Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sachin, Sri Lanka, Sambit, painkillers and the choke'o'meter

The World Cup is in full swing and I have to say I'm loving it.  Arguments about the format and the involvement of associate nations will rage on and on, but for me, this is still the most important tournament in the cricketing calendar and the current edition has already produced plenty of drama and excitement.

In addition to the on-field action, I've also enjoyed the accompanying feast of cricket writing.  Here are some snippets of my favourite pieces from the last week or so, along with links to the full articles.

Mike Marqusee - The "symbolical" cricketer: Sachin Tendulkar

99 down, one to go.  It seems only a matter of time before Sachin Tendulkar becomes the first man to score a ton of international tons, and it would be fitting if he reached the milestone in a World Cup match on home soil.  The tribute pieces will come flooding in, but few will be as thought-provoking as Mike Marqusee's recent take on Sachin's unique status as a "symbolical" cricketer.
"Tendulkar’s personal achievements were represented as a triumph for India as a whole, a sign of the country advancing on the world stage – like Indian corporations opening plants in Europe or the USA. Unwittingly and unwillingly, he found himself at the epicentre of a popular culture shaped by the intertwined growth of a consumerist middle class and an assertive, sometimes aggressive form of national identity. National aspirations and national frustrations were poured into his every performance, and this during a period in which the nation passed through some very dark moments (Kashmir since 1989, Ayodhya in 1992, Mumbai in 1993, Gujarat in 2002, Mumbai in 2009). How he’s not been crushed by it all remains at least in part a mystery."

Shehan Karunatilaka - How cricket saved Sri Lanka

From what Sachin's success has meant to the Brave New India, we move to what Sri Lankan cricketers' successes have meant to their chaotic and war ravaged nation.  Shehan Karunatilaka's recently released novel Chinaman was already at the top of my reading list for the Easter break.  Reading his piece in today's Observer - a whirlwind social history of Sri Lankan cricket - has made me look forward to it all the more.
"1996's lasting legacy was something more precious than cash or column inches – 1996 gave us heroes. In our 48th year of independence, who else did we have to look up to? The soldiers pawned in the war? The overfed politicians? The martyrs of failed revolutions? For a nation short on heroes or causes for celebration, the sight of our boys in blue outwitting the world, at least for a moment, was one to behold."

Sambit Bal - The World Cup's new best friend

Both India and England have lost matches through spectacular batting disempowerplays in this World Cup, while other teams have put the extra five overs of fielding restrictions to much better use.  Cricinfo's Editor Sambit Bal thinks the batting powerplay has been one of the stars of the tournament so far, and I'm inclined to agree with him.
"More than runs and wickets, it has brought strategy back to a period of the one-day game that had tended to drift along predictably, with fielders hanging back and batsmen churning out mechanical singles. More than anything else, it has imposed attacking cricket on both teams."

This one's only accessible to those with a digital subscription to the Times.  I think Mike Atherton is a consistently brilliant columnist, and he's a large part of the reason why I pay to peep over the Murdoch paywall.  His look at the widespread use - or rather abuse - of painkillers by international cricketers was something of an eye-opener for me.
"When I was 22 I had an inflammatory condition diagnosed that manifested itself, in layman’s terms, as a bad back. The choice for me was simple: find something else to do or be prepared to take painkillers to enable me to have a cricket career.  It was a simple choice: for the next 11 years or so I took between 100mg and 200mg of Voltarol a day, every day. I did not get hangovers and, more important, the pain was masked to the extent that I was able to play."
One of the benefits of the paywall is that comments pages are free of anonymous insults and ramblings, and consequently writers are more likely to engage in debate with their readers.  The many thoughtful comments on this piece (which have included the opinions of two marathon runners and a psychiatrist) have so far prompted no fewer than five responses by Athers himself.  Good on him.

Jarrod Kimber - Cricket’s Choke’O’meter

And finally...  how do you decide whether a loss is just a bad day at the office or a full-blown choke?  The cricketwithballs Choke'O'Meter is one way to do it. Answer six simple questions and tot up the score for a definitive answer.  Here are two of the considerations.
"Were there mitigating factors?  
1. Shit was going on like crazy, like in Nam. 
2. It was like a party at Chris Lewis’s house.
3. There were factors, but they were hardly mitigating.
4. It was calmer than a BBQ at Michael Hussey’s house. 
What level was the collapse?
1. More like a trip than a fall.
2. A sudden drop that would require oxygen masks.
3. The part in the monster film when the monster falls down.
4. Yao Ming falling off the empire state building."

(Click on the links in the titles above to read the rest of these articles.)

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