Thursday, December 6, 2012

All I Want for Christmas is You, or Building an Innings

One thing fans who are new to cricket will hear is how a batsman needs to “build an innings.” What exactly does this mean?

While I am not the expert at cricket tactics that other bloggers/writers can claim to be, perhaps the approach taken by an outsider will help other outsiders get a bit of an understanding. To do this, I will use another analogy outside my realm of expertise: the construction of a successful pop song performance—Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. For specific reference, and because it is fun, I will be using this version, featuring Jimmy Fallon and The Roots:

I didn’t choose this song or performance because there aren’t better songs or performances; I chose it simply because it is successful. In cricket, successful innings will differ; some will be more aesthetically pleasing than others. But as long as they are successful, that is all that really matters.

The thing about playing a cricket innings and successfully performing a pop song is that you don’t just walk out and do it. There are many hours of preparation and practice. And just as most singers don’t typically walk out onto stage and start with a high C, most cricketers don’t waltz out and start slapping sixes down the ground from the very first ball. The art of the song and the innings is that each builds toward ultimate success.

“All I want for Christmas” begins sort of low-key: a basic introduction, nothing spectacular, setting the groundwork for what is to follow.

“Make my wish come true, all I want for Christmas is you.”

The same thing, it seems to me, applies in building a cricket innings. The batsman comes to the crease watchful, and begins, if not slowly, intentionally. Basic shots at first. Setting a foundation, laying the groundwork. Indicating what may be coming.

               “I don't want a lot for Christmas
 there is just one thing I need       
 I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true...
All I want for Christmas is you.” …

The groundwork has been laid. We begin adding more. A new vocalist, more instruments. The vocal range expands. There is an upward trajectory, although within that upward move there are lows and levels. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the line “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree” to end on an up.” “All I want for Christmas” is the same, because there must still be the tension of hope unfulfilled. As the batsman builds her or his innings, they keep this in mind. They will add more aggressive shots as they go, but only as they are appropriate to the moment and the particular ball.

               “I don't want a lot for Christmas
there is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree
I don't need to hang my stocking
there upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won't make me happy
with a toy on Christmas day.
I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true...
All I want for Christmas is you …” …

We are still early, but heading toward the middle of the song. The lyrics and music are still basically the same, but there are more layers now and we’re adding more new ideas to the basic ideas in the first verse. More voices come into the mix as well—support! The same rules as above apply. She must stick to the basics. She can’t pre-meditate or plan what exactly will happen, because she has done her research and she knows the current methods of delivering Christmas joy aren’t helpful. The singer is feeling the pressure and tension of not having the object of her desire with her yet, but that tension is not all bad. It is helping her focus on her goal. Her voice rises slightly on “Make my wish come true,” but she is still not ready to put herself totally out there.

In continuing to build a cricket innings, the batsman must analyze the opposition and their strategy, but because nothing can be done about that, must respond by sticking to the basics, accepting and using the pressure, focusing on his or her own best way to respond. The batsman must also be able to rely, at least somewhat, on his teammates as they help one another to move the team forward (although some great innings have been played while teammates fell like leaves from trees).

“I won't ask for much this Christmas
I won't even wish for snow
I'm just gonna keep on waiting
underneath the mistletoe
I won't even make a list and send it
to the North Pole for Saint Nick
I won't even stay awake to
hear those magic reindeer click
               'Cause I just want you here tonight
holding on to me so tight
What more can I do, baby
All I want for Christmas is you, you … “…

The singer’s voice is getting higher and more excited. She is more free-flowing. She is bringing in more vocal flare; also a bridge in a slightly different key.

“All the lights are shining so brightly everywhere
And the sound of children laughter fills the air
and everyone is singing I hear those sleigh bells swinging
Santa won't you bring me the one I really need
won't you please bring my baby to me?” …

She is pretty confident now that her Christmas wish will come true, so she is more willing to let her voice go. There are more lines which build to a high. She is still sticking to the basics when necessary, but letting her voice now fully represent her heart’s longing. She is soaring with hope and confidence.

The batsman is now in control and knows what he or she is up against. What the pitch is offering, what the bowlers are up to. He or she has accepted the pressure of the situation, used it to focus and remain within himself. Now is the time for a few more extravagant shots. The other team is in the defense. But, that being said, the batsman must retain the earlier mindset; concentrate, go back to the basics during more pressurized moments, don’t pre-meditate on shots or what the outcome will be. Confidence is high and lifting the batsman.

Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas
this is all I'm asking for
I just want to see baby
standing right outside my door
Oh I just want him for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true,
all I want for Christmas is you...
all I want for Christmas is you.”

It is all now a foregone conclusion. The work has been done, she is still singing the same tune and asking for the same thing, but she is now enjoying it. The voice truly soars now. Although she doesn’t say it, we just know that her baby is getting ready to knock at the door.

The batsman is also enjoying the fruits of his labor. He or she is enjoying keeping the momentum going, repeating what has already been happening, still hitting highs and still returning to basics when needed.

So there you have it. Building a cricket innings via Mariah Carey.

Am I full of bull? Definitely.
Am I off base for most cricket fans, especially purists? Definitely.
Did I help you, the novice, understand just a little bit? Hopefully. You are my main audience!

For better and more technical views on this subject, try these awesome links:

Merry Christmas and happy batting.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


"We're here to put a dent in the universe."
-Steve Jobs

Every fourth Thursday in November the United States celebrates a holiday called “Thanksgiving.” The holiday is promoted as honoring the “First Thanksgiving,” which was a 1621 celebration of the first harvest gathered by a group of white settlers of North America (the Pilgrims) and local natives.
While the historical accuracy of our “Thanksgiving Story” may be up for debate, the importance and staying power of the holiday isn’t.
In 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
So every year at this time, many Americans gather with family, friends and/or sports teams via television, eat copious amounts of food then pass out on the couch. Somewhere in there, many of us try to dwell, at least momentarily, on the good things in our lives.
This year, I am thankful for dents. The Free Dictionary defines a dent in this way:
1. A depression in a surface made by pressure or a blow.
2. A significant, usually diminishing effect or impression.
3. Meaningful progress; headway.
I am here today to give thanks for a dent in my universe.
Regular readers of my semi-regular blog have probably already read of my selection late in life to play the role of daddy to a little girl. It was a surprise selection, but one which I decided to take on with as much gusto as I could muster. So I padded up, grabbed a bat and strode to the crease, confident that it would be OK. After all, I’d always been pretty good with kids. How hard could it be?
Then came this little fast bowler—a three-foot-tall Courtney Walsh in a princess dress—running in, sending high speed bouncers, swinging it both ways and often knocking me flat. And leaving dents in my highly constructed life.
What kind of dents?
Well, let’s see ….
I’m a quiet guy. I like to sit and read and listen to classical music. As a writer, I have always been a big reader. Know how many books I have finished since I started this innings? One. And I don’t even remember what it was. As for the classical music, most of those CDs are now in a box in the basement.
I was a fan of foreign and/or independent films. Stuff without a lot of action and lots of talking and interesting camera angles. I am also a Brit-o-phile, and a huge fan of Last of the Summer Wine, which I collect on DVD. But now we are much too busy watching, singing and dancing along to Meet Me in St. Louis, The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins and Dora the Explorer. (Although to be fair my wife and I do set aside time each night to watch something of our own liking—and her tastes are similar to mine—and she loves Last of the Summer Wine, too!)
I was—and remain—a cricket fan. I would stay up to watch games online, or order them to watch on satellite TV. But nowadays the laptop is long dead, we don’t have satellite service and I am much more interested in giving her stuff than ordering a cricket package. But I do still get to listen online at work and a bit at night after we go to bed.
I was rather insulated from the world. I could sit and look at various issues and problems, feel a certain way about them but not get too concerned, because I had built a world specifically designed to avoid those conflicts and problems. But I have been awakened to the true importance of many issues facing our world now and in the future, because those issues will have an impact on my little girl as she grows into a woman. I really do worry and get worked up over these things now.
These may sound like negatives. But they aren’t. These dents are good. And there are more dents for which to be thankful.
Every time she laughs, or smiles, or dances with me, or runs into my arms, or calls me daddy, it puts another big dent in my universe. I can no longer imagine life without her (let alone her mommy).
Yes, the biggest dent of all is that she has slipped in under my bat and dislodged the bails of my self-importance and insularity. She has made me love her.
The biggest dent of all is in my heart.
And it feels good.
And I am thankful.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Greyhounds, Kevin Pietersen, Quakers and Four-Year-Olds, or, what kind of world are we making for our children, anyway?

I read something extremely disturbing the other day. It was about greyhounds. Not the buses. The dogs.
Greyhounds are fast. Because of this, people naturally race them. And bet on them. And because people suck, when a greyhound is injured or too old to race anymore, that dog is left to die or simply killed in one of several often gruesome ways, including shooting, clubbing or throwing it into the water for shark bait. These dogs are beautiful, loving animals that can think on about the same level as a four- or five-year-old kid. And we’re doing crap like this to them. Pardon my language, but come the crap on! We do this to other dogs and also cats as well, in a more “humane” way, but this seems especially egregious. Dogs are thinking, feeling beings (as anyone who has ever owned a dog can tell you) and we are murdering them in cold blood because of money. Got to keep those profits high, keep the customers happy, keep the costs down. “We must keep the money machine going.”

Things like this really get my attention these days, because this kind of thing is allowed in the same world as the one in which my wife and I are trying to raise a little girl.

I read something else disturbing the other day. It was about this whole flap about Kevin Pietersen being allowed back in the England cricket team (“reintegrated”) after a process of reconciliation. Never mind how disturbing it is that they are using terms normally associated with quite important things…like reintegrating prisoners back into society, and seeking reconciliation between perpetrators of genocide and their victims.  Basically what this all comes down to is that KP is a spoiled brat with an ego the size of the moon, and he keeps showing it. But so do many of his teammates, who are jealous of his success and talent. The England and Wales Cricket Board, after many bouts of ham-handed foot-in-mouth disease, has now spent all kinds of time and money on an issue which really boils down to egotistical little boys fighting on a playground. Nobody seems to be able to stop and say “This is a sport—a game, for crying out loud. Just play it and stop all the nonsense.” Except it isn’t just a game or sport any more—at least, not at this level. It is a money machine, both legal (sponsorship deals, ticket sales, etc) and illegitimate (gambling, etc.) so people think the stakes are too high. “We must keep the money machine going.” And while the ECB and KP and everyone else spends untold gobs of money traveling, meeting, reporting, covering, discussing and negotiating, hundreds of thousands of people face imminent starvation in Somalia, hundreds have died so far in floods in Nigeria and humanitarian crises loom in Afghanistan and Syria. But that isn’t important. What is important is that KP wants a lot of money. The ECB wants a lot of money. People will pay a lot of money to see KP. People will pay to read about KP. Let’s not move on to something important and ignore these tantrums (on both sides of the issue). “We must keep the money machine going.”

Things like this really get my attention these days, because this kind of thing is allowed in the same world as the one in which my wife and I are trying to raise a little girl.

This talk of reintegration and reconciliation in the England cricket team brings to mind an issue in my home state of Indiana. Something else I find disturbing. The Christian denomination to which I belong is undergoing a split—or, as we are calling it, a “reconfiguration.” Indiana Yearly Meeting—a part of the Friends, or Quaker, denomination—is splitting over issues like interpretation of the Bible and homosexuality. We have spent years arguing over this. We have spent the past couple of years talking and arguing and saying really hateful and mean things to one another. We are splitting because some churches don’t want to be associated with other churches (or, Meetings as we call them) who would welcome and affirm LGBT folks as equals in Christian fellowship. The people think that being even tenuously connected to people who tolerate gays means they are going to Hell. Meanwhile, the United States has the highest child poverty rate in the developed world, we have mass shootings occurring every year and some jerk in Texas recently “lynched” an empty chair representing the president of our country—calling to mind racist acts of the past where people were hanged simply because of their race. In DR Congo people are enslaved and killed over a precious metal we all need in our mobile phones—and that’s the only place to get it. But talk on. We are too busy being right and kicking out people who don’t agree with us to worry about such things. Jersey Shore is on the TV, followed by a televangelist, then we need to text someone about donuts and it will be time to go to bed feeling self-righteous. And our denomination isn’t the only one. Many people can’t let go, forgive and move on because to them Christianity is a Thing. A business. A growing business. A successful cultural machine. In other words, a money machine. “We must keep the money machine going.”

Things like this really get my attention these days, because this kind of thing is allowed in the same world as the one in which my wife and I are trying to raise a little girl.

I shudder to think about a future conversation I might have with our little girl.

Her: “Daddy, why did they do that?”

Me: “I don’t know, honey. I guess those people didn’t like (fill in the blank).”

Her: “It was awfully mean.”

Me: “Yes. Yes it was.”

Her: “So if I don’t like (fill in the blank), can I (shoot/kick out/berate/bribe) those people?

Me: “No, honey, that wouldn’t be right.”

Her: “Who would stop me?”

Me: “Well, I guess mommy and me.”

Her: But why didn’t you stop (fill in the blank?)”

Me: Silence.

What will my answer be?

Me: “Um, let’s go outside and play some cricket, honey.”

Her: “Later, Daddy. First why don’t you answer my question?”

Me: Silence.

So what would your answer be?

For that question there really is no answer, is there?

 At least not one that our kids or their kids would find satisfactory.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Everybody Get Together, Or, I get sappy about my high school reunion

(To my usual readers: I apologize for the non-cricket post!)
People love to hate high school reunions. The prevailing wisdom is that it is a waste of time to go back to the old hometown and spend an evening not talking to people you don’t know, and probably won’t like, who were once people you knew and actually didn’t like.
“I didn’t like those people when I was in school,” one of my friends responded when I mentioned my high school reunion. “Something tells me that hasn’t changed.”
We all remember what it was like in high school, right? Cliques, bullies, rejection, hassles…never mind the fact that we were all just trying to figure out the meaning of life. At least, that seems to be the high school we often want to remember. And, let’s face it: There were bad things. Bad people. Racists. Jerks. Misogynists. People who picked on you. People you picked on. People who ostracized you. People you ostracized.
As my own 30-year reunion date approached, it would have been easy for me to fall into this type of thinking. Just remember bad stuff. After all, I was a 90-pound weakling when I graduated. I was a geek whose jeans were often too short and who was too afraid of deep social interaction to form really close relationships. Don’t get me wrong: I knew a lot of people, and had a lot of school friends. I cracked jokes. I tried to be nice and friendly. I was just … well, shy might be an understatement. I was such a mess that, although my fondness for the female sex was (and remains) at an atmospherically high level, I never once asked a girl out. Not in all of high school. Even though there were several I really, really wanted to ask out (no names, sorry!). I was too afraid. You get the picture, right? It would be very easy for my human memory to filter things through this lens of shyness, backwardness and social aloofness, and for me be one of those naysayers who decides to skip yet another reunion.
But as my wife and I walked into my 30-year reunion, the first thing I saw was a stark reminder of the things we should remember about our high school class, and about ourselves: A huge, handmade “get well” and support card for a classmate who is suffering from cancer … and a jar for contributions to help send him to get an experimental treatment. This was more than just people getting together to stand in cliques, have some food and a beer and talk about Mr. Ellis the crazy social studies teacher. It was about community.
Community is something we strive for in our culture, and yet it is something we destroy by our own actions. We sit in our cubicles at work, then drive home alone in our cars, and pull into our identical houses in our identical suburbs and hole up until time to go back to work or church or kids’ activities. We read and post political diatribes on Facebook, watch reality television and feel superior about how crazy everyone else is (and that we don’t have to deal with “those people”).
But we forget one very important fact: We are—each of us—one of “those people.”
So, instead of the lens that a smug, faulty memory and pop culture would provide us to remember high school, let’s use as our lens a group of aging rebels gathered in the back of a bowling alley on an October night in 2012.
After the card I mentioned above, one of the first things I noticed was that nobody wanted to sit down (except when we were eating of course). We wanted to stay standing as much as possible, so we could walk around and talk to one another. There was lots of hugging. There was lots of noise. Laughter. Smiles. Stories about those present, and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make it. Stories about our lives then and now. Stories that reconnected us … or showed that we are always connected.
We shared stories about that one fight we were in. Stories about how we avoided fights. Stories about hallway antics and being sent to the dean and going to ball games. Stories about what it was like to be ourselves, fully alive in the moment.
It was, as critics like to say about reunions, a lot like high school. But in a good way.
Do you remember it now? Do you remember what it was like to be in a community of people who were different from you, but the same? People to whom our differences didn’t matter as much as we would all like to think? People who could find common ground between all of these “other” things that could keep us apart?
That common ground was that we were Muncie Southside Rebels. We were the school on the “wrong” side of the tracks. It was us against “them.” Sure, in many ways it was a social construct into which we were forced by geography. But living in a social construct doesn’t create a community. We were a community because we really needed to be. Wanted to be.
The other day my wife and I heard some cheerleaders doing their bit to drum up crowd support for their team. I don’t recall the exact cheer, but it struck me that all they were really saying was “Yay, us! We are us!” It sounds kind of silly. But it isn’t.
1982: We are us. We are female, male, white, black, Hispanic, straight, gay, tall, short, buff, round, KISS-loving, Kenny Rogers-loving, Donna Summer-loving, Dallas-loving, Dallas-hating, athletic, geeky, wise-ass, serious, smoking, non-smoking, drinking, tee-totaling, engaged, single, democrat, republican, independent people. We are sons, daughters, cousins, friends, lovers. We are shy, lonely, outgoing, loving, mean, hurt, healed. We are as different as snowflakes. We are as similar as rays of sunlight.
2012: We are us. We are female, male, white, black, Hispanic, straight, gay, tall, short, buff, round, bald, gray, young-looking, decrepit, football—loving, football-hating, cricket-loving, cricket-ignoring, Snooki-watching, Snooki-ignoring, athletic, geeky, wise-ass, serious, smoking, non-smoking, drinking, tee-totaling, married, divorced, remarried, single, democrat, republican, independent people. We are truck drivers, veterans, peace-lovers, accountants, teachers, bartenders, writers. We are moms, dads, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, friends, lovers. We are shy, lonely, outgoing, loving, mean, hurt, healed. We are as different as snowflakes. We are as similar as rays of sunlight.
Looking around at everyone in the back of the bowling alley, it struck me that some things never change. I’m not talking about stagnation. We grow as people. We have to. But as we smiled and talked and laughed and hugged, all the “other” stuff fell away. We were ourselves. Fully alive. In the moment.
Perhaps my lens is a little out of focus, or perhaps I walked through a Happy Juice Fogger. But I see it. Do you?
We are us.                                                                      
Yay us!
So I guess high school reunions aren’t so bad, are they? For a few hours we are reminded of who we really are; that, in many ways, who we are now is who we were then. Before life walked in and sat on our shoulders and bent our backs and told us how things are supposed to be in the “real world.” When we could sit next to or talk to a druggie, or someone in KISS makeup, or someone wearing a suit and tie, or a cheerleader or a geek and have none of it really matter.
This is not all to say that we are all perfect and get along all the time and choose to hang out with everyone all the time. Far from it. We had and have cliques. We have people with whom we share more in common and with whom we choose to spend most of our time. We were and are mean to people. We are human beings.
The point is what happens in those spaces between our likes and dislikes, and all those characteristics I listed above. The point is that those spaces between aren’t as wide as the world tells us they are (or should be). In fact, when we meet there they begin to overlap and all that stuff gets clouded and pushed aside and we are simply there, with each other, caring and sharing and laughing and hugging. Is it me, or does that sound a little bit like what everybody wishes life in a community would be like?
So I guess we Muncie Southside Rebels from the class of 1982 already know the secret to being a community.
It’s love, man. Say it with me. Love. Not just loving others. Loving yourself enough to let those around you be themselves. And our time growing up on Muncie’s south side and in Muncie Southside helped us become people who can do that.
Do you get it now?
We are us.
Yay us!
See you all in five years, if not sooner!