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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Citi Field Goes Vegan

Johanna McCloy (right): making vegans and the health-conscious happy.

Johanna McCloy (right): making vegans and the health-conscious happy.

As the previous post suggests, on Friday, August 15th, Evander and I (Martin) took the F Train from the Right Off the Bat Media Complex in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, intercepted the Number 7 train at Roosevelt Avenue, and hightailed it to Citi Field in Flushing to watch the New York Mets entertain—and I use the word not so much loosely as with carefree abandon—the Chicago Cubs in a game that Jane Austen, early doyenne of the sporting arts, called “base-ball.”

As we know, sports stadia these days are less about the game being played on the central sward than about the consumption that takes place in the stands and at the perimeters. For a vegan such as myself, these arenas usually present depressingly few options. Not so, Citi Field. I had barely made it to sniffing distance of the Food Court, when Two Boots Pizza hove into view with its “V is For Vegan” slice—complete with Daiya cheese. Across the way, a vegan patty in a large vegetable and salad sandwich rose to the surface to see if I’d bite. Reader, I did both, and subsequently enjoyed the game enormously.

Suffice to say, none of this would be possible without the sterling work of actress Johanna McCloy, whose organization Veggie Happy has been campaigning for years to make the food inside stadiums healthier, kinder, and less gut-busting. Thanks to Johanna, our stomachs and consciences can all rest a little easier.

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