As I type, Bangladesh is defending 251 against the Sethaffrikens, and have them 4-67 after 20 overs. And de Villiers, Smith, and Kallis represent three of the wickets. You gotta think that it’s going to be nigh impossible for the Saffers to rebound from their atrocious start, especially with two of their three best batsmen retired to the pavilion. (I’ll take Gibbs over Kallis any day in a one-day — Kallis just isn’t aggressive enough.) (UPDATE: SA are 8-140 after 39. And while Gibbs is still in the middle, this one is just about over.)
Who says that the minnows aren’t fun? Do you real think that an old, cranky, and divided India could have rocked SA like this? All credit to your 2011 World Cup champs, Bangladesh. Even if they do manage to lose today, they’ve shown that they can compete with the big boys. But damn, Mushfiqur Rahim is a mouthy wicketkeeper. Makes Nixon look like a shrinking violet. Sort of the Leo Getz to Bashar’s Murtaugh and Tamim Iqbal’s Riggs.
In other news, Chimp Rage and I attended our first Nats game of the year last night. It’s going to be a loooooong season. I really believe that the Nats could lose 120 games. And it doesn’t help when you’ve got a mediocre journeyman like Chris Snelling who feels the need to repeat his OC ritual of 1) Unwrapping and wrapping gloves; 2) Tapping each cleat once; 3) Making a cross on the plate before each pitch. Especially in light of the fact that he seems to take time after every other pitch. That means 50% more ritual. And that means longer, yet still ultimately futile, at-bats. And that means longer, and even more painful, games.
Don’t look now, but Pakistan was just bowled out for 132 after 45.4 overs. By Ireland. The same Ireland that tied Zimbabwe earlier in the week, and that scored 221 in doing so . Now, Pakistan’s attack is undoubtedly superior to that of Zim, but is it so much better that they can prevent Eire from chasing 133 measly runs? I doubt it, but we shall see. If Ireland win this one, as they oshould, Pakistan is eliminated, and the Irish have to be considered favorites to advance to the Super 8s along with the Windies. All in all, things are looking up for the Cricketing Provos on their national holiday.
I didn’t realize that St. Patrick held any special significance for the Muslims of Bangladesh, but they, too, are exceeding expectations thus far. The Banglas bowled out India for the third time in the ODI history between the two sides, leaving themselves a very chaseable target of 192. But it’s worth noting that the first time Bangladesh bowled out India (for a much more difficult target of 277), they completely choked in the chase, posting just 76 before going all out in 27 overs.
So there’s hope for India. Much less for Pakistan.
Well, the hype and the blather of the pundits are fading as the day of reckoning approaches. The prognostications are set in stone. All that remains are the games themselves – the third week March is here, and the tournament that we’ve been waiting for is finally set to begin.
We refer, of course, to the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
That’s right. There are hundreds of other places on the tubes that you can read endless “analysis” of the other tourney which begins this week, but the Deuce doesn’t follow. The Deuce leads. The Deuce leads with strength and honor. And the Deuce Promise is this: we will be the go-to source for smartass, underinformed, American blog analysis of the most important sporting event of the next two months. Because beginning tomorrow morning in Jamaica – with the inaugural match between host West Indies and Pakistan – and continuing through the final on April 28 in Barbados, around a billion inhabitants of this planet will be transfixed by the World Cup. How many people really give a flying fuck whether Davidson can break through to the Sweet Sixteen? A hundred million, at the most? Should we cater to 500 million passionate and well-educated Indians in the world’s most dynamic economy, or a relative handful of half-dumb pasty mortgage brokers in a decaying empire? Shit, man. The Deuce scoffs at the NCAA’s inferior demographic. Covering Oden and Durant instead of Murali and Ponting would be like focusing on NHL preseason during the pennant race. That’s a sucker move. That’s not the Deuce way.
This may be underinformed American blog coverage, but we’re not going to walk you through the Rules of cricket or anything. That’s what Wikipedia is for. Suffice it to say that the Cricket World Cup is the quadrennial championship of international one-day, 50-over cricket. Watch an hour or two of a match and you’ll get at least a skeletal grasp of what’s going on.
The tournament will take place at grounds throughout the West Indies (or “Windies”). As such, there’ll be a lot of drums and brass in the stands, which makes for a cool atmosphere, and almost makes up for the atrocious official song of the World Cup, “The Game of Love and Unity” — performed by none other than Shaggy and a few others. Yes, Shaggy has entered his John Tesh Period.
Action begins on Tuesday, March 13 with 16 teams squaring off in a Group Play round-robin. There are four teams to a Group, and each team will play the other three teams in its group once. The top two teams from each group advance to a “Super 8” round-robin. Each of the Super 8 teams will play each other once, and the top four advance to single-elimination semis, culminating in the final at the end of April. So there’s plenty of time for even the most inbred Tony Stewart fan to figure out the difference between a bouncer and a yorker.
Where to Watch
This is the tricky bit. Sure, you could just follow the results here and on Cricinfo (Cricinfo is the essential cricket portal — imagine espn.com if it didn’t completely blow goats), but the reason we watch sports is to, well, watch sports. Unfortunately, the geniuses at the International Cricket Council have decided that the best way to promote the sport in the US is to make every single game available exclusively on pay-per-view — the better to wring money out of the fanatical South Asian devotees in Silicon Valley. And, in a Seligian move, the PPV is only available on DirectTV and Dish Network. Sorry, NYC desis. So, if you have a dish you can buy the entire tournament for $200; if you don’t have a dish, you can A) shell out $200 to watch the games online at willow.tv, which, while expensive, does provide you with top-quality streaming, match replays on demand, and excellent interactive highlights; B) try and find a reliable stream on Sopcast or another PTP service, or; C) find a bar that’s showing the matches on TV. In NYC, there’s the Aussie expat bar Eight Mile Creek, in addition to what I’m sure are dozens of Indian joints. Here in DC, there’s Solly’s Tavern at 11th and U, which will be showing all of the games – tape delayed starts at 4 PM on weekdays and live on the weekends. Elsewhere? I dunno. I don’t live elsewhere. If you’ve got a hot tip, leave it in the comments.
Overview of the Teams
Like that other tournament on CBS, the World Cup is divided into haves and have-nots. And the have-nots are, for the most part, a lot more like hopeless, doomed 16 seeds than plucky 12 seeds. Essentially, the cricket world consists of the 10 “test nations” – the countries that play the game at its highest level – and the “associates,” who play well enough to get into the World Cup, but generally are staffed with amateurs. The cricket press refers to the associates (plus less competent test nations Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) as “minnows,” but we figure that our readership might better understand the relative strengths of the teams if we divided them into three categories, each represented by a Chicago Bears quarterback.
The Orton Group
These teams will be lucky to win a single match – they stink, but they know they stink, and they’re in the Windies to have fun. And thus, they’re likable. Sort of like Kyle Orton in Miami for the Super Bowl. Plus, many of them are drunk and overweight – just like Orton.
Before we breeze through these most krill-like of minnows, a word about the US Cricket team. Imagine if you put the Spartacists, the Episcopal Church hierarchy, or any other absurdly clique-riven group of self-important, self-interested dipshits in charge of a body charged with growing a minor sport in a country that scarcely recognizes the sport’s existence. That’d be the USA Cricket Association, and that’d be why the US isn’t in the Windies.
Canada has the misfortune of being in Group C, which means that not only does it have to endure slaughter at the hands of test nations New Zealand and England, but it also has to play Kenya, probably the best of the Associate sides. The hosers are unlikely to improve on their o-fer at the 2003 World Cup. Scotland is generally considered to be a more adept team than the Canadians, but I really haven’t the faintest idea if this is true. They’re in Group A with behemoths Australia and South Africa, and can’t even be favored to beat their fellow Associates from the Netherlands, who boast what is almost certainly a better bowling attack. Bermuda may be the worst team in the tourney, but they possess something more valuable than the talent to win: Dwayne “Sluggo” Leverock, a surprisingly effective left-arm spin bowler who weighs about three bills and who will be a hero to all of you after you see him play.
This group is comprised of the five countries that may well win a game, and could even win two and break through to the Super 8s, but are unlikely to do much once there. Not entirely unlike the serviceable, workmanlike, decidedly mediocre Brian Griese. There are three Associates and two test nations in the Griese group. Let’s begin with the Associates, each of whom are definite up-and-comers in the cricket world, sort of like Griese when he was leading Michigan to Big Ten glory. The Netherlands are likely the weakest of this bunch, but they gave South Africa a scare in a warm-up match last week, and all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate is one of the best, if not the best, player hailing from a non-test nation. They’ll have to make do with beating Canada, as even ten Doeschate won’t be able to overcome Australia and South Africa. Ireland have been staking a claim to a spot in the test world, but having lost star Ed Joyce to England (the ICC allows a lot more country-switching than Sepp and the boys at FIFA) will hamper their ability to progress too far in Group D. Still, a victory over Zimbabwe isn’t out of the question, and West Indies looked shockingly vulnerable in warmups last week. Kenya are the big boys of Associate cricket, coming to the Caribbean fresh of a victory in the World League of Cricket (the Associates’ championship). In 2003, they shocked the world by advancing to the semis. The world is ready for them this time, but it’s not impossible that they’ll escape from Group B — Canada is a pushover, and England can lose to anyone on any given day. Legend Steve Tikolo will have to carry a heavy load.
Zimbabwe is a test-playing nation, but hasn’t played a test in some time. Riven by political dissension that saw almost all of its top-flight players quit international cricket — both in protest of the Mugabe regime and in protest of Zimbabwe Cricket’s lackadaisical approach toward paying its employees — the country is left with a relatively inexperienced bunch. They easily could lose all of their games, including to Ireland. It would be a sad commentary on the fall of a team that had so much promise just five or six years ago. Elton Chigumbura is, by all accounts, an excellent young all-rounder, but the inexperience and bad karma surrounding Mugabe’s men is likely to prevent them from accomplishing much at all in the Windies.
Bangladesh have the misfortune of sharing a group with India and Sri Lanka, both of whom mean business, and neither of whom show any sign of losing before the Super 8′s. But Mashrafe Mortaza is a punishing fast bowler, one who can force even the savviest batsman into a fatal error. And the rest of the Bangla attack isn’t that shabby, either. The problem will be scoring runs — and against SL and India, that’s a fatal problem.
All right, that’s it for Part I of the preview. Part II will cover the Grossman Group — the eight nations that, while flawed, all have incredible talent and sex appeal, and who could win it all if they keep it in their pants and just manage to focus. Watch Windies-Pakistan on Tuesday.