Monday, March 19, 2007

Cricket World Cup

Brian Lara
Brian Lara
Last year, both Viola and I blogged a good deal about the football (American: "soccer") World Cup 2006. That massive tournament, one of the biggest international sporting events, makes only a small dent on American consciousness. It is shown on mainstream channels like ESPN, and there are a million or so viewers, but it is very minor by way of comparison with American sporting events like the Super Bowl (an American Football event), which has a massive, multi-million audience. But while few Americans watch the football World Cup, at least one can say that many know about it. That is not the case with the Cricket World Cup which is currently under way in the West Indies. The U.S.A. is a completely cricket-free zone. I have yet to meet anyone in the US who is even aware that there is a cricket World Cup, let alone that it is happening now, that it is drawing big headlines in many other countries, and that it is happening nearby, in the Caribbean.

For those who are unfamiliar with the cricket World Cup, it has happened every four years since the first one in 1975. This year it is the first time that it is in the Caribbean. It always involves all the major cricket playing nations (currently England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies) and adds an additional eight nations, a couple of whom are almost major cricketing nations (Zimbabwe, Bangladesh), and the rest of whom are disparagingly called "minnows" (this year Canada, Kenya, Bermuda, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands). It lasts for a month and like the football World Cup, there are group stages to begin with, four groups with four in each (two major, two minor in each). The top two in each of these groups goes forward to the "Super Eights", and the top four from the Super Eights go forward to semi-finals and final. The assumption is that the eight major nations will make up the "Super Eights", but one of the exciting things that can happen is that one or more of the minor nations can make it through the group stages, displacing one or more of the major ones.

The other thing you need to know about the cricket World Cup is that it is "one day" or "limited overs" cricket. This is the popular, fast paced version of the game that dates back to the early 1970s. Each side gets 50 overs to make the highest total they can; the highest total wins the game. So a one day match is a hasty six or seven hour affair, unlike the first class game which lasts several days. It would be impossible logistically to have a first class cricket world cup because it would take too long for each nation to play all their matches. Since the 1980s, the one day form of the game has also departed from the first class game by using coloured costumes, a white ball and black sight screens, rather than cricket whites, the traditional red ball and a white sight screen. The colourful appearance and the fast pace adds to the popular appeal of the one-day game, and the excitement of seeing sixteen nations all in the same place makes the World Cup the most thrilling arena for watching one-day cricket.

Given the absence of interest in cricket in America, it is not surprising (though it's disappointing) that it is not on mainstream television at all and it is not reported in any Sports bulletins. I suppose the one place where the American might hear about the World Cup is on BBC World Service, which is broadcast all night, where we live at least, on WUNC, North Carolina's portal for NPR (National Public Radio), which is a kind of American version of Radio 4. When I went to bed at 1.30 last night, the World Cup was the sports headline on World Service, which was being broadcast on WUNC/NPR.

So, to ask the question we have asked here before, How do you cope without British TV and Radio?. If you have Dish Network, you can pay $199.95 to get full World Cup coverage. But we can't get Dish at our house (details of the palaver here) so the only options are via the internet. Willow TV provides internet streaming of a reasonable (not brilliant) quality for a hefty $199.95 a month; the other option is to spend time searching for P2P options from around the world.

What I tend to miss, though, is the Test Match Special commentary from the BBC. TMS is a British Institution and while I was thrilled to find that I could get hold of it over the internet in the summer, they block access to international users for any cricket outside of the UK, including the World Cup. But all is not lost. The TMS Podcast is back again for this World Cup, two-three times a week, and it's a treat. Second on the podcasting front is The Guardian's Cricket World Cup Show, an excellent podcast out every two or three days. The other British papers are lagging way behind on this one. Nothing at The Independent, nothing at The Telegraph, one paltry Cricket World Cup Podcast so far from The Times.

"Freddie" Flintoff
All in all, the internet provides one with lots of ways of keeping in touch with what is going on, and podcasting is a particular pleasure this time round. What of the action so far? England's chances of winning the World Cup are vanishingly small. We began about as dismally as everyone expected, losing the first of our group stage matches, against New Zealand. We won our second, on Sunday, against Canada, one of the so-called "minnows", but we didn't win convincingly. The match was overshadowed by Andrew Flintoff's antics off the field. The English love "Freddie" Flintoff, and will forgive him, especially after his contrite performance at a press conference today, but he was reported to have got drunk on Friday night / Saturday morning, not long before the Canada match, and was seen out on a pedalo at 4am, and he allegedly had to be rescued. He was stripped of the Vice-Captaincy, dropped from the side for Sunday's match, and five other England players were fined. Now England have a few days to get it together before the match against Kenya on Saturday, which we have to win to go through.

Even that, though, was overshadowed by the sad death of Bob Woolmer on Sunday morning. Woolmer was a former England cricketer who was the current coach of Pakistan, and he was found unconscious in his hotel room on Sunday morning; he did not regain consciousness. The news came through as we were watching the England v. Canada match over our Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Woolmer's death has cast a shadow over the whole World Cup, and the cause of his death is not yet clear. It came the morning after one of the most remarkable cricketing results ever, on Saturday, when Ireland, another of the "minnows", beat Pakistan, one of the giants, and knocked them out of the World Cup. The fact that this remarkable result happened on St Patrick's Day made it an additional cause for celebration.

Other cricketing highlights include a remarkable performance by South Africa (major team) against the Netherlands ("minnows"), including six sixes in an over by Herschelle Gibbs, a fantastic achievement, already uploaded to YouTube. This was the first time this had ever happened in a World Cup.

And today, in between classes, I was pleased to be able to catch the last few overs of India's massive total of 413 against Bermuda, the first time any side has got over 400 in a World Cup game, and this after India were surprised by a defeat at the hands of Bangladesh on Saturday. Oh, and one other highlight, in what has been a fantastic first week, was the tied match between Ireland and Zimbabwe (a tie is very rare in cricket).

Who will win the World Cup? Certainly not England. I suppose you have to put your money on Australia. I fancy South Africa to reach the final. Dark horse bet: New Zealand.


Michael said...

My small attempts at understanding cricket were quite a disappointment. I've found that I don't understand the 'code' that the announcers use much like your experience with American football. Some Indian students here play quite regularly and have invited me to join them, so I might just learn the sport.

And I know the Goodacres aren't big fans of the Telegraph or "Torygraph", but I was wondering if you have a response to this article:;jsessionid=GVJYJKFW4ZK2PQFIQMGSFFOAVCBQWIV0?view=BLOGDETAIL&grid=F11&blog=yourview&xml=/news/2007/03/20/ublview20.xml#form

Judy Redman said...

As someone who grew up in a cricketing family in a major cricketing nation (Australia), I understand Mark's problem. Every morning at the moment, we wake up to cricket results on our clock radio and I'd really miss it if it wasn't available.

I also sympathise with Michael. When I was younger, I found that it really helped to have a diagram of the fielding positions in front of me so that when the commentators told me that Jones was fielding at or had just hit the ball to/through silly mid on or third slip or third man, I could visualise where that was. ABC of Cricket has a good diagram of all the possible positions, plus an explanation of the main features of the game and a glossary of terms. Mind you, you can play and have a lot of fun without understanding much about the rules. Other players will cheerfully yell instructions to you if you appear not to be quite sure what to do. :-)

Tonewah said...

Well, I'm an american, and I have been following the ICC World Cup pretty closely, albeit via text commentary on sites such as cricinfo and cricbuzz.

I have no idea why I started following it, though. I could say the Bob Woolmer/Ireland upset thing drew my attention, but that wouldn't be true, because I was already following the world cup before that incident.

I guess it's just something a little different, and alien to me, so I find it entertaining.

There's too much emphasis on sports in America, anyway. Cricket just seems like something I can follow without pumping up the already bloated egos and pockets of the big 3 American sports' athletes.