Sunday, April 3, 2011

ICC Cricket World Cup

In a country where cricket is king winning the cricket world cup is understandably a big deal. Last night India did just that on home turf in Mumbai.

Cricket is still a sport where the highest level of the game is played at the national team level and country matters first. India is also a country where there no other sports. Hypothetically, in the US, the national basketball team could only be as big of a deal if:
  • the best players consistently played on the team rather than only when public pressure built to the point where they're basically forced
  • players' careers were measured in titles won with the national team instead of a club team
  • there were no other sports to watch
  • the population of the US suddenly quadrupled
Saturday's final seemed a little like the US ice hockey team at the 1980 Olympics. Casual sports fans remember the US beating Russia and that the US won the gold. Those casual fans don't realize that the US actually won the gold with the next game by beating Finland. It's not that India anything like the underdog that the US was; it's that this cup will be more remembered for the game that got them to the final than the final itself. Wednesday's semi-final just seemed bigger. It was more anticipated and, let's be honest, just had the feel of a bigger event.

On Wednesday, India played Pakistan. I joked on Facebook that this rivalry was a little like the sports rivalry between New York and Boston if only both cities felt they had a right to Rhode Island and Connecticut. With all due respect to the Yankees/Red Sox, Ohio State/Michigan's and Duke/North Carolina's out there, I'm not sure there's a more heated rivalry in all of sports. There certainly isn't a rivalry that unites more people (I know, there are 1.2 billion people in India; however, how often do you get 99%+ of any number of people to agree on anything much less 1.2 billion people).

The format of the world cup was basic One Day International (ODI) rules, which amounts to a 50 over match. An "over" is a set of 6 bowls (i.e., pitches), so in effect each team gets 300 attempts to score. As a result, the match typically takes around 8 hours to play. Yep, 8 hours. All the matches started at 2:30pm IST, which for Wednesday's Pakistan match was right in the middle of the work day. To try and stem absenteeism, large screens were placed in the cafeterias. It worked to some extent but safe to assume that productivity was low. All afternoon, from three floors above the cafeteria, I constantly heard cheers erupting whenever India scored.

Personally, I left the office around 6:30pm when India had finished batting to watch Pakistan chase from home (unlike baseball where teams alternate batting throughout the game; in cricket one team bats their entire game, called "innings", and then the other team tries to chase). Even the apartment complex had a feeling of community as a large screen was set up on the lawn to accomodate the expected crowd. We filled a cooler with some beverages and headed down with our friends to watch.
Wednesday evening at our complex
The lawn was divided into two primary groups. A set of tables and chairs for the residents near the screen and a section of drivers, off duty guards, and other domestic help sitting on a small knoll in the back. Unfortunately, very class centric. It was on this knoll where both our drivers watched the game. I think they were just relieved that we were also watching so that they could as well (for Saturday's final, Kailash very politely probed about what our plans were that day and seemed quite relieved that I told him he'd be finished in time to watch the second half of the match).
Our driver's Kailash and Ashok, India captured a wicket seconds after this shot, explaining Ashok's refusal to look at the camera
In what I'm hoping was the drivers and guards attempt to stick it to the rich people, they were listening on radio. The television feed was on about a three second delay. As a result, anytime something good happened, they would erupt prematurely before those in the front would react. I loved it.

Obviously, India won that match and then successfully chased down Sri Lanka last night. Well I have no long-term allegiance to the Indian cricket team, I'm most anticipating how excited everyone at the office will be on Monday. While I'm by no means a cricket expert, it's amazing how much more enjoyable it is to watch when you understand the basic rules and scoring. Do I need to go sit in the stands for a 5-day test match? Probably not. Would I go see a quick 20 over Indian Premiere League match this spring? Absolutely.

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