Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Get your curse on

Around the time the sun rises here in the US tomorrow, an ancient Celtic drama will play out again on the fields of Dublin: this time it's a cricket match between Ireland and Scotland. The two nations will be facing off in the final match of the European Division One Championships against four other top European sides (a group which theoretically does not include England, although on the evidence it's not clear they've got such a big advantage these days, but including Norway, last spotted being pulverized by the USA). The Irish and Scots are each undefeated thus far and miles ahead of the other sides involved (Italy only mustering a paltry 43 all out against Scotland, for instance), so Thursday's match promises to be a worthy showdown. Ireland are best known for their shock victory over Pakistan in last year's World Cup, but both nations have started down the path to professionalism, trying to make cricket a major sport in a couple of somewhat unlikely places.

And we can't mention Ireland and cricket together without a nod to Joseph O'Neill, the Irish-born writer who's recently been named to the Booker Prize longlist for his splendid novel Netherland, which among other things takes on a fantastical vision of the sport and the possibility of cricket in America. We'll have more to say regarding Mr. O'Neill's splendid novel in a future installment as well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A topic of conversation

On a recent evening S. and I were invited once again to dinner at the Karen-and-Chris homestead, this time in more expansive company. The feast was lovely, and the company lively, as predicted.

But an odd sidebar with Chris cast the evening's proceedings into an odd and unexpected light (or perhaps it was just Chris's ineffable sense of curiosity): just casually, he mentioned that he'd heard about how those naughty, sneaky New Zealanders had been wearing special trousers, partly in an effort to gain more swing while bowling.

I am always struck, when people discover that I am a cricket-appreciating American, by how difficult they believe it is for news of their sport to filter out to the non-cricketing world; and so my reaction to Chris's aside was that he must have been especially attuned to the oddness of the story, rather than engaged in some ongoing dialogue about bowling techniques. (This was not a gathering of cricket-mad folk to be sure; actually these were hockey nuts -- this particular evening was the NHL's amateur draft, so throughout the evening people would wander in and out to the living room to see who was on the clock, and theorize about draft picks and trade rumors, the way fans do.)

To be sure, NZ's recent tour of England has had more than its share of controversy and strange moments: the exploits of Kevin Pietersen, who took his imperious batting style to a new level by adopting an unheard-of switch-hitting technique; an ODI that puddled to a no-result because of spotty weather and an excessive tea break between innings (causing the BBC's roguish text-commentator Ben Dirs to lose his mind with apoplexy); and a frenzied last-ball ODI victory, punctuated by a controversial run-out wherein a New Zealand batsman lie writhing on the ground while his stumps were annihilated. But the plain truth is that no one can pass up a story about pants.