Is This the End of the West Indies as a Cricketing Entity?

For reasons that were at once predictable and shocking, the past week has seen developments that it’s not being grandiose to say may lead to the end of the West Indies cricket team. In a dispute over money (isn’t it always?), the members of the West Indies cricket team, on tour of India, informed their board (the West Indies Cricket Board, or WICB), that they were no longer going to play—even though their own players association (or WIPA) had agreed to the terms of the tour and the payment. The Board of Control of Cricket in India (the BCCI) not only immediately canceled the tour (Sri Lanka will take the place of the West Indies) but stated that the Indian team will no longer tour West Indies, and that BCCI will consider options to sue the WICB for tens of millions of dollars.

This is, to put it mildly, a big deal. Because of the size of the television and sponsorship market, the BCCI can afford to throw its weight around. The potential revenue loss of an Indian tour of West Indies is, perhaps, $65 million—aside from any millions of dollars that the BCCI may seek in the courts. Furthermore, other boards—notably the England Cricket Board (ECB), which is due to send a team to the West Indies in April and May—may reconsider doing so, given the volatile relationship between the WIPA and WICB.

The West Indies was always an idea more than a reality. For years, the eleven best cricketers from Antigua, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados, and other islands, would cohere to form the West Indies cricket team. From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s,  the team played for regional and racial pride rather than an individual country or money. (The documentary film Fire in Babylon admirably captures what was at stake for the great West Indies teams of that era.) But, like the countries the team represented, West Indies cricket never commanded the money that England, Australia, and now India can. A revenue loss like this may bankrupt the WICB, forcing West Indies cricket to retrench, and making it impossible for the team to remain in the top rank of cricketing nations.

But even more is at stake than this. Cricket is a source of enormous national and supranational pride for West Indians—both at home and in the diaspora. It is a genuine infusion of income, especially when the England cricket team visit the islands, bringing hordes of pink-faced, beer-swilling, but wealthy fans who fill the hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and grounds of the islands that host the matches. The loss of an England tour would depress the local economies dramatically.

But perhaps the most telling result of this situation may be for the future of cricket as a sport where individuals come together to represent their nation. One reason why the West Indies players went on strike is that their pay was being slashed. Another reason is that many of them—such as Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Smith, Chris Gayle, and Sunil Narinecan make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), a six-week tournament of the shortest form of the game of cricket (T20), which brings in huge crowds, large amounts of sponsorship money, and huge exposure and TV ratings. Other T20 competitions around the world offer similarly handsome pay checks. The West Indies’ players flamboyance and match-winning hitting have made them stars, and brings them  months of salary in a matter of weeks. They don’t need to play national cricket to make a living.

Made-for-TV games in front of huge markets, such as are in the Indian subcontinent, threaten to render irrelevant eighty percent of all cricket competitions between nations that aren’t in a big TV market, or don’t have the money to pay their cricketers enough to stop them playing in that big TV market. Unless money is spread more evenly across the game to the poorer nations, the collapse of the West Indies–India tour may portend the end of cricket as we know it.

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What the Hell Happened to England?

How about this for an opening sentence, following England’s third defeat in a row to India in their current one-day five-match series?

By the end of a game that had all the competitive elements of a day of seal clubbing, there could be no masking the flaws in the England ODI side. 

Thank you George Dobell on espncricinfo. Never let it be said that writing about cricket  lacks color or violence. I’ll have more to say about the woeful England one-day international (ODI) set up when they lose (as they almost inevitably will) the final game. Until then, readers, reflect on the awfulness of England and the barbarism of the sealer.

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The Curious Game of Cricket

It's not exactly your grandmother's sport.

It’s not exactly your grandmother’s sport.

In a recent New Yorker review of a non-sports film, David Denby, in passing, dismissively refers to “the British and their curious game of cricket.” This mostly baseball fan (Evander) felt a twinge of insult. Perhaps Mr (nota: no period after the “r”) Denby might check out these films showcased by Martin in a previous blog, or learn a little something about T20 Cricket.

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Coming up Sixes

Happy Birthday to the first DH ever

Happy Birthday to the first DH ever

Today, August 23, 2014, marks the 66th birthday of DH (that’s also Designated Hebrew) Ron Blomberg. Happy Birthday, Ron!

imagesThis is also the day Joe Torre’s (right: here pictured closer to 1966) number 6 was retired by the New York Yankees. Many of the good reasons JT had his lucky number retired, and “made this day necessary” as Yogi Berra (frail but also on hand) might say, returned: Bernie Williams (number 51: that’s 5 +1), Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Tino Martinez, and Jorge Posada.

My co-writer Martin Rowe was fortunate to be in attendance today. The first baseball game Martin ever watched was at the old Yankee Stadium, September 21, 1996. I believe this is his second game at the new Stadium and roughly his tenth altogether. The Yankees actually won today. (It’s been that sort of season.) I don’t believe Martin’s ever seen the Yankees lose in person

In the interests of full disclosure, I ought to point out that 6 is my birth day and lucky number.

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Cricket in the Movies

For your summer delectation, the Guardian today has selected five movies that feature cricket. As the comments following the article attest, many movies have been missed, but it’s good to see cricket playing some kind of role in the moving pictures.

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The Beards to Be (Not) Feared

Mooen Ali (left) and Hashim Amla. Bearded wonders.

Mooen Ali (left) and Hashim Amla. Bearded wonders.

The more observant baseball fans among you will know that a lot of store is put in hairiness or the lack of it. The Yankees are notoriously clean shaven; their perennial rivals the Boston Red Sox, by contrast, are riotously hirsute. Brian Wilson, former San Francisco Giant and now Los Angeles Dodger, has a beard as black and thick as Sherwood Forest. All in all, one would be hard-pressed to find a hairier group of sportsmen than professional baseball players.

But wait! We at Right Off the Bat have been deeply impressed by the follicular thatch of the two cricketers pictured—Mooen Ali of England on the left and Hashim Amla of South Africa on the right. It may perhaps be unnecessary to point out that, unlike the bearded wonders of baseball, what these two cricketers wear on their chins is a sign of their piety. They likewise do not drink (Amla refuses to wear the sponsorship logo of Castle beer on his shirt) and are eager to be models for the Muslim communities in their respective countries. It may only be a coincidence that they are stylish batsmen, with a delicate, almost feline presence at the wicket, but their attempts to break down prejudice about their faith and present an image of the new England and new South Africa are to be applauded.

W. G. GraceOf course, in their commitment to cricket and hairiness, Amla and Ali have a famous forebear: the magnificently matted W. G. Grace (left). Grace’s girth and bristling temper were matched only by his intimidating bristles—a combination that left bowlers and other teams reeling. We don’t imagine that either Amla or Ali would be interested in competing with Grace in the whiskers department; although they might hope to have his oversized impact on the game.

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What the Hell Happened to India?

Jimmy Anderson offers a few words of advice.

Jimmy Anderson offers a few words of advice.

Reader: Consider two cricket teams—India and England—both alike in dignity. Both sides are in transition: even though their star players may have departed to the skyboxes and commentary positions, both teams are blessed with plenty of youthful talent—to wit, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, and Virat Kohli for the subcontinentals; Joe Root, Jos Buttler, and Mooen Ali for the frozen northerners. As India arrives in England for a five-match Test series, the appetite is whetted by England’s shocking 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankans (whose first series victory in England this is) and calls for England’s adamantine captain, Alastair Cook, to resign. India may lack box-office appeal (no Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, or Virendar Sehwag in this party), but the side’s phlegmatic captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems, typically, unworried: the talent may be raw, but it is talent nonetheless.

After a stalemate in the first match, England collapse in the second (at Lord’s!—the Home of Cricket!!—in a bicentenary year!!!) and there is much gnashing of teeth. The murmers that Cook should resign become a roar; “get rid of the old timers,” yell the pundits and prognosticators, “all is doomed!” To cap off the excitement, England’s bowling sensation, James Anderson, as ferocious a competitor on the pitch as he is meek and mild off it, is involved in what diplomats would call “an incident” with the richly hirsute all-rouder Ravindra Jadeja. Words were exchanged, personal space was breached, and the Indians are upset. They take Jadeja’s cause to a tribunal, which exonerates both players, but somehow the Indians can’t let it go.

Before you know it, three Test matches have gone by and India have lost the lot of them—by huge margins. Alastair Cook finds his mojo; James Anderson grits his teeth and hoops the ball every which way to take 25 wickets in the series; and the young English players outperform the young Indians in every department. A sure series victory for the tourists becomes a crushing defeat.

I (Martin) am generally skeptical about the psy-ops aspects of contemporary sports. But in this case it really does seem that England—or, more particularly, Anderson—got under the Indians’ skin, causing them to play loose shots, lose focus, and generally not concentrate enough for the long haul that is Test cricket. India and England now play a five one-day games. This format of the game is meant to be India’s forté, although in Ian Bell, Joe Root, and Jos Buttler England have the men to meet fire with fire. And Jimmy Anderson will steam in to bowl.

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