Monthly Archives: September 2009

Allen Stanford Gets Into Prison Brawl

Former West Indian cricket patron doesn’t throw punches as well as he threw around money. Via The Guardian:

The renegade financier Sir Allen Stanford, awaiting trial in Texas on $7bn (£4.4bn) fraud charges, is being moved to a different jail by US authorities after he suffered two black eyes, a broken nose and concussion in a fracas with a fellow inmate.

India Turns To Pakistan For Semis Chance

Ah, the irony of winners’ hierarchies. This week, I watched the India-Pakistan match on some illegal streaming website, which also featured a chat room for fans to opine. As could be expected on the Internet, the flowing text featured vitriol I haven’t heard (or seen) since I was in fifth grade; Pakistan-supporters alluded to cow-lovers, while some witty Indian fans came up with “Porkistan” (you’d think from the text the entire Partition could have been avoided if a few animals hadn’t happened upon the subcontinent’s grazing plains).

But now, the tables have turned: Pakistan fans will root for a victory against Australia, but in doing so, they will inadvertently root to increase India’s chances. Meanwhile, Indians will tune in for, of all things, a Pakistan victory. It’s a real cumbaya moment, but I’d hate just to mock it. This is the fun of sport, when love for the game supersedes even 60 years of mutual hatred — if only for a match against the White Man.

That Bizaare Cricinfo Headline

I have only respect for copy editors, who have to summarize long, complex articles, but what exactly does “Nearly men kick off nearly event” mean? Headlines should encapsulate, not befuddle. Change it.

The Proper Place For Passion In Cricket

Just read New York Times columnist David Brooks’ piece on humility and culture, and I wanted to extrapolate some thoughts on cricket. The relevant excerpt from the piece below:

Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons. To scoop up just a few examples of self-indulgent expression from the past few days, there is Joe Wilson using the House floor as his own private “Crossfire”; there is Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards to give us his opinion that the wrong person won; there is Michael Jordan’s egomaniacal and self-indulgent Hall of Fame speech. Baseball and football games are now so routinely interrupted by self-celebration, you don’t even notice it anymore.

It made me wonder about the celebrations we often see in cricket. Watching old footage of classic games, you didn’t always see bowlers jump up and down in glee when they dismissed a batsman, and you don’t always see batsmen losing their minds, exuberantly hugging their partners, after reaching a landmark.

But is there anything wrong with that shift? Does it matter, say, that Ravi Bopara signaled upon his century to have his name etched on the Lord’s honor board? There’s certainly more an element of showing off these days, which I think largely reflects a new generation that grew up watching cricket on television rather than hearing it on All-India radio.

And even though I prefer not to have Serena Williams-like outbursts in cricket, I won’t lie that I immensely enjoyed the whole spectacle as I watched it unfold live on television. Who doesn’t enjoy Harbhajan Singh needlessly drumming up controversies, or dramatic interruptions of play?

I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusion here, because I’m still undecided: on the one hand, sport will always involve partisans and passion, but on the other, the actual playing may be cheapened when audiences prefer shouts and pointing to bat on ball. There’s also a risk that we’ll elevate individuals above the team, as we indulge human narcissism rather than respect fickle fortune.

What The U.S. Open Can Teach Cricket

Watching the amazing U.S. Open final between Roger Federer and Juan Del Potro, and I wanted to sum up three intramural lessons from tennis to cricket:

1. Technology hasn’t been an elixir in tennis, and it won’t be in cricket either. (I know I’ve said it before, time and again, but bear with me.)

After significant debate, tennis adopted the Hawk-eye technology that cricket only reserves for snotty comentators and replays. It’s done some great work so far, but not without some controversy. For one thing, the ball “mark” it measures sometimes seems ludicrously large when simulated, giving points where it sometimes shouldn’t. And for another, the human element remains forever. Just in today’s final, for instance, Federer clashed with the umpire about the amount of time given to his opponent for an appeal.

The New York Times explains the principle behind the champion’s frustration with technology:

The strangest case is Federer, who has long criticized the system, believing it puts the onus on players instead of on chair umpires. Federer makes challenges constantly, often for what seems like no reason, or with disdain for the entire process. Stefanki said coaches joked in the locker room that if someone like Federer missed by six inches, he should be penalized two points.

Which is also why I’ve said players should not be allowed to use technology at all in cricket, only umpires.

2. Why no women umpires in cricket? Wouldn’t that be something great? I watched a men’s match chaired by a female umpire, and I didn’t think anything about it until I remembered the way it is in cricket. Given how much animus current umpires have raised in the game, why not broaden the applicant pool?

3. The spirit of cricket isn’t a cheesy joke played by some uptight Victorians. Watch Serena Williams threaten to shove a ball down a lineswoman’s throat, and you understand the influence of the “spirit” discourse in cricket. Can you imagine any cricket player doing the same to an umpire, or even to another player, without some serious reprecussions repercussions? Mind your language, cricketers.

Are ODIs Dead?

Samir Chopra has been making the point about ODIs again and again lately, and really, it’s quite persuasive. The current exhibits on display don’t inspire much confidence; who cares if Australia beats the hapless England, or if India beat the West Indies or if they win this Compaq Cup?

But could this sudden ODI problem be solely a function of the rise of the Twenty20 and the IPL? Or are we just seeing trends we’ve always known, like: 1) British people don’t care about ODIs, only Tests, and that too, only the Ashes; 2) No one cares about cricket in the West Indies, especially now; 3) Imagine you’re a Sri Lankan, and you have the choice to watch New Zealand — a team with no current stars other than their nerdy but excellent captain — play India. Would you go to the stadium?

Really?

So, I don’t know what we’re seeing. Still, I like the idea tossed around of dividing the ODI into two innings of 25 overs for each team, which would add a measure of complexity and nuance not inherent in the T20 edition. But a bigger question is this: if the ODI format does die, and broadcasters soon decide it isn’t worth the satellite fees — would it matter all that much?

The New Most Annoying Cricket Ad

If you watch the Ten Sports highlights of the first Compaq Cup match, you’ll see a new marketing ploy. As a replay of a bastman’s wicket begins, a cookie — or biscuit, as my Anglophone friends say — starts to crumble in the right top corner. It’s timed so that the the graphic completely disappears as the ball reaches the batsman, which almost compels the viewer to watch the ad, rather than the replay it supposedly sponsors.

Then the brand name shows up, you’re cursing yourself for falling for it, and the next deluge of mindless, 15-second ads begin. Sigh.

Ashish Nehra Returns

Nothing much to say about the India-New Zealand ODI, but I’m happy to see that gangly, Delhi boy back in action once more. I still remember his 2003 World Cup exploits, especially that match against a hapless England. Alas, the long recovery from bad form and injuries has done nothing to change his run-up, which isn’t exactly eloquence personified. The elbows move more than the legs.

Goodbye, Amy S.

I’m coming very late to this sad piece of news, but I wanted to write my own note for Amy S., one of my favorite cricket bloggers. Since I compulsively read her site after discovering it earlier this year, I wondered why she hadn’t posted in a while; I even started to resent her silence, as if it were a betrayal to cricket blogging (and to me, a loyal reader).

But now, of course, we know what happened.

You know, blogs have been around now for the better part of this decade, but it’s still a bizarre mechanism to me, drawing close together a band of strangers.  For a good stretch of time, I couldn’t write a single post without linking to Amy S., whose humor absolutely floored me. When she reciprocated, I felt that momentary surge we all feel as bloggers faced with comments and links, when we think for a second this enterprise isn’t completely a vain, self-indulgent exercise, but something more important. There’s that pull and push of close and far: I knew nothing about Amy, not her profession (a journalist, like me), or her politics (Kevin Rudd! The Prime Minister?), but I knew her voice.

There’s an argument in some quarters that the Internet amounts to nothing more than a million daily outbursts, shot out into an ether few can remember the next day. The New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier described the sentiment best in the Times:

“The velocity and volume on the Web are so great that nothing is forgotten and nothing is remembered. The Internet is like closing time at a blue-collar bar in Boston. Everyone’s drunk and ugly and they’re going to pass out in a few minutes.”

But with Amy at least, I’ll remember. The silly pictures, the Albie Morkel posts, the hilarious fixation with A.B. de Villiers — they gave us a person, someone who deserved to tickle us for years and years. Goodbye, Amy.

Why Draws Matter So Much In Cricket

Occasional cricket blogger Alex Massie takes a stab at explaining cricket to American friends, who asked him (and always ask me), full of wonder, how a game that takes five days to play can still end with no result.  Echoing Norman Geras, Massie replies that time makes the game what it is, drawing out epic narratives often found in war:

That is, the captains are the rival generals (and no sport places as great a burden upon captacincy as cricket), their players their respective subordinates entrusted with vital missions and, actually, weapons themselves. And, like a long military campaign fought over several battles, the tide may ebb and flow. Some weapons may be better suited to certain conditions; one side’s advantage in one area is offset by its deficiencies elsewhere. Strategy comes before tactics, but tactics matter too.

Good stuff. I don’t completely agree with the war imagery, since the war template requires a winner and a loser (as the forlorn Rambo asked, “Do we get to win this time?”).

But Massie’s onto something: the draw suggests the result isn’t the most paramount thing in cricket, which alone among sports (other than chess, perhaps), allows for something other than victory or less, yielding messier narratives and more complex personalities. (So, for instance, Monty Panesar, all thumbs at batting, outshines Paul Collingwood’s marathon effort because he faces a few balls at the end of play.)

In other words, there’s life in this game. Regular readers know my longtime praise for Ashis Nandy’s The Tao Of Cricket, which argues that cricket relies more on fate, chance and luck, not just human agency and skill. (This is also why I prefer fallible umpires to technology.) As I wrote earlier:

Players battle not only against each other, but against elements beyond their control or abilities — weather, cloud conditions, pitch reports, unexpected injuries…

Nandy argued there was a reason South Asian teams preferred draws and attrition to the Western aggressive style, but even if you putside his post-colonial trappings, he makes a lot of sense. The draw is a tribute to the limits imposed by the game, as well as life. It tells superior teams they must wait, they must keep trying, it was not meant to be; it tells inferior teams fortune sometimes swings their way; life will go on.

Without the draw, cricket loses its essense — it becomes just another sport, interested only in the scorecard and the end result.

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