USA Cricket: 2007-2020

As cricket — and the whole world — takes a break, I am reviewing the last 13 years of cricket, from when I became a fan in April, 2007 to the present day. 

*****

It’s been — almost with a doubt — a positive 13 years for the US Men’s cricket team.

2007 dawned with the US Men about to embark to Australia to participate in division 3 of the World Cricket League, only to have their plans scuttled by yet another suspension from international cricket, their second in two years. Both punishments were imposed by the ICC for disputes within the governing body of US cricket, the United States of America Cricket Association (USACA). The suspension in the spring of 2007 would be lifted in April of 2008.

Thus began a middling series of seasons by the US men, full of some ups, some downs, but mostly stagnation. They started in the World Cricket League fifth division after the suspension, and they promptly earned promotion to division four in 2010, then to division three in 2011 before being relegated back to division four the following year. In 2013 they were promoted to division three, and then were relegated back to division four in 2014. (Deep breath.)

During these years, USACA was slowly but very surely becoming the laughing stock of the cricketing world. Rival USA Cricket bodies started forming and leaching off members, and the ICC continued to investigate USACA independently. The calls to ICC to remove USACA’s status as the official US Cricket governing body grew louder and louder and louder, until the situation became almost untenable. USACA was a mess. A corrupt, bloated mess. From their finances to their constitution (or lack thereof) and their complete and utter inability to support growth of the game in one of cricket’s most fertile yet most underdeveloped markets.

In 2015, the ICC suspended USACA. More or less cutting off their funding while still allowing the national teams to play in ICC sanctioned tournaments. The US Men got back in o division three in 2016, where they remained after a fourth place finish in 2017.

Finally, in June of 2017, the ICC removed USACA permanently, and granted jurisdiction over cricket in the US to a new organization, USA Cricket, in 2019.

Cricket fans across the land celebrated. Maybe, now, finally, the men’s team would start to have the support they needed in order to being the process of reestablishing themselves on the world cricket scene after missing in action for well over a century. And the team responded almost immediately: they were promoted to division 2 in 2018 and they finished in the top four of the same division in 2019, qualifying them for a new incarnation of division 2, which includes a path toward qualification for the 2023 World Cup.

That fourth place finish included a loss in the third place game to Papua New Guinea, a match that received official ODI designation, making it just the third official ODI for the US Men in the history of the format.

In probably the most fun development of the past year, their qualification for the road toward the World Cup includes several ODIs on home soil. Their first domestic ODI series took place in September of 2019, a tri-series featuring Papua New Guinea and Namibia. The US men won three of their four matches, losing their last match to Namibia in a rain shortened contest. They’ve since played a handful more ODIs, beating the UAE twice and splitting results with Scotland in December before losing all four of their matches in a tri-series this past February against Nepal and Oman.

And, of course, the US men played their fair share of T20s between 2007 and 2020, playing in T20 World Championship qualifying tournaments in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015, finishing 6th, 12th, 15th and 10th, respectively. Then, in 2019, the ICC granted all associate nations full T20 status. So the USA played their first full T20 international in March of the same year against the UAE, and their most recent this past August, losing to North American rivals Canada. All told, they have played eight T20Is, all of them in 2019. They have won two (beating the Cayman Islands twice this past August), lost five, and had one no result. (Side note: that no result was in their first T20I against the UAE. In Dubai. Because of rain. In Dubai. You can’t make that kind of stuff up.)

Which brings us up to today, where everything, of course, has come to a stand still.

They were supposed to be playing an ODI tri-series against the UAE and Scotland in Florida as we speak, but that of course was rightfully postponed, and as near as I can tell there are no fixtures currently scheduled for the US men. It’s a shame, of course, that the world has paused just as the US were poised to make at least a little noise on the world cricket scene, but we all get that that’s small potatoes in comparison to, you know, everything else.

But, still, a bummer. Now I don’t think even the most optimistic US supporters saw them realistically qualifying for the World Cup, but it still would have been a fun ride.

That said, once this whole thing finally blows over, there’s a lot to be positive about with regard to this team. Their top five ODI run scorers are all under 30 years age, for instance, as are four of their top five ODI wicket takers. Those numbers aren’t as great on the T20I side, but they are still good. And just 11 days ago, right before the whole world caught on fire, Dane Piedt, a spinner with nine Test caps for South Africa, turned his back on the Saffers to play for the newly formed US T20 Minor League Tournament, with further intentions to meet the qualifications to play for the US national team and help them reach the World Cup.

And so 13 years on, despite the coronavirus, the US men’s team — and, really, all of US cricket in general — is better off than it was in 2007, I don’t think anyone could argue with that. Even with the coronavirus I think that might be true. Results on the field aside — results which have been positive — the destruction of USACA alone would be enough to give US fans hope for the future. But the results plus USACA getting the boot plus a group of young, fun to watch, hungry players makes one even more excited for this virus to clear the hell out so we can get back to the cricket.

 

Cricket and Terrorism: 2007-2020

Long before the coronavirus, the world was a scary place. And the years between 2007 and 2020 were particularly horrifying. War, genocide, the refugee crisis.

Cricket, a global game, was not unaffected.

In 2009 in Lahore the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by gunmen and Pakistan didn’t play a home test match for 10 years. In Christchurch the Bangladesh team was minutes away from attending prayer services at the Mosque where a single gunman killed 51.

And in war torn Afghanistan, their cricket team — one of the game’s best stories about these 13 years in question — barely even stepped foot on home soil, much less played cricket there.

There was the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka just last year. The Turi Market bombings in 2017. Those horrors and so many more made the game pause, reflect, and then move on, toward healing.

Sri Lanka, the team that was attacked, was the first team to play a test in Pakistan after 10 years.

Three years after the Mumbai attacks, India lifted the World Cup trophy just up the street from the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

And, as already mentioned, Afghanistan has entertained us all, winning matches, going to World Cups, and obtaining Test status, playing joyful cricket that belies the tragedy in their country.

Cricket, the global game, couldn’t escape the terrors the world has to offer, as hard as it tried. The international game has no choice but to bend in the wind of politics and war. And that’s what it did for those 13 years of bombs and bullets. It bent, but never broke. It paused, sent players home, but also called them back. The attacks on team buses and on players attending Friday afternoon prayers reminded us that the game is, really, rather trivial in the light of everything wrong in the world. The terror gave us perspective. But, also, the game healed us, taught us resilience, that life goes on, even in the face of unbearable sadness.

**

I have been trying to write this post for several days. I have started and stalled it several times over. Something was missing from it each time and I would give up. I guess, mostly, I wanted to point out that during the 13 years I have followed the game, the world has seen tragedies and the game has been forced to react to those tragedies. But the world has always been a scary place, and cricket has always been there, at least for the last 150 years or so. These last 13 years were no different, on a scale of global horrors, than any other 13 year period in cricket’s existence. The game changed a great deal in that time, thrived even, despite the terror, but it has always done that. Always came storming back when the world needed it most. After World War 1. And World War 2. After terror attacks and apartheid and famine and dictators. The cricket always came back.

The world has always been a scary place. And it will always be a scary place. Virus or no virus. Sports exists, for the most part, outside of that. Except, when they don’t. When team busses are attacked and teams aren’t allowed to play at home. But they still play. And the crowds still come out. And we all get to cheer the cricket on, a bit of normalcy in the face of so much sadness and pain.

Cricket has always been there, and it will continue to be there. Pandemics, wars, terror attacks. Looking at the past 13 years of war and tragedy has only served to remind that the game is as resilient as the humans who play and watch it, and therefore will come back. When it’s time to heal, when it’s time to go back outside, cricket will be there. The bombs will fall silent, and the cricket will be there, just like it always has been.

When the shots rang out in Lahore on March 3, 2009, it probably felt like the whole world was ending.

It wasn’t. Later that year, Sri Lanka played and drew Pakistan at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in a Test match, Only a few short months after bullets rained down on their bus.

And, ten years later, Cricket came back to Pakistan.

And it will come back to all of us soon enough.

 

Maybe the best of the things

What if it doesn’t come back?

That’s what I can’t help but keep asking myself.

What if it doesn’t come back?

I have found myself watching 45-minute-long YouTube videos on “Sports Greatest Moments” or “The Best Sports Moments of the Last 10 Years”. There’s a lot of such videos out there. And they more or less hit all the same high notes: Mays’ catch in center field. Dwight Clark’s catch in the endzone. The Minneapolis Miracle. Last second jump shots. Secretariat. Christian Laettner. Hank Aaron. Maradona. Jordan, Kobe, Lebron. The Giants win the pennant. The Giants win the pennant. Down goes Frazier. Down goes Frazier. Carlton Fisk willing the ball fair in game six. Jackie Robinson emerging from the dugout in Brooklyn for the first time. Jesse Owens winning in Berlin. Lou Gehrig telling us all that he was the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Catches at the boundary rope. The immaculate reception. Flutie’s Hail Mary. The pine tar incident. Cal Ripken and 2131. Bonds and 756. Rose and 4192. Beckham into the top corner against Greece. Messi, Ronaldo, Bale. Donovan against Algeria. Tries. Goals. Three pointers. Sixes. Touchdowns. Homeruns. AGUEROOOO!!!

All of it.

I watch enthralled. I can’t look away. I get choked up. Even from the sports I don’t even really like, the moments and players I don’t recognize.

And again I think: what if it doesn’t come back?

All these healthy young people, locked in embraces, piles of bodies, celebrating the improbable becoming probable. Fans packed into stadiums, shoulder to shoulder, strangers hugging strangers. I watch and I can’t help but answer my own question: it’s not going to come back. This is too much. We have gone too far away. We won’t be able to go back. By the time we are able to go outside, too much will have changed. Far, far too much.

To paraphrase Will Leitch: I used to watch sports to forget, now I watch them to remember.

A few months ago I wrote a hopeful post about how even if nothing changes internally, the seasons will change. Summer will always come back. And that is still true, but it might not be enough this time to remind us of progress, of getting better. And we all might still be stuck inside. And when we finally do emerge, the world won’t look the same. It’s almost, at times, too much to handle.

Intellectually, we all understand that this will end. Life will go on. It will be different. Very different. But there will still be restaurants. And concerts. And get togethers with friends. And, yes, sports. It might be this fall. It might be next summer. But they will come back. But today — where in Minnesota we are still 145 days away from reaching peak infection — the idea of any normalcy returning feels like a pipe dream. This is depression, the spiraling idea that we are never going to get better. I know this feeling well, I have a name for it, but I still can’t fight my way out of the whirlpool.

So, I look for hope, today. Somewhere, out there, there is hope. There has to be. Hope that we come out of this not the same, but different, but also better. Hope in the simple idea that right now, today, we are alive, we are breathing, and that every breath is a miracle.

“The ground forever away” is a sentence I wrote a long time ago. A lifetime ago. A man is lost in his memories, there are a chasm and he is falling swiftly through them, the rush of the wind drying his tears, the cliff walls invisible in the black, “the ground forever away.”

That is how I feel today. The memories are of a world that used to feel familiar, the blackness below me now the uncertain certainty of the future. And we just keep falling. But the ground is never forever away. There is always an ending. Always. We will reach the bottom of this cliff and we will land safely, God willing, in a basket of soft and safe. And we will be in the chasm of memory, but we will see a way out, and we will start walking, and we will smell summer on the air, a field in the distance, butterflies dancing in the wind, the sun warm on shoulders.

And somewhere, out there, on that field, they are playing cricket. It’s the game we all remember and love, but it’s a little different. The crowds are sparser. The mood maybe a touch more somber. Or maybe not? Maybe things will be even more bombastic than before? And maybe that’s where we find healing, when we know we have healed, when the final wicket is taken, and we hug the stranger next to us, the improbable now probable, all of this somehow forgotten, if even just for a second.

The Battle of the Somme took place July through November, 1916. 140 days. On July 1st alone nearly 20,000 British troops were killed. All told the UK would suffer 400,000 casualties from just that one battle, now widely considered an allied failure. The guns finally fell silent on 11 Nov., 1918, a silence that some have called the voice of God. 12 English Test cricketers were killed in the War to End All Wars, a name now so laced with irony it almost hurts to type. Another 500 first class cricketers from all over the globe were also killed.

In 1919, the very next year, the County Championship in England resumed, rather unsuccessfully, as the ranks of counties were severely decimated by the war, and many felt the game was rushed back too soon. But, slowly, the game came back. There was an Ashes series in 1920-21 in Australia. In 1926, India, New Zealand and the West Indies were promoted to full Test status. The game roared on.

And it will roar on again.

We will get through this.

Today I am looking for hope. I found it in the reminder that we have suffered before, and will suffer again, but we get up off the mat, and keep fighting, keep finding joy in every breath.

 

07-20: Who was the best?

A lot of cricket was played between April 1, 2007 and the last dregs of games before the world went quiet. 3,233 matches, in fact, and that’s just qualified Tests, ODIs and T20s. Breaking it down, that’s 550 Tests, 1696 ODIs and 1070 T20S. (The math doesn’t really add up there, but it’s close enough for government work.)

Who were the most successful teams? Basing it on tournament outcomes, Australia would have to be in the conversation, with their two World Cup wins. And then the West Indies, too, with their two T20 World Championships. But those are teams that, yes, were juggernauts, but also were teams that got hot at the right time. What about sustained excellence over the entire period of time?

Overall, it’s India. They played 613 total internationals between April of 2007 and now (the most of anyone), winning a whopping 359 (also the most of anyone). Australia were next with 559 and 312, followed by South Africa (485 and 282), England, (562 and 281) and Pakistan (518 and 262) to list the top five.

The most successful non-Test playing nation was Scotland, who played 157 and won 64.

New Zealand, of course, led the whole field with 10 ties.

Tests saw Australia take over first place, with 143 played and 73 won, followed by England who played 22 more Tests — the most by far of anyone — also winning 73 of them. India, South Africa and Sri Lanka rounded out the top five. Sri Lanka is a bit of a surprise, finishing ahead of Pakistan, the West Indies and New Zealand, with 122 played and 45 wins.

Meanwhile, in the shorter formats, the numbers break out like this:

ODI
India, 341 and 209
Australia, 296 and 175
South Africa, 250 and 154
Sri Lanka, 331 and 153
England, 284 and 151

T20I
Pakistan, 149 and 91
India, 133 and 82
South Africa, 116 and 68
Australia, 120 and 64
New Zealand, 126 and 59

Moving on to individual players:

The top five in runs scored is as such: Kohli, Amla, Sangakarra, de Villiers and (Ross) Taylor. Kohli scored more than 21,000 runs over the 13 year period, 300 more than second place Amla. Incredible.

In tests, it’s Cook, Amla, Root, Sangakarra and Warner. In ODIs, Kohli, Sharma, Dhoni, Sangakarra and de Villiers. T20Is: Kohli, Sharma, Guptill, Malik and Warner.

Bowling during the period was dominated by Anderson and Broad, with 732 and 721 total wickets, respectively, across all formats. Followed by Steyn, Ashwin and (Mitchell) Johnson.

Test: Anderson, Broad, Herath, Steyn, Lyon
ODI: Malinga, Al Hasan, (Mitchell) Johnson, Afridi, Steyn
T20I: Malinga, Afridi, Al Hasan, (Rashid) Khan, Ajmal

Most catches over the 13 year period in question? MS Dhoni, with 698.

**

There’s no clear winner, but the team of the decade is probably India (a World Cup win in both the short formats, most international victories overall), while the batsman of the decade is most assuredly Kohli. Bowling is a little less cut and dry, but I would give it to Anderson, or maybe to Malinga.

Of course, all stats are cumulative, so there are players like, say, Steve Smith and Babar Azam — some of the best players on earth — who just haven’t played enough cricket to crack into the rankings above. Comparing different eras is always problematic, though, and the game that emerges from this pause will be very different than the game that existed before it. Which is to say, if we allowed Steve Smith a full 13 years he might very well surpass Kohli, but that if is just too big these days, and the post-virus era will be too different to compare the years that preceded it to the years that follow it.

**

Looking back at this post has reinforced one thing: we cricket fans have been damn lucky these past 13 years. We have seen some of the best players to ever play the game play more cricket than ever before. Plus, in the same era, we got to see greats play out their remaining years — Tendulkar, McGrath, Flintoff — while seeing players like Kohli and Kane Williamson emerge into authentic superstars. Yes, cricket had problems over the prior 13 years, but as I said in the original post in this series, I cannot help but feel lucky to have seen the cricket I have been able to see. A remarkable era, to be sure.

“There is too much world” is a quote from Czesław Miłosz, but there can never be too much cricket, I don’t care what anyone says. And the past 13 years have given us so much damn cricket. Never too much. And now that the game has gone quiet, you can really feel the void it has left. From 3,200 matches to zero in a matter of days. The whiplash is real.

Here’s hoping this wonderful game comes back soon, and Babar Azam and Jofra Archer get the long, brilliant careers they deserve.

Like a phoenix

Ironically, while the period between April 2007 and the present was dominated by the game’s newest and shortest format, it also featured a resurgence of one the game’s oldest traditions: the Ashes.

This is, from my perspective, primarily because the trophy became competitive again. Before the famous 2005 series victory for England, Australia had held the urn for 16 years, since June of 1989. Australia won it back in the very next series, in a 5-0 white-washing during the Australian summer of 2006-2007. But after that, the series enjoyed a long run of enjoyable back and forth cricket — including a year which featured two Ashes series, which was a real festival of Test cricket for those of us that enjoy the game’s longest format.

England won the trophy back on home soil in the summer of 2009 — 10 years ago, how is that possible!? — and then in a real shocker, went down to Australia and retained the urn, winning the series three matches to one, with one drawn. Then in 2013 — the year that due to a scheduling quirk featured two Ashes series — England retained it again on home soil that summer, before Australia took it back six months later. That last series featured the only 5-0 Ashes whitewash of the period in question.

England took the Ashes back in the summer of 2015, before Australia returned the favor in 2017-18 and holding onto the trophy in England this past summer (which also feels like a million years ago).

All told, for the period between spring 2007 and last summer, Australia won 15 Ashes matches, England 13, and there were seven draws. The trophy changed hands a remarkable four times — remarkable in that it had changed hands exactly zero times between 1989 and 2005.

(Side note: did the fact that that the Ashes were a bit snoozy for all those years lead to the rise of the Twenty20? Was it that, and the dismal 2007 World Cup, that brought us here today? Maybe a vacuum was created and the Twenty20 just snuck right in.)

Over the course of those 25 matches, we saw some really remarkable cricket. In 2009, there was that oh so memorable fifth and deciding match. In 2010-11, down in Australia, Alistair Cook ruled the world, scoring 766 runs for England, including an inspired fifth Test score of 189, handing his country an innings victory and an Ashes series victory in Australia for the first time since 1987, 22 years. The 2010-11 series is also the most recent Ashes to feature a series victory by the visiting team.

Back in England, in 2013, we saw the emergence of Joe Root for England, and the beginning of Kevin Pietersen’s international swan song. It wasn’t the most competitive series, as England retained the Ashes while in the dressing room during a rain delay of the third Test, after winning the first two matches. The second match was never in doubt, with England winning by 347 runs. But the first match in the series was a classic, and featured Australian debutant Ashton Agar’s 98, which was part of a record smashing 10th wicket stand, keeping his side in the game when they were falling off a cliff at 117/9, and actually giving them a lead of 65 runs. The Aussies damn near chased down what first appeared to be an insurmountable total of 311, falling just a handful of runs short.

For me, personally, the first Test of the summer 2013 series was my favorite Test of this period.

Then a few months later, Australia took England down under and whalloped them, 5-0, in a series that reminded most of that dark decade and a half when Australia just won and won and won. Mitchell Johnson took 37 wickets and was man of the series. David Warner scored 523 runs and Kevin Pietersen played his last Test for England. And none of the matches were particularly close, as Australia won by 381 runs, 218 runs, 150 runs, 8 wickets and 281 runs. (Not to start a conspiracy theory here, but Australia also won every coin toss except for the one prior to the fifth Test. Coincidence? Probably.)

One note for England in that series was the Test debut for one Benjamin Andrew Stokes, who scored his maiden Test century in the third Test.

Sadly, this was also the series that saw Jonathon Trott fly home early due to his mental health struggles.

In 2015, England regained the trophy, winning three matches to Australia’s two. Joe Root solidified his place as England’s best batsman, and Ben Stokes showed his all-rounder chops, taking six wickets in the second innings of the fourth Test. But the fourth Test will be remembered for Australia’s score of just 60, lasting just 18.3 overs, a hair over 90 minutes. Stuart Broad took eight wickets that day, putting him alongside England’s greats like Ian Botham for wickets taken as well as runs scored.

Now it was Australia’s turn, winning down under 4-0 in 2017-18, then retaining the Ashes this past summer after a drawn series (the first drawn Ashes series since 1972). None of the matches of the 2017-18 series were very competitive: Australia won the first Test by 10 wickets, thanks to David Warner’s 87 in the second innings, part of an unbroken first wicket stand with Cameron Bancroft.

This past summer we were slightly more entertained, especially in the 3rd Test, which saw the hosts, England, win by just one wicket, in one of the more remarkable Test matches in recent memory, featuring of course Ben Stokes’s stand at the end of England’s second innings. He put the entire team — nay, the entire country, gone cricket mad after England’s World Cup win — on his back and dragged them over the finish line. Somehow. Some way. This despite the fact that England only scored 67 in their first innings. The match also saw the emergence of Jofra Archer as test bowler, taking six wickets in Australia’s first innings.

But despite the dramatics, Australia were (are?) just too good for England. Steve Smith — freshly back from his suspension for ball tampering — just batted and batted and batted and batted, scoring 774 runs, double that of the next highest scoring Aussie batsman. It was a batting clinic, and England had no answer for him. (Except for the third Test, which saw Smith sitting out due to an injury.)

And that brings us today. Australia hold the Ashes, just as they did at the beginning of the 13 years between 2007 and 2020. The next Ashes series is scheduled for 2021-22 in Australia. It’s over 18 months from now, but like all things, it is in doubt. Which is a shame. Over the last 13 years, it felt like another Ashes series was right around ever corner, so we all always had something to look forward to. But now that light is out. And that can be so hard.

The Ashes will come back though. They came back after an eight year break during World War 1, and they came back again after yet another eight year break for World War 2. None of us can fathom eight years of battling this virus, but even if it takes that long, the Ashes will, some day, come back. They will come back to a changed world, just like they did in 1920 and 1946. But they will still be the Ashes, this trophy that has provided us with so much entertainment over the years, and they will come back, just like they always do.

In cricket, and in history, and in tradition, there is always hope.

Like a virus: the rise of the Machine

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the years between 2007 and 2019 were the era of cricket’s shortest and newest format: the Twenty20.

It was invented in England in 2003, and quickly, like a virus, spread all over the world. From Pakistan to the Caribbean to Australia to New Zealand (who hosted the first International T20 match in 2005, losing to Australia at Eden Park in 2005) to its home country of England, where there were sell out crowds for county cricket matches for the first time since the 1950s, within just a year or two of the format’s invention. It was, without a doubt, and pardon the pun, a hit.

Shortly after the 2007 World Cup which saw the One Day International begin it’s decline as the game’s most profitable format, the time was ripe for the Twenty20 to swoop in and formally realize its ascendancy. The first T20 World Championship was in the fall of that year, with India beating Pakistan in the final to begin their road back from their early 2007 World Cup exit.

Also in 2007, a T20 league not supported by the International Cricket Council or the Bureau of Cricket Control India — the International Cricket League, or ICL, was started in India. To combat the league — which was siphoning board members and players away from the traditional game — the BCCI imposed lifetime bans for players who participated in the rebel league. They also formed their own domestic T20 league, basing it on the franchise system popular in the USA: the Indian Premier League. The league had its inaugural season in 2008 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The IPL is the most popular league in cricket by a country mile. The most attended and the most profitable. And one of the most popular leagues in all of sport the world over. It has spawned similar franchise leagues in England, Australia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, England, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Zimbabwe and that’s not even all of them. The entire landscape of the game has changed, thanks not in large part but in all part to the invention of the format just 17 years ago, a format that is only three years older than Twitter.

Many bemoan the rise of the format. And their complaints are valid. The T20 has altered the style of play across all formats, rewarding the slog, the big hit. Slowly but surely the art of Test batting is disappearing from the world — simply because there’s no money in it anymore. And boards and counties are assuaging the older formats in order to focus on the Twenty20 (and in the ECB’s case, an even shorter format, the Hundred). The County Championship is dying. And players are turning away from the international game in order to become mercenary batsmen in franchise leagues all over the world. Capitalism has come to cricket in the form of a three hour game, and once that barn door is open, it’s pretty hard to close it again.

But it isn’t all terrible news. In many ways, the shorter format has revitalized the sport. It’s opened avenues that were never there before, for the associates, for women. The Twenty20 has turned cricket into truly a global game, a game for all. And while this may irk the more insular cricket fans among us, it has to be seen as a net positive, in the long run. The Twenty20 league in England for instance is bringing in money to the county boards that they never would have seen without the format. Do those counties survive the financial crisis of 2008-2010 without that revenue? Maybe. But maybe not.

I think we can all agree that a healthier balance is in order, however. A balance between the old great formats (and yes that includes the ODI) and the shorter formats. It can’t all be slog. We can’t let the art of Test opening go the way of the dodo. We can’t let the County Championship slowly fade into obscurity. Keeping cricket safe and secure against the fires of time means not just embracing its international side, but also its history, its tradition. If we lose any of those aforementioned things, the game might just finally do what people have been predicting for decades: go extinct.

What that balance looks like, I am not sure.

But.

Our hands might be getting forced, for good or for ill.

The IPL for 2020 has been cancelled. So have other franchise leagues. For the time being, domestic leagues and international tours have also been cancelled, but some day we will go outside again, and cricket will come back. But maybe it will come back in a different way. Maybe that barn door will close a little, and while the IPL isn’t going anywhere in the long term, maybe for a few years the game returns to its roots of quiet games on local fields, as we seek out what’s next for cricket, and for all of us.

In the end, the T20 changed cricket forever, and it will continue to do so. But the coronavirus has changed the whole world forever. Those two seas of change will one day run together, and cricket might just come out ahead, and finally marry its old and its new, giving it the balance needed to last for another 150 years.

Six weeks in the Caribbean

I quit smoking on April 9th, 2007, after smoking a pack a day of Marlboro reds for well over a decade. I quit cold turkey. Crumpled the pack up at my desk and didn’t smoke again.

The 2007 Cricket World Cup started on March 13th. I am not sure at what point I started following the tournament, but I know it was at least after April 9th, which meant that the group stage was already over, and the super group stage was in full swing. And I know it was prior to April 16th, because I commented in this Fark thread about the tournament.

firstmattinspace
2007-04-16 01:22:54 PM
Cannot wait for tomorrow – been too many meaningless matches in a row.

Young Matt. So full of vim and vigor.

However.

I also see that the I commented in this thread … from April 2.

And so the vagaries of memory are on display again. I started following the game before I quit smoking. A real twist in the tail there. I have been saying for over a decade that I found the game after quitting. And so it goes.

But I stand by the fact that the tournament got me through. Watching the ball by ball on Cricinfo, learning the lingo, chatting on Fark. I loved every minute. Every over. Every ball. I watched the final at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis and was happier than I had been in a very long time.

Cricket was joy. Cricket is joy. It made my heart leap. And the 2007 World Cup was my introduction to this game that I have no doubt I will love for the rest of my days. Every minute of that tournament was, from my perspective, perfect.

Which, for any cricket fan worth their salt, is the most ridiculous statement ever made about the sport.

***

The tournament, as mentioned, started on March 13, and ran until April 28. 46 days of cricket. When it kicked off, Australia were the number one team in the world by a country mile. Led by the likes of Ponting and Gilchrist. They had won the World Cup four years earlier, and came into the 2007 tournament the clear favorites. The rest of the ICC rankings went like this: South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, England (ouch), Bangladesh, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Kenya. 16 total teams featured in the tournament, with associates Canada, Scotland, Bermuda and the Netherlands rounding out the field.

Hosted by several countries in the warm, sunny Caribbean, things kicked off with a group stage match between the hosts and Pakistan, which the West Indies won by 54 runs, thanks to figures of 10-0-36-3 from all around Dwayne Smith.

Then the slog started.

The group stage moaned and creaked through the month of March, with 24 matches taking place over the course of 10 days. The stadiums were empty, as the locals had been priced out, and those that could afford to get in were not allowed to bring drums or horns or any of their calypso flare.

The two top teams from each of the four groups qualified for the Super 8s. The two big surprises being Ireland and Bangladesh, as Pakistan and India both failed to qualify for the next stage, and thereby the majority of the subcontinent tuned out for the rest of the tournament, and most of the cricketing world bemoaned the lack of a Pakistan-India super 8 match.

(MS Dhoni even had his home attacked after his team’s loss to Bangladesh.)

(And for a short time authorities believed that Pakistan couch Bob Woolmer had been murdered following Pakistan’s loss to Ireland.)

Ireland and Bangladesh moving on also put to rest any of the whinging that non-Test playing teams didn’t deserve to be there.

In the Super 8s, the crowds starting to fill in a little more as the ICC loosened some rules. The format was simple: each team played each other team once, except for the team they played in the group stage, the result of that match carried over into the next stage.

South Africa beat Sri Lanka by one wicket in the second match of the stage, with the greatest death bowler of all time, Lasith Malinga, failing to take the one last wicket required. Later in the tournament Sri Lanka took their revenge out not on South Africa, but England, who despite herculean efforts from the rest of the order, lost openers Ed Joyce (would represent Ireland in 2011) for only 10 and Michael Vaughn for a duck and that put them into too deep of a whole, and they came up two runs short, effectively knocking them out of the tournament.

The rest of the stage was, well, a little snoozy. Australia steamrolled into the knock out stages, winning all of its matches (they would in fact finish the tournament undefeated), Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand rounded out the top four, setting up semi-finals between Australia and South Africa and New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka walked all over New Zealand in Kingston, winning by 81 runs thanks in large part to Mahela Jayawardene’s 115 off of 109, and New Zealand’s bats just never got going. In the second semi-final, South Africa bolstered their reputation as being wholly unable to turn it on when it matters and flat out collapsed after winning the toss and choosing to bat, scoring only 149 runs despite batting out all 50 overs. (Which, looking back at it, is kind of hard to do.) Australia chased that down with extreme prejudice in just 30 overs and change, despite losing Gilchrist after just five balls.

That set up the final. Sri Lanka versus Australia in the spankingly redeveloped Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. We all know how this goes. Rain shortened the match to just 30 overs a side. Australia raced out of the gates in front of a packed house thanks to Gilchrist (who famously had a squash ball in his glove), putting Sri Lanka into a hole they were never going to crawl out of. Then there was bad light. And the match was over. Oh wait no it wasn’t. It was just suspended. And the players had to come out and play three overs in almost complete darkness before Australia were finally handed the trophy they were never in doubt of not going home with since their first match six weeks earlier.

I watched the match in a bar in downtown Minneapolis. I have written about that day before. It was a sunny perfect day until it wasn’t. I think about it a lot. Like it was a turning point, the start of the walk down a path to where I am today. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was just another Saturday. I was only 31 years old. It was 13 years ago. I had been married for only five years. We would make it another 11.

Four years later Dhoni would have his redemption, and I would be watching alone on a laptop in the middle of the night.

What did the tournament do for the next 13 years of cricket? It’s a little hard to tell. I think the length of it alongside all the lopsided results really wounded the ODI, and allowed the T20 — which had only been around for four years — to really take center stage. It was also the first World Cup that really leaned into the commercialization of the game. Their efforts feel quaint in that regard now, but at the time all the corporate sponsorships were something not everyone was entirely used to, and they also led to the high ticket and concession prices that would affect attendance throughout the tournament. And despite the success of two non-Test playing teams, the tournament began the long push to keep associate nations out of the ODI World Cupo, as many Test teams thought the lopsided matches contributed to the tournament’s snoozy vibe and bloated length.

And you have to assume that Dhoni’s disappointment at being knocked out early surely inspired him in part to lead his team so successfully in the 2011 tournament on home soil.

But, mostly, the tournament has become a bit of a joke, and is widely seen as a grand disappointment. And that, for good or for ill, is its legacy. What affect that legacy has on the game in the long term is impossible to tell. What I do know for sure is that it sowed the seeds of cricket fandom in me, seeds which have taken deep root, and for that reason it will hold a special place in my heart.

And the final was the first cricket match I watched live. And I have allowed that day to become a lynchpin in my life. Again, for good or for ill. I would not watch another cricket match in a bar until 12 years later, when the whole world had changed. Those two days are tied together forever, and for that reason too I will always think fondly of that silly little six week tournament that the whole of cricket just laughs at. And that’s fine with me.