Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: Test cricket

Aspirations

Netflix used to recommend movies and shows to customers based on how they rated other movies.

Five stars for Truffaut? Why don’t you try a Renoir?

Two stars to American Pie? Clearly you don’t want to watch American Pie 2.

Or do you?

Over time, Netflix discovered that ratings are “aspirational”. Our ratings reflect our best image of ourselves. They don’t reflect how we actually want to spend our time.

We may rate all Satyajit Ray movies five stars, but when we have a tight window of ninety minutes between when the kids went to sleep and when we really need to get to bed, we’re not going to watch Fellini. We’ll watch American Pie 2.

Test cricket is also, I believe, aspirational. If you ask the average person, they will want tests to exist, even if they don’t watch. For those of us that love it, our love for it is something that maintains our self-image. It is part of who we are.

This doesn’t necessarily mean we will stay up tonight to watch New Zealand play Bangladesh. It just means that we will sleep better knowing that we live in a world where New Zealand is playing Bangladesh.

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We’re Humbled

Humble Oils

Humble Oils (Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass)

India stand at the brink of the kind of defeat that an entire generation of cricket fans in India has never seen. And while Ashwin could still pull a Headingley today, we don’t have a Bob Willis to bulldoze the English batsmen.

Sid Monga for Cricinfo, in his day four match report.:

It was fitting that the [Barmy Army] “band” drowned out the despondent Indian contingent in the stands, putting in place the jingoistic advertisements put together by the host broadcasters, which ridiculed English people.

Well played, Sid. Arrogance is grating, but you can get away with it as long as you’re winning.

In July 2011, after India lost the Lord’s Test, I wrote an article titled “We’re Arrogant” fighting against the rhetoric from the English media:

No kidding, we’re arrogant. We were arrogant at Lords, and not because Ganguly screamed shirtless for the members in red and gold jackets. We were arrogant because two 20-year olds had just chased down 326 in your backyard. In the erstwhile home of cricket.

We’re not arrogant because we’re jerks. We’re not arrogant because we bought this place. We own this place. And we own it because we win.

And now, we no longer win. And while I am yet to see evidence of humility, we have been humbled. On the plus side, the most exciting era in recent Indian memory is just over the horizon. It has been “just over the horizon” for some time now. If we get past denial, and recognize that this is an era of transition. Of experimentation.

As Tank said to Neo, “it’s an exciting time. We got a lot to do. Let’s get to it.”

Diversity

Everything that needs to be said about the debate on “saving” Test cricket from a T20 future in one line from Mukul Kesavan:

“It’s useful to think of Test cricket as a tropical rain forest that nurtures a diversity of things bred out of the monoculture of limited-overs cricket. Diversity escapes the balance sheets of money men, but it is, as ecologists have taught us, invaluable.”

Unfortunately, it follows 1500 other words on the subject.

If I was to get pedantic for a second, diversification forms the bedrock of balance sheets of money men. But then I’d slap myself for getting in the way of such a great metaphor. And if I was to get pedantic for another second, it’s actually a simile. Not a metaphor.

No, Mr. Bhogle. Indians Are Not Culturally Suited to the Shorter Form.

A curious paragraph from Harsha Bhogle where his hypothesis is that India does better at the shorter format because they are culturally aligned:

One-day captaincy is much more about instinct and short-term rewards, which we in India are naturally adept at extracting. We see opportunities quickly, we rush in, we are satisfied. A space opens up in a crowded local train and we edge in there, a new counter opens at a bus station and we are first in the new queue; our eyes are forever darting around looking for an opening because if we miss it we may not get another. As a wonderfully instinctive person who has his wits around him, Dhoni revels in these conditions. A five-day game is more like booking your ticket early and reserving a seat rather than charging around looking for one.

The paragraph is curiouser because Dhoni is, in fact, a former Indian Railways ticket collector.

I could write a similar paragraph about how India would obviously do better at Test cricket because they are used to waiting in long lines for their LPG cylinders. Patience has been bred in to them at a young age, so obviously they were number one in Test cricket.

But I don’t have a deadline and a word limit looming.

Another line from Bhogle in the same article:

India are not too bad, as we saw even in the Tests in England and Australia, over short bursts. Maintaining that quality over longer periods is a different skill, and like peace in the modern world, it is a bit scarce in India at the moment.

Less egregious. Mostly just a writer conjuring up a catchy simile. But it’s mostly untrue. The modern era is among the most peaceful, even if it’s people are more nervous about random acts of violence than any previous generation. A graph from the Wall Street Journal (also click through for a graph on homicide rates over the centuries):

Also, India have actually been quite good in away Test matches as recently as one year ago. So wrong on both counts, Mr. Bhogle: it’s a peaceful world where India have recently played good, patient Test cricket.

Third and Fourth Test Songs Called Off Due to Chronic Depression

I was going to write songs for all Tests in this series. I know.

But I just can’t. I know boy bands have been getting away with it for decades now, but I can’t keep writing the same song.

If I did write the songs, they would be cover versions of this line from the second Test song:

[England] batted on, and on and on
And on and on and on and on
India went on to promptly collapse
Maybe ’cause they wanted day 5 to relax

Hey Mr. Dhoni, what you gonna do?
You and your boys look like you haven’t got a clue
Tell you the truth, you don’t look like #1
Cause your team’s out there playing like it’s 1991

Read the rest of this entry »

Before India’s Awesome Fightback/Terrible Defeat

Alan Tyers writes an awesome choose-your-own-adventure style article on the state of the India-England series:

Off the pitch, however, a spat between [Voice of the New India / triumphalist buffoon] Ravi Shastri and [much-respected former England captain / bitter has-been] Nasser Hussain has further ignited simmering bad feeling. The DRS is just one battleground between the BCCI and the ECB as they fight over [the very soul of our great game / television money] and cricket adjusts to the [exciting / distressing] shift of power from Lord’s to Mumbai.

The Return of Zimbabwe

Former captain Taibu and current captain Taylor

Zim Braintrust: Taibu and Taylor

Meanwhile, in Harare-

Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are playing a full-blooded, evenly matched, positive game of Test cricket. Zimbabwe, playing their first Test match in a while, have made a sporting declaration towards the end of day four. Every single player in their side has justified their spot, and their captain has played to win.

That declaration at tea on day four was one that neither Strauss nor Dhoni would have made. Regardless of what happens on day five, Zimbabwe have made a solid announcement of their presence. Pakistan visit Zimbabwe later this month, and then Zimbabwe tour New Zealand in January. Their bowling seems up to the task.

Bangladesh have fought back more than once in the game. The straight-talking Tamim Iqbal said at the end of day four: “The wicket is flat so if we don’t make mistakes or do anything silly, we should win.” Which is a confident statement, considering they need 263 runs on the final day with 7 wickets in hand.

If ever there was an example of the spirit of cricket, it is not an English batsman being gifted a second chance because he lost his wicket on account of being stupid. The spirit of cricket is alive and well, at the Harare Sports Club.

 

The Trent Bridge Test, in Song

As you know, I’m writing and performing a song about each Test in the India v. England series. Here is the one for the Lord’s Test. Without further ado, here is song two:

That’s a digital banjo and funk beats. And here are the lyrics (though I improvized to match the beat, so they are not precise):

Sreesanth and Ishant, having tea for two
Praveen joined in while the bounce was still true
By tea, they got England on a plate
How you gonna win a game from 120 for 8?

Hey Stewie Broad, you might not be aware
They call you Barbie on Twitter, that just don’t seem fair
‘Cause your batting like Beefy and bowling like him too
Though India’s chasing really well at 117 for two.

Hey Mr. Dravid, show a little rage
That you’re payin bills at your advanced age
VVS and Yuvraj tried to do their part
But that swinging ball from Stewie Broad was rippin’ it apart.

Let’s get that run out, out of the way
Bell was an idiot, to walk away
Dhoni held up the spirit of the game
Was he a sucker for Flower mind games.

Ian Bell batted on, and on and on
And on and on and on and on
India went on to promptly collapse
Maybe ’cause they wanted day 5 to relax

Hey Mr. Dhoni, what you gonna do?
You and your boys look like you haven’t got a clue
Tell you the truth, you don’t look like #1
Cause your team’s out there playing like it’s 1991

Why India Lost, in short

It’s not because of lack of passion.

It’s not because of the IPL.

It’s not because they were undercooked.

It’s not because of an underperforming spinner.

It’s not because Bell was re-called.

It’s not because of Erasmus’ umpiring.

It’s not because India missed Sehwag.

Or Zaheer.

Or Gambhir.

It is because they were outplayed. England played better cricket.

Anyone who says otherwise is trying to evade the truth. Trying to avoid accepting reality. The reality that, at the moment, England are the better team.

 

How to Lose Like a Champion

In professional sport, there is only one measure of “better”– it’s not who got more points, or got more yards, or carried themselves with more dignity, or who was “winning” for the majority of the game. Ironically, being “a good sport” usually means you’re losing.

The only measure of “better” is who won. The best teams in history are known for the number in the Wins column. Cricket– and especially Test cricket– expends significant effort to obscure this fact.

So you lost. Too bad. Makes that #1 tag feel a little heavier to carry around. This is your gift. This is your curse.

Admit it, you got outplayed. However, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to lose by being outplayed than to lose by acts of god [1]. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to win.

But you lost.

Of course, if you’re smart and you’re good, all of this talk about winning is to your advantage. Because nobody remembers the margin of victory, as long as you win more than you lose and you win when it matters.

England were better on the day. And this is okay, as long as it’s usually qualified with “on the day”. And it will always be qualified, as long as you win more than you lose and you win when it matters.

This is how you build a dynasty.

You know this. You’re playing the long game, nine-dimensional chess. You lose when you can afford to lose, but you win when you must. You know this because this is how you got here. This is how you won the World Cup.

[1] It is also better to win by outplaying your opponent than by acts of god. Unless the gods are members of your playing eleven. Read the rest of this entry »