 76th Battalion and injured many others. …

Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. They also released a video of the assailant Adil Ahmad Dar (alias Adil Ahmad Gaadi Takranewala or Waqas Commando), a 22-year old from Kakapora who had joined the group a year ago. Dar’s family had last seen him in March 2018, when he left his house on a bicycle one day and never returned. Pakistan denied any involvement and Jaish-e-Mohammed leader, Masood Azhar, roams free in that country.

It is the deadliest terror attack on India’s state security personnel in Kashmir since 1989.

On June 16, India will play Pakistan in a World Cup group stage at Old Trafford, Manchester, England.

It won’t be the first time the two old enemies have played each other during heightened military action in the Kashmir region, but this is the marquee match up of the World Cup group stage. The match received double the amount of ticket lottery entries than even the final did. And so there are calls for India to boycott the match, or even the entire tournament, in protest of what many say is Pakistan’s unwillingness to curtail terrorists in their country, as the boycott would carry even more clout, considering all the eyes on this match.

I don’t think it will happen, I really don’t, there is simply too much money on the line for geo-politics to get in the way, especially since the match is happening on neutral territory. My only hope is that the safety of the fans and the players is kept in mind, and not sacrificed in pursuit of the almighty dollar. I also think calls to boycott matches would disappear if, quite simply, India played Pakistan more often. They have not done so outside of an international tournament in years, which puts undo pressure not just to hold the matches, but for the matches to be entertaining.

My opinions aside, this is just another example of the cricket is a very different beast. In no other sport are geo-political conflicts played out like they are in cricket. The Kashmir region is one of the more contested military hotspots on earth, and the two combatants regularly meet not on the battlefield, but on the cricket ground, where they show their countries and the whole world that peace is possible.

One of the more famous stories from World War One is the Christmas Eve truce, where the guns fell silent for one night in a series of unofficial truces, all up and down the western front. Famously, a football match broke out during one of the truces. It’s apples to oranges, of course, but in a way these kinds of truces still happen, every time India plays Pakistan out on the cricket field. For a few hours everyone forgets they have nuclear weapons pointed at each other, and everyone just enjoys the match. It’s a reminder that we are all human, enemies and friends alike. And so in that respect I do hope the match goes on, even if the reasons it will probably happen — profit — aren’t the most idealistic. We could all use a chance to forget the darkness the world has to offer, and instead focus on its joy.

They say that when the funs fell silent on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, it was like the voice of God. The guns can fall silent again on June 16, if even for a few hours. We just have to let them.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 11 Feb. 2019: Concussed

In an interview with ESPN, Bob Costas — a long time broadcaster for NBC Sports — we learn that he was forced out of his job because he spoke out against the NFL and their lack of action to better protect players against concussions.

NFL has a concussion problem. That’s not breaking news. The men who are playing the game at its highest level today might not even be able to feed themselves 20 years from now. But for the NFL, this is a PR issue, not a health matter. It’s a big money league and if people stop watching, the money starts to dry up. And there’s a note of self preservation to the NFL’s concussion spin machine: if parents stop letting their kids play gridiron football, then the game slowly, but surely, dies.

Cricket has a concussion problem too.

The injury isn’t as widespread as it is in football, but they still happen — and are happening even more as the big hit T20 format increases in popularity — but the issue instead is that they are lagging behind other sports in how they affectively deal with head injuries. Allowing concussion substitutes, requiring teams to have team doctors and instituting a standard injury assessment protocol are three things that the ICC should implement at the Test level immediately.

Because here’s the thing: the NFL’s black eye when it comes to concussions creates an opportunity for other, safer sports. And one of those sports could be cricket. Make the game safer, and the game will grow. In America and everywhere.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 10 Feb. 2019: We miss it ever summer

Today, the Melbourne Cricket Ground posted this on Instagram:

“Stumps for another Summer of Cricket” at the MCG, and in Australia. What started with an ODI against Pakistan in the first week of November — back on a day when Aussie fans had the entire summer spreading out before them — ended yesterday with Melbourne defeating Sydney in the Big Bash League. And thus ends another summer, one of so few that we get, and that always seem to go by so fast, and that we always feel like we miss, even when that summer takes places during the darkest depths of our winter, personal or otherwise.

Another year gets away
Another summer of love
I don’t know why I care
We miss it every summer

We only get so many, and then they are gone, leaving us wistful and trying to remember what we did, how we spent the time, whether we enjoyed ourselves or not.

How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.

Like a lot of Americans, I struggled with the infinity of cricket. The seemingly nonstop cycle of matches and series and tournaments, stretching on forever without end. But there are ends, and there are beginnings, you just have to look for them, and then they appear, and you are grounded, and then you remember that every beginning has an end, and that you only get so many of each, no matter how limitless they seem some days.

Yesterday, the Australian summer of cricket ended. In a few months, the English summer of cricket will begin, and it will stretch out before us, a seemingly endless horizon, like a vast ocean of warm afternoons, and the World Cup, and the Ashes. But soon enough that will end too. And we will wonder where all that time went, where all that cricket went, and how it slipped like water through our fingers.

Cricket seems infinite, but it’s not, it’s just that its endings — and its beginnings — are more subtle, and therefore somehow more special, more melancholy. Maybe that’s because cricket’s endings are summer’s endings, and when summer ends we cannot help but wonder if we will get another, even one that’s not even in our hemisphere.

It’s a special game, cricket, defined by the tiniest of margins on the field, and the largest swaths of time off of it: razor thin edges to first slip, hairs breadth no balls, but also five day matches, months long tours, centuries old traditions. It’s poetry that whispers from a hilltop into a void filled with quiet mornings, tea breaks and short sleeves. And when the echoes of that whisper finally ease away into silence, they feel like they are gone forever, and that we never heard them in the first place.

Every beginning ends, and every ending reminds us of that.

Cheers to the Australian summer of cricket. We never knew ya, and now you’re gone. Let’s hope we get another chance to hear those whispers this summer in England, and that we remember to listen, and learn the words, and to hold that water in our hands just a little longer before it slips through our fingers, sinks through the clay, and falls over the edge of the world.

Until tomorrow.

*From The National’s “Guilt Party”
**From “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles.

Cricket for Americans: 9 Feb. 2019: Eve of Destruction

The first big bang domestic T20 league to pop-up was the Indian Premier League, which was founded — in rather shambalic circumstances — in 2007, with its first season in 2008. It attracted the best players in the world — to the chagrin of many — to play swashbuckling cricket under floodlights with pop music and cheerleaders. And it has been wildly successful, both in India and around the world. It’s the most attended cricket league anywhere, it’s brand value is 6.3 billion US dollars, and it was the first sports league to be broadcast live on YouTube. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no doubting its success. It’s so successful that most other cricket shuts down completely for the two month tournament, not even bothering to compete with what has become, to many, the future of cricket: glittering domestic T20 leagues with teams filled with mercenaries. It’s a doomsday scenario for many, but that’s where we are.

I am not sure who will carry this year’s IPL in the USA, but someone will. I suggest tuning in. Pick a team, follow along. It’s really something. Not my cup of tea, but no matter who you are, you can see the entertainment value.

The league has been so successful, that it has of course spawned similar leagues, hence the doomsday future above. Australia, England and the Caribbean all have formed domestic T20 leagues that attract international stars. The matches get TV contracts and people in the seats, padding the coffers — and lining the pockets — of long suffering national boards.

Included in that pot of new leagues is the Bangladeshi Premier League (BPL) which just wrapped up its season. Cricinfo has a little write up on the league: what worked, what didn’t. The pitches are problematic for exciting cricket, but the fact that it doesn’t have budget restraints on the teams — while the Australian league (the Big Bash League, or BBL) which runs parallel to it, does — means it will, over time, attract the biggest T20 stars in World Cricket. It will never compete with the IPL, because players can play in both, but sooner or later Cricket Australia will probably either need to move their tournament on the calendar, or watch their league slowly wilt under the bright lights of the BPL. My guess is that they will move it. So from December through May, it will be three back to back to back T20 domestic leagues featuring the same players — more or less — wearing different uniforms, playing in different countries. Then there will be a small window for international cricket or a World Cup or a domestic league like Shield Cricket in Australia or the English Championship (leagues that don’t attract international attention or player) just in time for England’s T20 Blast tournament to kickoff in London.

And red ball cricket will slowly be left in the dustbin.

Again, doomsday scenario, and I waffle back and forth on whether it will actually come to pass, but it’s looking more and more likely. Who would thought have that when it first started that the BPL would attract starts like AB de Villiers, Steven Smith, David Warner and Chris Gayle? Not me. Yet here we are.

This is a blog post meant for Americans. And so the Test loving cricket fan in me wants to dissuade newbies to the game from watching these tournaments. But I have to admit their entertainment value, and their value as a big toe in the water for fans new to the game. And that’s what I hope they are, and what they continue to be: a gateway drug of sorts for the longer formats. A way for boards to make a little money which they can then invest in first class infrastructure.

The former might happen, but the latter never will, and already isn’t, which then in turn makes the former a moot point. And the new fans it does attract appear to be ignoring the longer formats, which is maybe because the quality has gone down because boards aren’t interested in investing in it. It’s a feedback loop that has no end, until the bells ring at Test cricket’s funeral, of course.

Sorry for the doom and gloom this fine morning. American fans: watch the IPL. It really is something. And then settle down in the summer with me and watch the Ashes, because that is cricket, while the IPL is just cricket’s preface. Neither will disappoint, and both will keep you coming back for more. Just don’t let the bright lights of the IPL blind you to what cricket really is all about: toss a coin, play cricket for five days.

Cricket for Americans: 2 Feb. 2019: Unshackled

The first sugar plantation in Antigua was establish in 1674. Within four years half of the island’s population was made of up African slaves — most of them from West Africa. As the industry grew, there was at one time as many as 190 slave labor sugar plantations on the island.

Slavery was abolished in 1834. But many former slaves and their descendants continued to work on the sugar plantations for paltry wages.  The sugar plantations in the Caribbean were the birthplace of western capitalism. And they are a rotten smear on our shared history. Whole generations of Africans were kidnapped and shipped across the ocean to live in horrendous conditions in the service of white masters.

The largest sugar plantation — Betty’s Hope, which produced 20 plus tons of sugar a day — housed some 400 slaves. But while many of us are aware of how sugar built the British empire, very few of us are aware of the day to day lives of those that did the actual work. To this day, very little is known, other than the fact that the island’s population is comprised mostly of descendants of those British owned slaves.

This afternoon at the Sir Vivian Richards Oval in Antigua — five miles or so as the crow flies from the site of Betty’s Hope plantation — those same descendants pummeled their former masters at their own game. England played poorly, surely, but that shouldn’t take away from how brilliant the Windies were. England were out-batted, out-bowled, out-thought and out-played. It was a thorough and aggressive beheading of what was though to be a very good England side by a Windies side that no one really gave all that much thought to.

Watching Campbell put Anderson’s first ball of the third over into the seats to win the match was about an emphatic an ending as one would hope for. A whallop that traveled back in time and sent a warm breeze through the worn out hands of their great, great, great, great-grandparents.

Trivially, it’s been said a thousand times before and it will be said again, but cricket needs a strong West Indies team, and that includes their Test playing team. Today we saw 11 Windies players play Test cricket at the absolute height of brilliance, wiping the floor with the 3rd ranked Test team in the world. A team of Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson, brushed aside with ease by the long arms of Jason Holder. If this is the future of West Indies cricket, then it’s the future of cricket, and that future looks very bright indeed.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 1 Feb. 2019: Chance would be a fine thing

Cricket — especially Test cricket — is a relentlessly fair game. 99 times out of 100, the better team will win. Upsets are the rarest of the rare. You don’t get giant killings like you do in other sports. This has to do with how long the matches are, of course, as over five days the better team normally rises to the top, but also because the game removes that one thing that Davids have relied on against Goliaths throughout history: luck.

There is shocking little luck in cricket. Good or bad. The matches are engineered to the point where a good captain leaves absolutely nothing to chance: who to bowl from which end and when, where to place the field, who to drop, who to keep. There are no deflected shots spinning into the back of the net in cricket. Other than the occasional rainstorm which can save a draw for a team on their way to a loss, there is less luck in cricket than just about any other team sport. That’s just the nature of team games: you get that many people out on a field, strange things will happen. Just not in cricket.

Except of course for the coin toss.

Before every Test match, the two captains don their sport coats and head out to the center for the coin toss. With the winner deciding whether they want to bat or bowl first. I was thinking about that today as the West Indies ground down the English attack once again — Darren Bravo has been at the crease for an impressive four hours plus — and I remembered the coin toss yesterday: won by Jason Holder who chose to bowl on a pea green damp pitch that had his bowlers salivating, and they had England on the ropes, panting, right out of the gates. But then the worm turned, as they say, right about the time England went out to bowl, and they have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Windies but just can’t get them all out. And Bravo just keeps batting on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

If England had won the toss and were given the chance to bowl on that same friendly surface, does their attack scuttle the Windies in the same manner? Maybe. More than likely. The West Indies have a long tail and if those first few wickets fell, then it could have all been over before lunch.

But it wasn’t. Because of a coin flip. And so, in this case, you could say that a coin toss — the epitome of luck — decided the match.

Of course, that’s not entirely true, they still have to play the game, but it still had a rather large impact on the match.

There’s been talk of late to get rid of the toss altogether. To do what they do in England’s first class league: allow the visiting captain to decide whether they want to bat or bowl first. But, I don’t know, I rather like the coin toss. It’s tradition, of course, but more than that: it adds just a swipe of fate and luck into a game devoid of free will, of chaos. And I rather like that about it. Toss the coin, see how it lands, play the game.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 30 Jan. 2019: Canberra

Here’s one reason why I will be watching the 2nd Test between England and the West Indies that starts tomorrow:



That’s just one reason, of course, because it will be quite the intriguing match on the pitch, as the West Indies look to pummel their former colonizers once again, but there’s just something to be said to tuning into a sporting event taking place in the sun and heat from the dark and cold and horrible north.

One of my favorite cricketing traditions is the Boxing Day Test match in Australia. In the US, the match starts in the evening on Christmas Day. And I love to tune in and watch the other side of the world bake as outside my window there’s snow and ice and cold, fresh off a nice holiday, and staring down a few well earned days off.

It’s funny how that works out, how seeing people in shirt sleeves on green grass under blue skies is enough to warm you up just a bit, to cozy your up your space a little, despite the howling winds outside. Earth is a big old place, and seeing cricket on the other side of it is just one reminder of that, and it’s just one more reason to watch.

Other matches of note: South Africa look as though they are going to chase down Pakistan’s 240 to take the 5th and deciding ODI, a hard fought series win that will give them confidence leading into the World Cup ramp up. There’s also the 4th ODI between India and New Zealand that will see the former rest players and the latter looking to salvage something from the series. I have always been a great fan of New Zealand, and I hope they can pull out off what appears to be a rather serious tail spin. Yeah, India are a very, very good cricket team — and have to be everyone’s favorite to win the World Cup now — but New Zealand barely showed even a hint of fight against them. Worrisome for the Kiwis.

And there’s Test cricket happening in Canberra, as Australia and Sri Lanka have their second Test starting tomorrow at 5:30 in the evening, US Time.

Note: Canberra is home to the Manuka Oval, a ground I was not familiar with until just now.  It’s been around for a while, but mostly has hosted domestic cricket with the occasional international limited overs match, and this is its first ever time hosting a Test match, that alone makes it worth tuning in for, I think. Also of note, and this is a little embarrassing, but just now is the first time I had ever heard of the Australian city of Canberra. And it turns out it is the country’s capital city! I had no idea. I just always assumed it was Melbourne or Sydney, but apparently it’s been Canberra since 1908 when a compromise was reached between those two cities.

I often talk about how cricket makes one a better global citizen, but that’s only true when cricket is happening. Canberra hasn’t hosted any Tests, so therefore it’s firmly in my blindspot. Still: it’s a little embarrassing that I didn’t know what the capital of Australia was. But, hey, I know now, and I guess that’s all that matters? Always be learning, in other words.

Canberra, who knew?

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 27 Jan. 2019: This and that

Interesting results in a few recent ODIs, as India pummeled New Zealand by eight wickets and 90 runs to win the first two of of their five match series. It’s not entirely surprising when you consider the ICC ODI rankings — India is 2nd while New Zealand is 4th — but what is surprising is how lopsided the two matches were. New Zealand are a good side, and they are on their home soil, one would think that they would put up more of a fight. This is a World Cup year, and to see the Kiwis lose so comprehensively to top competition has to give one pause.

Another result of note was Pakistan beating South Africa — again, rather comprehensively — to draw level in their ODI series. And, again, worrisome for the host nation. South Africa is one of the early picks to finally put down their demons to rest and hoist a major trophy this summer in England. Failing to beat lesser, but still competitive, teams, isn’t going to give people a great deal of confidence that this year is finally their year. (South Africa has a reputation of getting close but never getting over the line. Chokers, to use the American parlance.)

Pakistan, for their part, will be without their captain, Sarfraz Ahmed, for the remainder of the South African tour for, you guessed it, racist comments on the field. Four matches, a slap on the wrist, and back in plenty of time for the World Cup. Pakistan, for their part, consider the punishment too harsh because, you know, he apologized. Nonsense. He should be banned for a year and not allowed to play in the World Cup. At some point, the ICC is going to need to start getting real with regard to how it deals with racist behavior, especially on the field. Cricket Australia dealt out 12 month bans to Steve Smith and David Warner for ball tampering, while the ICC gave Sarfaz four matches and Pakistan were upset about it.

Something’s not right here.

Meanwhile, in Barbados, the Windies finished up their record breaking defeat of England, setting up what should be a fascinating Test in Antigua that kicks off on Jan. 31.

The circus that never ends continues to entertain.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 26 Jan. 2019: A different sort of game

Yesterday I watched Arsenal lose 3-1 to Manchester United in the FA Cup. It was a crushing, dispiriting loss and all around not good day. But, I was fine. My perspective has changed. I no longer lose my shit when Arsenal have a terrible afternoon. You can’t fall out of a basement, as they say, and with all that’s happened this summer, I have become numb to their tribulations. I still celebrate the victories with gusto, however, I just don’t mourn their defeats. It’s quite freeing.

On the train home I thought about all those England fans who paid all that money to fly to the Caribbean to watch their team collapse to the West Indies in Bridgetown. They weren’t moaning or mourning — according to Bumble their biggest complaint was the lack of replays on the stadium’s scoreboard — they were drinking beer and laughing in the sun in the Caribbean. Of course, part of their laid back attitude over the loss has to do with the fact that they are in Bridgetown in the sun, drying out after a long and wet and cold English winter. But I wondered if they, too, had suffered the kind of loss that makes sport failures feel not quite so awful. If they, too, have let go of the things that they cannot control, and just allowed themselves to enjoy the weather, despite the fact that their team is chasing down 628.

But maybe that’s overthinking it. I actually think it’s simpler than that, it’s just that being a cricket fan is different. Sure, there will be a great deal of consternation among the England fans on Twitter over the next few days: grumbles about team selection and Stuart Broad and Root’s decision making. But they will also be celebrating the return of the West Indies, and how great that would be for the game they love. And yesterday we watched England fans who had spent thousands of Pounds to fly to the other side of the world to see their team, stand and applaud Dowrich’s century and Holder’s double century. What other sport would you see that in? I mean, the goal that Alexis scored for United yesterday was of the highest possible class, is there a single Arsenal fan in the world who would have applauded the effort? I am guessing not.

It’s a different kind of game, cricket. And there’s really no other team sport you can compare it to. You want your team to win, of course, and it’s fun when they do, but when they lose to a side like the West Indies, who play swashbuckling but somehow still technical cricket, you take it in stride, enjoy the sun on your face, and you applaud the hometown boy’s double century that ground your lot into a fine pulp. Yeah, it’s a different game, one where you spend the majority of your time celebrating, instead of mourning. And if you’re tired of watching your team fail to make a breakthrough, you find a shady spot and have a little nap, safe in the knowledge that you probably won’t miss much, and if you do, no matter what, it’s just cricket, it’ll be fine.

Until tomorrow.

Cricket for Americans: 25 Jan. 2019: like the good old days

A magnificent day of Test cricket yesterday. 18 wickets fell in Bridgetown, including a spell from Kemar Roach that harkened backed to the West Indian fast bowlers of yester-year. Together with Jason Holder he ripped through the England middle order. Batsmen four through eight scored a grand total of 10 runs. 4-0-4-0-2. It was brilliant to watch. Violent and beautiful bowling. It was some of the best Test cricket I have seen in a very long time.

The West Indies could have forced the follow-on as they were ahead by 225 after England’s first innings. I.e. Make England bat again to see if they can hit the target. If they are bowled out without hitting the target, the match is over, without the West Indies even needing to bat again. It’s kind of an “eff you” thing to do. “Not quite good enough there, friend, how’s about you give it another go?” But teams don’t do it very often these days, which always use to confuse this American. Why not grind the opponent into dust? Kick them when they’re down, ride the momentum which is completely in your favor? And that used to be the case. At least it used to be more common. Especially during the days of the aforementioned West Indian attacks of the 70s and 80s. But now teams are a bit more cautious, and no one wants to bat on a day five pitch having to chase down a tricky 150 runs in fading light.

So now you know.

I still wish Holder had enforced it though.

Another item of note was the crowd. The game was in Barbados, but the fans were strangely silent as Roach ripped through England. That’s because the majority of the fans were Brits on holiday. Sure, a few West Indian fans trickled in as the day went on, but for the most part the crowd was upper middle class English folk on holiday. And this is the case in Sri Lanka, too, and most places with warm climates that England might travel to for cricket during January or February. Which, I don’t know, is fine. I mean, if the England fans weren’t there yesterday, the stadium would be more or less empty. And why is that? Is it simply because it’s a weekday and cricket doesn’t have the same draw in the Caribbean that it used to have? I guess this could be the case, as you see it all over the world. I watch Test matches from the late 90s and early 00s in India on YouTube and the stadiums are packed to the gunwales, but these days there are few fans in the shade and that’s it. That’s cricket’s problem to solve. And the Hundred and the T20 and cheerleaders aren’t going to solve it. It’s about putting the focus back on the the long format. And, well, marketing it better. It’s the most entertaining of all the formats, you just need to sell it a little better.

But was the Oval empty of locals yesterday because they were priced out? Has cricket in the Caribbean become a sport exclusive to rich foreigners? If so, then that’s a real shame. If you take away the local culture that each Test nation brings to the game, then it won’t matter how well you sell it, it will slowly die as it becomes a sterile Subway sandwich of a game. Gone will be the drums and the flags and the Calypso, replaced with pasty drunk stag parties from Cornwall.

Maybe I making too big of a deal with it. This is how the world is now, as the West slowly transforms every locale into its own image in what is more or less post-modern colonialism. But I just watched Jason Holder score a Test match hundred against England at the ground that he grew up in the shade of. If you take away the local Caribbean cricketing culture, you take away, down the road, moments like this, and you end up with fast food cricket played in front of 50 Brits on holiday at an otherwise empty stadium in Dubai.

That’s the real nightmare scenario.

Until tomorrow.