Politics, race, and class in West Indies cricket

The game of cricket was invented in England and exported by them to their colonies so that expatriates could continue to play it. But the game fascinated the locals who took to it with such enthusiasm that many of those countries now routinely field stronger teams than England. One of the first colonies where people of color became serious challengers was the West Indies, which is not a single country but a collection of many independent island nations in the Caribbean that banded together to field a single team. For a long time, the administration of the game was in the hands of English expatriates who retained control and appointed the captain of the team and made the selections, even as the dominant players were people of the islands.
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Sri Lanka are surprise winners of Asia Cup cricket

In the final game that just ended, Sri Lanka beat Pakistan to win the Asia Cup trophy. Why was this a surprise? Because Sri Lanka was fielding a relatively young and inexperienced team, especially when it came to bowling, and they got off to a bad start when in the preliminary round they were trounced in the first game by Afghanistan. Afghanistan has come a long away in the short time it has been playing international cricket but it still had to be considered the weaker team. If Sri Lanka lost its second game against Bangladesh, it would have been eliminated from the tournament but they managed to win and then proceeded to win every single subsequent game, beating the more highly favored Indian and Pakistan teams along the way (the latter twice) as well as a repeat match against Afghanistan. This was definitely a team where the whole was more than the sum of its parts, punching above its weight, with different players stepping up at crucial moments.
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Meanwhile, cricket goes on in Sri Lanka

Despite the massive shortages of most essential items and the political unrest that have resulted in the overthrow of the current political leadership and the president and prime minister driven from office and in hiding, Sri Lanka continues to have cricket matches, with the current tour of the country by the visiting Australian team continuing before large and enthusiastic crowds.

After the Australians won the 20-over series 2-1, Sri Lanka won the 50-over series 3-2. They then played two five-day Test matches, the oldest and most prestigious form of the game. In the first one Australia beat Sri Lanka by an innings while in the second that ended yesterday, the tables were turned and Sri Lanka beat the Australians by an innings. So the two teams ended the tour even, which is good for Sri Lanka since Australia is always a tough team to beat.

For those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of cricket (that I have heard described as ‘like Calvinball but with more rules’), find it unfathomable, and have no desire to learn more, all you have to know is that when a team wins a five-day Test match ‘by an innings’, it means that it well and truly trounced its opponents. For those more curious about the game, I provided a basic tutorial some years ago.

The people in the subcontinent of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are particularly cricket mad and as evidence one needs to look no further than how the current tour by Australia went off smoothly as if nothing was going on in the country.

This is how sports fans should behave

I wrote yesterday about my astonishment at the huge crowds that were attending the cricket matches between Australia and Sri Lanka despite the devastating economic crisis in Sri Lanka that has resulted in a chaotic and tragic situation with massive shortages that has brought the country to a halt.

After the final game of the five one-day matches, the local crowd gave the visiting Australian team rousing expressions of gratitude for coming despite the problems . Many wore yellow shirts, the color of the Australian team, carried banners saying “Thank you Australia”, and chanted “Australia! Australia!” as the visitors took a lap of honor around the stadium.

I have rarely seen such a display of affection for a visiting team by home team fans. One that comes to mind is back in 1961 when half a million people turned out in Melbourne to give Frank Worrell’s visiting West Indian team a ticker tape parade. I hope there is more of this.

Australian player Glenn Maxwell expressed his surprise and appreciation.

Cricket success boosts Sri Lankan morale

The economic crisis in Sri Lanka shows no sigs of ending soon. That is not surprising since the immediate cause of the current crisis is the severe lack of foreign exchange reserves to import even the most basic goods such as fuel, medicines, and food, and only other nations and foreign agencies can ameliorate the situation by giving loans and grants but that takes time to negotiate and then implement.

Meanwhile the government has issued desperate appeals to the population and ordered government employees to work just four days a week and to use the fifth day to grow food in their backyards in order to help with the food crisis. They have asked all workers to work from home as much as possible so as to reduce the need for transportation. But that has not been enough to stop protestors from marching to demand that the president and prime minister resign immediately.
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How no-decisions can be exciting in cricket

As part of my effort to get people who do not know much about cricket and who think that it is boring to better appreciate the subtle features that die-hard fans appreciate, a recent match between Australia and England illustrates one feature that often baffles those new to the game, that a no-decision can be every exciting.

The international Test cricket matches between nations is a time-limited game, though people unfamiliar with the game may marvel about how a contest that is spread over five days for six hours a day could possibly be considered ‘time-limited’ and end in a no-decision. But that can indeed happen because to win a game, one team has to get the opposing team out twice for a total score less than their own within that five-day limit. Otherwise, the game is a no-decision, called a ‘draw’ in cricket. The fourth Test match between Australia and England recently completed gives a good example of how a no-decision can be as exciting as one in which there is a decision.
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Irrational sports fans

In the T20 cricket World Cup currently being played in the United Arab Emirates, India (a dominant force in all forms of the game) has suffered a shock, losing its first two games to Pakistan and New Zealand and in danger of not qualifying for the playoff round. I mentioned in an earlier post that after their loss to Pakistan, some of the Indian team’s supporters, some of whose devotion border on fanaticism, vented their anger at people who had been cheering for the opposing team. While sports fans turning violent against supporters of opposing teams is sadly only too common in many sports, in India things went even further.
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Cricket, race, and politics

There are those who would argue that politics has no place in sports. But the reality is that it is almost impossible to keep politics out, especially in international competitions. The history of cricket is inextricably tied up with race and politics. The game originated with the English upper classes and was taken by them to their colonies. But racism was always part of the backdrop to the game. In the colonies of the West Indies, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the game was initially dominated by English expatriates while in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand it was played almost exclusively by white people. Furthermore, South Africa was under a system of apartheid that excluded people of color from playing on mixed teams while Australia had a ‘whites only’ immigration policy and was infamous for the racist abuse that spectators would hurl at visiting teams that had players of color.
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On being on the back foot

I occasionally hear reporters and commentators (usually in politics) in the US speak of someone being “on the back foot” by which they mean on the defensive. This always takes me by surprise since, although it is an idiom that I am familiar with, it comes from cricket, a game that few Americans have even the faintest idea about.

Its origins lie in the fact that a cricket batter who steps forward to meet the oncoming ball (i.e., plays it “on the front foot”) is seen as being aggressive, advancing to meet the attacker (the bowler) and taking greater risks since they are reducing the time available to decide how to play the shot. Here is Joe Root, the cricket captain for England, demonstrating one front foot shot.
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Test cricket is back

All you cricket fans out there among the blog’s readers (yes, both of you) will be pleased to learn that Test cricket has begun again. In the US there are a lot of debates going on about when and how to bring back professional sports, discussions that struggle to keep up with the changing rate of covid-19 infections. I had assumed that cricket was also on hiatus and so was surprised that a Test match, the highest level of international cricket that lasts five days, had come back with the West Indies scheduled to play three Tests in England. The first Test began on Wednesday and ends today this article explains what changes have been made as a result of the covid-19 virus.
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