England v The West Indies

England’s first three settlements in the Caribbean were failures. Colonies in St. Luica, Grenada and Guiana folded rapidly. But in the 1620s, settlements in St. Kitts, Barbados and Nevis took hold and soon the entire region became one of Britain’s most lucrative colonies – mostly thanks, sadly, to sugar plantations run with slave labor.

The African slave trade would last for almost two hundred years, and wasn’t finally outlawed in the British Empire until 1807. During that time, the Royal African Company would transport 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas, which accounted for a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic.

The mortality rate for slaves during the crossing was one in seven.

One in seven.

But the trade was hugely profitable for those that happened to be born the right skin color, in Africa, in England (particularly for port cities like Liverpool) and in the Americas.

The trade greatly increased the percentage of the population with African descent in the Caribbean – raising from 25% in 1650 to 80% in 1780.

Slavery was finally outlawed in the West Indies altogether in 1839. 215 years after the first colony was founded, and 26 years before the United States ratified the 13th amendment.

It’s a sad and tragic mark on our global history.

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Following World War Two, England was bankrupt – and with anti-colonialism on the rise and not wanting to sink themselves into costly wars – they began a policy of peaceful disengagement from their colonies.

Most of the Caribbean declared and were granted independence in the early 1960s, with Guyana being the last in 1966. Several colonies, of course, chose to stay under British rule, but for the most part, the Caribbean was on its own. Finally. After 360 years.

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The first cricket matches took place in the Caribbean in the early 19th century, brought over from England by the British Military, which had cricket pitches integrated into their forts.

At first, the game was a tool of imperialism, a way for Africans to learn more about English society. But soon the game became – famously – a tool for revolution, for disproving the fallacy that one race is superior to another race. For throwing the shackles of colonialism off and beating the colonizers at their own game, on their own patch. It was the great unifier of the region, and cultural touch point for West Indian people from Guyana to Jamaica.

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The West Indies have played its former masters in two tournament finals: The 1979 World Cup and the 2004 Champions Trophy, both hosted by England. And the lads from the Caribbean have won them both.

On Sunday they will meet in a final for the third time.

Nearly 400 years after British sailors first walked up the beaches of St. Kitts, the former Empire will play its former colony on the other side of the world on the home patch of another former colony.

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On the field, Cricket is a complicated game. It’s one of the reasons we all like it. The sport is filled with back-alleys and tunnels and twists and turns and cloverleafs. But off the field, the game – with its colonial history – is just as complex, and makes the games even more riveting. On Sunday, The West Indies, with its team of mostly Africans, will face England, a team of mostly whites. And while the themes of colonizer vs colonized and slaver vs slave seem rote, they add both to the complexity and richness of the game.

West Indies have only been playing Test cricket since 1928, but in more than one way, they have been battling England since 1602. And that is just one tiny subplot in a match – and a sport – that is full of sub-plots. And will be just one more thing for us all to think about as Chris Gayle of Kingston, Jamaica strides to the crease in Kolkata – a city that under British rule had a Black Town and a White Town – to face the blue eyed Peter Willey of Northampton, Northhamptonshire.

Layers upon counter plots upon layers.

That’s cricket, ladies and gentlemen.

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On Ashton Agar

Two images remain from today, one of a 19-year-old lad who may already have played the innings of his life and the other from a 38 year old man who has no more left to play.

-The Old Batsman (full post)

Around the 12 or 13th over of Sunday’s India v Australia match, a substitute fielder came on for an Australian bowler. I think the subbed bowler might have been Faulkner, but I am not entirely sure. It’s beside the point. The point is actually who the substitute was: Ashton Agar. He of the once-in-a-lifetime 98 at Trent Bridge during the first Test of the 2013 Ashes.

For those that don’t remember – all two of you – Agar, a 19 year old kid making his Test debut in the simmering cauldron of the Ashes – came in to bat at number 11 when Australia were falling off a cliff at 117/9. He then didn’t do much but bat for two runs shy of a debut Test century and the highest ever partnership for the 10th wicket (since broken). He kept Australia’s hopes alive in the first Test only to have them dashed in the end, falling 15 runs short of the rare successful chase of 300-plus runs.

It was a truly magical innings for a 19-year-old on debut, and his grace under such extreme pressure made me think Australia had itself a real special cricketer on its hands. But then he struggled with the ball, fell ill, returned home before the fourth Test, and hasn’t made a Test appearance for Australia since.

In the years between his 98 and his substitute fielder appearance on Sunday, he has played a lot of domestic cricket and appeared in a handful of ODIs. But all that promise that was on display that day in Nottingham has not re-appeared. (However, it goes to show the Australian team’s faith in his ability to handle pressure by throwing him into the field in front of a hostile ground in what was for all intents and purposes a knock-out match.)

And so it seems we have what The Old Batsman predicted above: a 22-year-old kid who played the innings of his life when he was only 19, and while he might very well prove someday to be more than just the answer to a Pub Quiz question, for now he exists forever 19, forever smiling the perfect smile of a kid “in love with absurdity of it all.” And that’s okay, I think. Well, it’s okay, of course, but it’s also a little tragic to peak so young, to be 22 and know that your best moment on a cricket pitch is always behind you, lurking.

But, that said, just as it’s better to have loved and lost, it’s also better to have scored a 98 in an Ashes Test than to have not scored a 98 in an Ashes Test – no matter the age you were when it happened.

I just hope that those two runs don’t haunt him too much.

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Forgotten from that day due to the Agar Show was the man at the other end of the crease: Philip Hughes. Hughes who batted for nearly 4 hours that day, scoring 88 off of 111 balls. Hughes who would die so young and so tragically not 18 months later.

While Agar’s story might be tinged with a bit of melancholy for potential and promise never fully realized, Hughes’ story is of course far sadder. That said, both stories serve to remind us of one very important point: what happens off the cricket field is far, far more important than what happens on it. Agar’s life will not be defined by what happened at Trent Bridge, just as Hughes’ loss is not felt at the batting crease as much as it is felt in the hearts and minds of those that knew and loved him.

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A footnote: in the quote above The Old Batsman is referencing the fact that Agar’s knock came on the same day as Ricky Ponting’s final First Class innings.

And to quote The Old Batsman one final time:

The gap between it and Ponting’s at the Oval, that brief window of time in which sportsmen have their lives and all of us are young, closes before anyone notices. What a day it was today.

Which is one more lesson that Ponting and Agar and Hughes and, well, cricket can teach us: life is short. Damn short. So enjoy the moments we are given, for they – along with the people we share them with – are always gone far too soon.

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On Kohli

About halfway through India’s chase today, I made the rather bold claim that Virat Kohli is the most exciting athlete on earth right now. And by exciting I mean best, most entertaining, and the most gifted. This is not a new sentiment for me, it’s actually something I have been saying for years.

Now, no one who watched today’s match could possibly disagree with me. He was simply brilliant. He came on in the 3rd over, and calmly guided his squad through the middle of the match. Scratching out singles with a hobbling Yuvi, and caressed the game at easy rate of a run a ball. There was a lot of pressure on him to stay in the game, and he shouldered it well.

After Yuvraj fell, Dhoni took over as Kohli’s partner, and absorbed some of the pressure, allowing Kohli to bat with a bit more freedom. Singles became twos, and he teased us slowly with the occasional boundary. But with 39 needed of just three overs, he exploded into life, delivering such a shock and awe display that it left us all breathless – even Dhoni apparently. It was so quick yet so amazing and beautiful that when it was over Twitter was surprisingly a little quiet as we all basked in the afterglow of such a perfect innings.

It was like being made love to.

And everyone in the stands, and those of us watching in India, America, England, wherever, we all knew that we had just witnessed something very special. Very, very special.

And everyone in the stands, and those of us watching in India, America, England, wherever, we all knew that even when the match was seemingly drifting Australia’s way, we were all sure that as long as Kohli was at the crease it was India’s match to win. And win it they did. With such a flurry of boundaries that sitting down became impossible, no matter if you were neutral, Indian or Australian.

So, sure, it’s easy to backup the claim that he is the world’s best athlete to a cricket fan, but what about supporters of other sports?

Can one make that the claim – apples to oranges – that he is better than Messi, Ronaldo, Curry, or Newton? I think so, I think he is. The way he put 1.3 billion people on his shoulders today and carried them across the line proves it. No one faces the level of pressure that he faces, and to respond with such aplomb is the mark of a truly amazing athlete. Sure, you can have all the talent, but until you do it on the biggest stage with the most on the line that you could possibly imagine, you have proven nothing.

Let’s see Messi do what Kohli did today. Let’s see Ronaldo carry an entire nation. Let’s see Stephen Curry make love to a billion people all at the same time.

If you want to see the absolute best that the sporting world has to offer, then you need to watch Kohli in a run chase.

Full stop.

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A few other notes:

  • I love Yuvraj, his story is one of my favorites. From World Cup winner to cancer ward to triumphant comeback. But his decision to stay in the match with his bum ankle very nearly cost India the match. He should have gone off for treatment. Those early singles should have been twos and the increasing required run rate put a lot of undue pressure on Kohli – the man that the team needed at the crease – in the middle innings. Thankfully, all is forgiven thanks to the Kohli Show.
  • Yesterday I resubscribed to Willow, after unsubscribing back in 2014. (This was when ESPN had all the best series, so Willow at the time wasn’t worth the $15 a month.) And I must say I was highly, highly impressed with their stream today. Not a single hiccup. Not a single one.
  • I have never liked Australia and I am always happy to see them lose. I think this is because they have ruined two World Cup Finals for me (2007 and 2015). These were matches I was so looking forward to and Australia just swaggered in and won them both running away. Boring. Thankfully we won’t have to worry about them any more in this tournament.
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Outlier

I came to cricket late in life. A full grown adult who hadn’t the slightest of knowledge about the game. But that is so utterly rare in sport that it’s almost unheard of.

Sports are, at their core, games for little kids that certain grown ups are able to play for a living. And that’s why we love the sports that we bonded with as children. I grew up around baseball and soccer, so those were the games that formed the core of my athletic fandom.

In other words, convincing grown up American adults to embrace the sport of cricket – or any sport that they didn’t grow up playing – is incredibly difficult. The Olympics are one exception, but that’s only every four years, and between competitions most people could not care less about figure skating, track & field or, say, water polo.

And with that in mind, the only way to grow the game in this country is start at the youth level. Get kids – all kids – playing the game. USACA doesn’t matter. The ACF doesn’t matter. The national team doesn’t matter. What matters is the kids, playing the game, bonding with it, and creating a lifelong love for it.

And that is exactly what’s happening in small pockets all across America. I look at this picture and I get chills:

BEST6

Photo by Jamie Harrison. Used with permission

(More photos and the full story can be found on USYCA’s site.)

You get the kids, and the game gets a solid footing, and from that launching pad anything is possible.

Look at what’s happened with soccer. The game was practically non-existent until the mid-1970s in this country. Then parents saw the game as a safe little sport for their kids to play, and all of a sudden every kid in every city in every state was donning shin guards and learning how to execute a throw-in. Fast-forward 30 years and we are all grown up, are getting our kids into the game, and using our incomes to attend matches, fly to Europe and purchase spendy cable packages.

The above is the blueprint for cricket in America. And it shouldn’t be a hard sell. It’s a safe game at the youth level, and with the current backlash against sports where concussions are common (read: all of them), youth cricket is one that parents can feel safe signing their kids up for. And with the “global village” our world has become, a lot of parents want to expose their kids to things are outside of their cultural bubble – cricket is one of those things.

Get the kids into the game, and in just one generation we might have a team at the T20 World Cup. Wouldn’t that be something? I am going to do what I can to make it happen, and you should too.

 

 

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On the Teevee

And what do you say about a Test match like that? I have no idea.

It had everything. Peaks, valleys, hidden tunnels. Heroes, goats, villains. From Stokes setting Lord’s alight and reminding us all of Flintoff at Edgbaston; to Moeen Ali making the catch of a lifetime on the boundary; to Jimmy Anderson searching and poking and prodding; to the Kiwis showing all the heart in the world in an attempt to just…hang…on.

The match was five perfect days of everything Test cricket has to offer the world. And for five days in London the format reminded us all that not only is the game’s longest format its most entertaining, but when played like England and New Zealand played it, a Test match is the pinnacle of ALL sport. It can be the most entertaining game on earth when played at its zenith.

And what else you say about a Test match like that? I have no idea. So I will leave it to the professionals to offer proper tributes, and instead use this space to talk about one very personal aspect of this match:

I was able to watch it on tv.

Not on a computer. Or a tablet. Or a smartphone. But on an actual television set. Like an actual human being.

I had finally gotten around to connecting my Xbox to the Internet, and I downloaded the (free) ESPN3 app, and – huzzah! – cricket live on the telly.

The stream was crisp, clean and perfect, with only the occasional hiccup. And so I was able to watch on while on the couch with a cup of tea instead of at my desk in a desk chair with headphones on.

As you probably know, the game is different when watched on a television. And it was almost as if I was seeing the game again for the first time. Actually not even almost as if, it was as if I was seeing the game with fresh eyes, different eyes, new eyes.

I was able to see the little moments in the game that you miss when watching on a stream on a computer. The flight of the ball, the looks on the players’ faces, the foot movement of the batsman and the subtle differences in fast bowlers’ run ups.

Cricket is a game of many facets. It is millions of small moments that create a detailed landscape when laid on top of one another. And sure the game is interesting and entertaining when you only can see the landscape, but it becomes infinitely more so when you are able to see the individual blades of grass.

To say it was a more entertaining experience would be a rather large understatement.

And for the first Test match I’d been able to watch on television to be that Test match? Well, the stars were aligned, surely.

Checking ESPN’s schedule, it looks like they have the entirety of the New Zealand tour available to watch, plus a healthy dose of County Cricket. I do not, however, see the Ashes. It would be a real shame of tWWL made that series a pay-per-view like they did with the World Cup and the IPL. We shall see.

If anyone has any inside information on that, I would appreciate it.

Until then, I am going to bask in the glow of the perfect Test match for a little longer, then get ready to do it all over again at Headingley.

I will save my whining about the two Test series for another day (probably tomorrow).

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The cricket for the corruption

But watching Root and Stokes battle back at a zesty five runs an over in glorious sunshine was a reminder that cricket – and all sport for that matter – is often best enjoyed by unhooking from the issues that blight its administration and simply drinking in what unfolds in front of you.

Ali Martin, via The Guardian

That’s it right there, isn’t it? Not just sport, but life. Seeing the forest for the trees. Separating what’s really important from what is simply trivial. Being able to sit back and simply see the beauty that exists in this big, old, sad world.

And cricket – on a nearly daily basis – brings us wide swaths of that beauty. In moments both big and small, it brings us the ballet, the drama, the grit that is inherent to sport

It also shows us – outside its lines – humanity’s ugly side. Its corruption, its greed, its hypocrisy.

But like in life, we are better off if we can take a few moments each day to forget about the horrors that exist, and focus on the beauty that exists in tandem with the evil. A Beethoven piano sonata, a Donna Tartt novel and, yes, a cracking counterattack on a perfect summer’s day in the heart of the world’s greatest city.

Just another lesson cricket can teach us. If we let it.

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USACA, the ACF and the ICC

I won’t rehash the bizarre, embarrassing and frankly not entirely unexpected events that took place during USACA’s recent T20 tournament. But here’s a few links. (H/t Jamie Harrison.)

What the farce of a tournament actually means for the future of the game in America is of course unclear at this point, but a well-oiled, successful tournament would surely have helped USACA’s chances for survival despite recent finger wagging from the ICC, so the fiasco that happened down in Florida this past weekend should have the opposite affect.

Meanwhile, USACA’s competitor, the American Cricket Federation, had itself a great couple of weeks. They drafted a new constitution that not only ensured the democratic election of leaders, but also is rather groundbreaking when it comes to cricket body governance. They added two more leagues to their growing ranks. They were granted tax-exempt status. And they released an annual report that showed the whole of the cricketing world all the really great things they are doing, as opposed to all the corruption and farce on display at USACA HQ.

Now, full disclosure, I know Jamie Harrison – the CEO of the ACF – I have worked with him, for him and have been paid to write articles for his website. And so while that may negate all of this, I say with all confidence that the only way – the only way – for cricket to move forward in the United States is through the ACF. All that USACA offers is dead ends. And so if the ICC truly wants to see the game thrive in America, then their choice is clear: stop turning a blind eye to USACA’s ineptitude and – simultaneously – offer financial assistance to the ACF so they can continue their work and, in time, become the official governing body of American cricket.

I have talked to ACF league managers, administrators and players, and all to a man expressed similar sentiments and confidence in the future of the game in the hands of the ACF.

The choice for the ICC is clear.

But now the ICC will ask itself: do we really want the game to grow in America?

Now, of course, to us, the answer is yes. Why wouldn’t they? We are a country that loves sport – that would fall in love with the game if given a proper national team that competes on the biggest international stages. We are a nation of immigrants that long for the game to move into the mainstream, so there is more cricket not just on our TVs, but in our schoolyards, our stadiums and our parks.

But I don’t think the ICC wants that. I think they have finally have power consolidated as they want it, and opening up the doors to another potential cricketing power is just not something I can image them doing – even if that ascent to power would take generations. Look at the way they treat Ireland and other burgeoning, successful associates, and you cannot help but feel pessimistic when it comes to the chances of cricket in America.

Furthermore, would the ICC want to welcome a federation with such a forward thinking and progressive and democratic constitution? Of course not. That would, for lack of a better phrase, poison ICC’s well of corruption and greed.

The ACF might in the best interests of cricket and cricket in America, but they are not in the best interest of the ICC.

And so that’s why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I feel that the ICC will continue – for the foreseeable future – to support USACA, leaving the ACF out in the wilderness.

The silver lining here is that the ACF is doing a lot of good out there in the wilderness. From youth cricket to a successful, national championship. Let’s hope they keep it up no matter what happens.

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Yes, I am biased here. I know that. But I truly believe that Jamie Harrison and his team are the best people for the job of making cricket a success in America.

Unfortunately, that’s not something I think the ICC wants.

I for one hope I am dead wrong.

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