On Bell-Ringers and Cricket

Troublemakers

Troublemakers

In the wake of England’s ignominious, deeply embarrassing, nay humiliating exit from cricket’s World Cup—won this last weekend by a resurgent Australia—I (Martin) find myself reading Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please? How the British Invented Sport (And then almost forgot how to play it) by Julian Norridge (rhymes with “porridge”). Naturally, I am thoroughly enjoying the cricket section of the book, among which I find the following gem:

The 1720 edition of Snow’s Survey of London mentioned cricket for the first time. It classes it as an amusement of ‘the more common sort’ of people, along with such vulgar activities as football, wrestling, drinking in alehouses, and bell-ringing.

Now, I don’t know about footballers, wrestlers, or imbibers of alcoholic spirits in public houses, but I’ve always had my suspicion about campanologists. Oh, they may claim that all that rowdiness was in the past, but judging from their anthem, performed by the estimable Anita Ward, bell-ringers are still a pretty sketchy lot.

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Philadelphia: Home of Cricket

Philadelphia has been the home of cricket in the United States for 150 years. The Guardian newspaper has a nice story about it. Read it here.

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Cricket for Americans

Greg Conley likes sports—a lot. When he discovered that the cricket World Cup is the third most watched sporting event in the world (after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics) he bought tickets to games in New Zealand and a couple of books, and learned the rudiments of the game in two hours. And now he’s hooked. Here’s his interview on espncricinfo.com.

 

 

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The Greatest Hitter Ever May Not Be Who(m) You Think

It's a science...much of the time.

It’s a science…much of the time. Photo courtesy of Paul Ponomarev

I (Evander) was in some Hotstove/Grapefruit/Cactus Leagues discussions with friends. One, a mathematician, said he had seen an ESPN claim that the three greatest St. Louis Cardinals were Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, and Ozzie Smith.

We love the Wizard of Oz, the back flips, even to entertain in Cooperstown during the summers’ inductions, the whole thing. But one of the three greatest?

What about Rogers Hornsby?

This got me thinking of great hitters. Ted Williams (pictured). Ty Cobb. Babe Ruth. Williams is the last to bomb .400 (.406 in 1941). Cobb’s lifetime average has been downgraded a point to .366. Big deal: still astonishing. Ruth…need I say more?

But for a stretch of 6 seasons (1920-25), all with the Cardinals, Rajah batted .397!* Yes, that’s right. It comes down to 1,296 hits in 3,268 at-bats. To show how much power the right-hander (Williams, Cobb, and Ruth batted from the left side, a big advantage cricket fans need to know) had, three seasons included slugging percentages of .722, .696, and and out-of-any-universe .756.

* Paul subsequently points out that in 5 seasons, 1921 to 1925, Rajah’s batting average is .402. It’s all mathematics and transcendent ability. Would such a contract in 2015 dollars be a…$50M-per-season bargain?

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The Big Thump

Gorillas beating chests

India (right) versus Australia

If the heart-palpitatingly exciting semi-final of the cricket World Cup—between South Africa and New Zealand—was a battle between two underrated sides who are known for their sportsmanship and a tendency not to get involved in some of the nastier aspects of gamesmanship, then Thursday’s semi-final between Australia and India is not only the clash of the titans of world cricket today, but a battle royale between two eight-hundred-pound gorillas, who love nothing more than thumping their chests, bellowing about how tough they are, and letting the opponent know just who’s boss. India and Australia have a lot to boast about: batsmen who can plunder the ball; a strong pace attack; batting all the way down the order; a huge and vocal fan-base; and money, money, money. Australia and India are the teams with box-office appeal—the teams that everyone will look to to provide the kind of in-your-face entertainment and drama that animate the Big Bash and the IPL—the two Twenty20 tournaments that command the most global attention—and that will bubble throughout this one-day international. For one night, the comparison will not be between cricket and baseball, but cricket and American football: big plays, lots of attitude, and a whole load of testosterone. We at Right Off the Bat expect fireworks throughout the contest, and not just at the end of the game, the result of which is just too hard to predict.

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March Madness . . . Cricket Style!

We have now reached the semi-final stage of the cricket World Cup, and as some of our readers may remember, we predicted the final four teams on Day 2: India, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. These teams were so much better than the rest that the prediction wasn’t a tough one. However, aside from home-team advantage for Australia and New Zealand, it’s now impossible to say with any degree of certainty who will win their semi-finals. Australia play India in Sydney on March 26th, and we’ll have plenty of opportunity to assess that clash of the titans. However, New Zealand play South Africa tonight/tomorrow in Auckland. This, too, promises to be a match of power-hitting and fiery pace-bowling, leavened with the containment and experience of Daniel Vettori’s off-spin and Imran Tahir’s passionate and unpredictable leg-spin.

It’s hard to over-estimate just how prepared New Zealand are for this game. After simmering gentlybefore the series, Martin Guptill came to a furious boil against the West Indies, scoring the second-highest one-day total ever (237 not out)—and playing nary a false shot or slog. With Kiwi captain Brendon McCullum—who doesn’t so much cook at the crease but explode like popcorn—at his side, the South Africans will worry if the pair aren’t back in the pavilion by the end of the fifth over. The opening pair are too dangerous, given what comes behind, to be still at the wicket after 30 balls.

Meanwhile, the Kiwis will be hoping that Quentin de Kock’s return to form is only temporary, that Hashim Amla momentarily forgets that he’s the classiest batsman in world cricket, that A. B. de Villiers fails to appreciate that he’s the best batsman on the planet, and that David Miller and Faf du Plessis hold the willow upside down (even then, the ball will probably cross the rope). Even if either side’s top order fails, with Tim Southee and Vernon Philander coming in at number 9 for New Zealand and South Africa respectively, it hardly matters. Each side has incredible depth.

We expect to see Dale Steyn’s veins and eyes to bulge; we expect Trent Boult’s fiendish yorkers to reach 145 kph; and we expect this one to go down to the wire. Both sides are fit, full of phenomenal fielders, and have everything to prove. It’s gonna be a feast and we urge you to tuck in.

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The World Cup Quarter Finals: No Surprises

Imran Tahir

Imran Tahir: More beard, same exuberance.

The cricket World Cup has finally moved into the business—i.e., knockout stage—end of the competition, and, so far, the quarter finals have offered up no surprises. Not even the mighty resistance of Kumar Sangakkara could prevent Sri Lanka from being defeated by a South African team that simply cannot be pinned down. All eyes before the game were on A. B. de Villiers (would the batting line up be over-reliant on his explosive genius?) or Dale Steyn (when would the crowd get to see the fearsome fast bowler’s eyes and jugular vein bulge in pumped-up aggression?). As it turned out, it was South Africa’s mild-mannered off-spinning all-rounder, JP Duminy, and its expressive leg-break bowler, Imran Tahir, who brought the Sri Lankans to their knees, taking seven wickets between them. (Duminy became the first bowler in a world cup to take a hat-trick—that’s three wickets in three balls, for our baseball friends.)

You’ve gotta love Imran Tahir. Like England’s sometime off-spinner Monty Panesar, Tahir is an exuberant cricketer. His appeals for the wicket are operatic, and his celebrations on snagging a victim often involve a madcap sprint, arms flailing, in the direction of nowhere-in-particular. You get the feeling that Tahir, like Monty, is slightly insecure about his position in the side. It’s perhaps no coincidence that he’s grown a full beard—not merely to copy his teammate Hashim Amla, but to reinforce his sense of being a Muslim in a predominantly non-Muslim side—and that that inner confidence and sense of self-identity have allowed him to settle and unveil the full mysteries of leg spin. That batsman-wicketkeeper Quentin de Kock, who’d had a fairly dismal tournament so far, came into his own against the Sri Lankans must further reinforce the confidence of the South Africans.

Meanwhile, in a result about as surprising as Ian Bell making an attractive fifty and then getting out, India steamrolled Bangladesh into submission. Tonight/tomorrow, Australia will most likely do the same to Pakistan.

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