Friday, June 29, 2012
One of the projects I'm working on is a cricket-themed coloring and activity book for kids. Below are a few pages I've started working on. Feel free to print them out and see if your cricket-loving kids like them ... or see if your non-cricket-loving kids like them!
These are lo-res jpegs. I have hi-res PDF if you'd prefer...just let me know!
Comments are welcome, as are ideas for activities and pages to include.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
A Short Fiction
By Terry Coffey
In the fading twilight, nobody hears you scream. Correction: They hear you. They just don’t pay any attention. Not even the umpires.
That thought was etching itself slowly on my brain like a cheap tattoo from a dirty needle as I sat on the ground pondering my next move. I was trying to decide whether or not to stand back up after a nasty bouncer had come at my head out of the darkness like a demonic express train pouring out of a railway tunnel.
It actually wasn’t much of a choice. In this business you don’t last long or get many calls to play if you can’t handle a little dirt and danger. I was here to do a job, plain and simple. Do the job in as honest a way as possible. Any other way could only lead to being dropped. Or being branded a coward and having every head hunter in the league spoiling for a shot.
So I stood up. The stars were coming out over my head, making me think that, on this occasion, my assigned task was appropriately named. I was the night watchman, sent in to survive the final over of the day and protect our marquee batsmen so they might live to bat another day. Not a pretty business, but, in fast-fading light on a dark and dangerous cricket pitch not much is pretty. At least not close up.
This happens all the time in my business. From a distance I’m sure it all looks very calm and serene. Perhaps a late evening picnic with a fine wine or local craft beer would be in order. But there in the middle, with the darkness gathering on your eyes and shoulders like moss and trailing vines, it’s anything but serene. It’s mean and deadly and those who want to survive need to keep their wits about them. So I ignored the frigid beauty of the stars beginning to twinkle knowingly above, took my guard and hoped like hell that earning my daily crust of bread wasn’t going to involve having to pay for any costly dental work to allow me to eat that crust.
The next ball that rifled out of the darkness of the bowler’s hand wasn’t quite as short as the first, but was almost as dangerous. It thudded short of a length with the sound of a blackjack fracturing a skull, then fizzed up at my throat like a guided missile. Just in time my bat was there to intercept the blow. This time the sound was more like that of a small caliber pistol dispensing a soft-nosed bullet into the back of a corrupt gambler’s head, and thanks to my soft hands the ball dropped to the ground at my feet with just as much life and future.
Cases like this are always the toughest ones to crack. So it is always a point of pride with me that I’m the guy who gets called on to handle it. Don’t get me wrong: The flamboyant all-in-white gents who populate the rarified air at the top of the order are necessary in this business. They attract the money, the fans, the accolades and they do the big, important, match-winning jobs like scoring fifties or hundreds. Down here in the low rent district, though, you’ve got to have guys like me. Guys who bowl or keep wicket, guys with rock in their jaw and steel in their eye. Guys who can take it and dish it out. Guys who crack the case and get the job done through a combination of luck, skill, street smarts and determination. Guys who survive.
Ball number three reminded me of a featherweight dancer I once knew. Mona was tiny and beautiful and she would dance seductively and lightly toward you, all welcoming and promise until she laid you out with the help of a roll of nickels in her small fist. It looked and felt like a slower ball as it emerged from the grey. I skipped eagerly toward it like a mark going for a grifter’s best line. But it spat off the pitch as though propelled by a chemical reaction and caressed my jaw like Mona’s roll of nickels. I fell to earth I knew not where for the space of several seconds.
When I stood up again I wasn’t sure if the brightening stars were in the sky or in my head, which was now more or less the consistency and usefulness of mush. There were cuts on my lip and chin and the metallic taste of blood was forming on my tongue, but other than that I appeared to be in one piece. I couldn’t say the same for one of the fielders. In this business there are always innocent victims, and the death’s head ball that rose inconveniently out of a pock in the pitch and bounced off of my face had found a much more devastating target to end it’s painful trip in the cupless lap of the unfortunate first slip. As he writhed in pain I knew there was nothing I could do. And their physio wasn’t going to chance a trip out onto the pitch. Any delay would force the umpires’ hand and the day’s play would end. So they left the poor sap there, rolling on the ground, his face a mask of pain that burned out even through the gathering darkness and seared an image into the eyes of every man standing on the field.
As I wobbled to the crease to take guard once again, one of the other fielders decided to help out the bowler. There’s always at least one of these wise guys on every team. This one was an Aussie and, like most Aussies I’ve known he came complete shark tooth grin, a chin that jutted forward dagger-like, eyes like razors and the gaudy patter that comes with insecurity. His patter was no gaudier than most, and in fact less effective. But I was done taking a beating. Finished with being the patsy. Sick of being knocked around like the new kid on the playground.
As the bowler appeared with menacing intent and hurled the ball toward me, I knew exactly where it was going and what I was going to do with it. It was another throat-high delivery, dangerous as a gunshot. But the previous delivery’s knockdown of me and injuring of the slip fielder had apparently caused the bowler to take a couple of miles per hour off the velocity. I rose with venom, bringing the bat up and then downward with the grunt of a drunk expending all of his energy on one last attempt to climb into bed. The bat connected with the ball with such ferocity that my joints ached with the vibration.
The Aussie never had a chance. I watched in slow motion as the ball homed in on his middle and knew that, cup or not, he would be unable to speak for several minutes when the missile hit its target. He collapsed straight down in a pile, imploding like a derelict building being demolished by explosive charges. I felt a little sick myself as he lay there, retching onto the pitch and crying for his mother.
I was banking on ball number five being a yorker. After the previous two deliveries I figured the bowler would want to try something to just get rid of me, before anyone else got hurt. Sometimes that what you have to do in my job. Rattle enough cages and make people mad or disgusted or exhausted enough to just want the whole thing over with.
It was in fact the yorker that came my way, and it went back in the opposite direction twice as fast. The ball flew away on a curve like the small of a woman’s back, hovered magically above the line separating the darkening ground and the still-faintly-lit sky then fell over the rope for a straight six.
That left me with just one more ball to face. One more bullet to dodge, then I’d head back to my rooms to sit by the open window with a bottle of rye. I’d watch through lightly breezed curtains as the night city played and crawled and coughed in the neon moonlight and I might even think about Mona and her roll of nickels.
The bowler ran in as though he’d been saving his energy for this one final sprint toward immortality. He emerged from the outfield and gathered speed like a 1957 Buick, hard and shiny and deadly with the high beams completely focused on one point, one destination: my head. My eyes and mouth were open wide as he leapt into the air and began his delivery.
I wanted to scream and duck, but as I said at the very beginning, in the fading twilight, nobody hears you scream. Correction: They hear you. They just don’t pay any attention. Not even the umpires.
Monday, June 18, 2012
I never met Tom Maynard. I never even saw him in person. What I know of this incredible young cricket talent is what I learned from his Wikipedia entry, and from Mark Church’s descriptions of his play. I don’t even know the exact circumstances of his death, or of the hours leading up to that fateful moment on the tracks of the London Underground.
But I do l know one thing: Tom Maynard was afraid. The question is, afraid of what?
It has been reported in the media that Maynard had earlier been pulled over by police for driving “erratically,” and that he had fled his car on foot. An hour later he lay dead. The erratic driving will lead to the charge that he was driving while under the influence of alcohol. Time will tell on that point.
But whatever the cause, Maynard bolted like a terrified and untested batsman leaping from crease without even thinking that there is no run to be had, simply because the flight instinct has taken over.
How many similar accidents, injuries and deaths have we read about with a shake of the head and the thought “Well that’s a shame?” Celebrities. Sporting heroes. Regular folks. All running blindly from sheer fright. Again, why?
Fear is a subject in which I can claim some knowledge. I suffer from a strange and painful habit of suddenly seeing myself on my deathbed, feeling the lonely steps of Death’s approach, watching the blackness take hold as my eyes close. On such occasions I tend to leap up and shout something like “God help me,” or, if the attack is less severe, simply kick out with my legs, wave my arms and shake my head. These are all automatic reactions—I can’t stop myself from doing these things, any more than I seem to be able to stop my attacks. I run. I run from death. I run from the pressures of taking care of a family in tough economic times. I run from the fear of not being able to provide for the daughter I love. I run from the fear that she will never be any closer to me than she is now because I am legally her step-father. I run from fear of failure. I fear judgment.
A few years ago my house was hit by a drunken driver. A young kid—no more than 17 or 18—lost control and wound up threading between trees on the property and bashing one corner of my home. It was about one o’clock in the morning, so it took me a few seconds to get downstairs and to the front door. The young man was long gone … he had abandoned his smashed-up car and run away on foot. He had been so frightened that he had forgotten that there was nowhere to run. His car, complete with registration and fingerprints, was still behind, and in the hands of the police within minutes. Yet still he ran. He ran from trouble with his parents, possible jail time, and a darkening future once bright with possibilities. He ran from the awfulness of his mistake. He feared judgment.
Remember Princess Diana? Careening madly with Dodi Fayed through the early morning streets of Paris, pursued by the paparazzi? She ran from fear and tiredness. Fear of yet more pictures being published with misleading angles and captions. Fear of yet another moment lost to a lack of privacy. Fear of letting down any of the millions of people who loved her. She feared judgment.
And what did Tom Maynard fear? He feared everything I’ve just mentioned. He feared the loss of opportunity. He feared the loss of the only life he held dear. He feared the end of his world. Perhaps he too feared judgment.
In a way, Tom Maynard, like Princess Diana, the young drunk driver and countless others, was running from all of us. Pressure to be perfect. Because we are imperfect. Pressure to be talented. Because we lack talent. Pressure of people wanting to know the details of a public person’s life. Because we so hate our own lives. The pressure of approaching judgment. Because we fear so judgment.
Perhaps no more fitting tribute to Maynard could be found than to think on that. Why was he afraid? Why did he run away? And to think about what can be done to make sure this stops happening.
In a world of constant pressure to do it right, not let anyone down, do everything for everybody so you can keep your world together and turning for those you love, perhaps each of us should ask the question: Why do we want to make each other live with this fear? Because when you live in fear, it becomes a habit and it begins to color your every move. Like a batsman at the crease who fears the fast bowler’s high bouncer, one can never live a full and productive life if one’s only thoughts are papered over with the blackness of fear. The old saying about a coward living a thousand deaths is true and very appropriate to the modern life.
Should Maynard have been afraid? Had he done something wrong? I cannot say. I cannot judge. All I can do is see another human being, full of love and hate and promise and talent and faults and fear. And mourn.
For the whole damned thing.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Whether listening to audio commentary, reading a match report or following a game via ball-by-ball texts, following the action on the pitch can quickly become confusing to the cricket neophyte and recent convert.
The pitch is broken up into several sections, each one named to help communicate who is doing what where on the pitch. And when the batsman hits the ball into one of these sections, wouldn’t it be nice to know where the ball is actually going?
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
In the interests of fairness and transparency, I must tell you that I did not even attempt to contact the Unites States of America Cricket Association for a reaction to this story. It seemed like such a waste of time, frankly, so I didn’t bother. The one time I received contact back from the organization was by going through the ICC.
One of my favorite western-themed movies is “The Quick and the Dead.” This 1995 film starred Sharon Stone as an unnamed woman seeking revenge for her father’s death. To do this, she enters a gun-fighting contest held in the old west town of Redemption. The town’s ruthless leader, and the man who killed Stone’s father, is played by Gene Hackman. Hackman’s character is known as having the quickest draw among all the gunfighters, although his arrogance, age and increased competition make him (in my opinion) vulnerable. Eventually (without going through the ins and outs of the plot), Stone and Hackman face off in a good old-fashioned main street showdown and she beats him. A good man is made marshal of the town, and the elements of lawlessness and hate are shown the way out of town.
I begin this blog post in such a way because I see a new development in American cricket in these terms. Heads up, USA Cricket Association—there’s a new kid in town and this time you may be in trouble.
The new kid is called the American Cricket Federation. The group is made up of more than 20 cricket leagues from throughout the United States.
“Cricket clearly has historic roots in the United States of America,” according to Federation spokesman Gingraham Singh. Singh, who serves as Associate Dean for School of Business School San Diego State University, quotes a recent article on Dream Cricket (http://www.dreamcricket.com/) which reported that “Cricket has been played in America for three centuries and the United States is responsible for many historic cricketing firsts including the first international cricket match, first overseas tour and first overseas tour by a collegiate team.”
“With such historical roots and strong demand … [and] with 15 million fans and 200,000 players across the 50 states,” Singh points out, “cricket is poised to take a more prominent role in the United States of America.”
The problem for many cricket fans in the United States is that this role is in the hands of the United States of American Cricket Association. The USACA has seen a great deal of trouble, having been at one time suspended by the International Cricket Council and having been hampered by what many call leadership which is, at best, incompetent and, at worst, criminal.
“There is no transparency, selective inclusion, and really no grassroots participation,” according to Singh in describing the USACA, “hence the founding principles of the AFC.”
Those founding principles, says Singh, include “transparency, authentic political inclusion and effective participation. Cricket is rooted within ‘leagues’ across the nation. The AFC recognizes that a structure and critical role for the leagues must be provided.”
The ACF this past week announced its mission statement that reflects those principles:
“ACF’s mission is to inspire Americans to play and to excel at cricket and to make cricket the preeminent bat-and-ball sport in the United States.
“ACF will achieve this by:
“partnering with players, fans, clubs, leagues, corporations, state and local governments, schools and colleges across the nation;
“-providing educational, technical, logistical and financial support to its members and creating resources that will serve to enhance the quality of cricket, events and infrastructure.
ACF will uphold and promote cricket’s values of transparency, inclusiveness and fairness.”
Wow. “Make cricket the preeminent bat-and-ball sport in the United States.” That is no small goal. The ACF has a lot of work ahead. That being the case, then, is the American Cricket Federation an attempt to encourage, assist or replace the USACA?
“The AFC’s mission is ambitious and bold,” is how Singh answers that question. He does say that the AFC has an International Relations Committee, and a strategy for contacting the International Cricket Council “is currently being constructed.”
There looks to be a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on to build up the organizational structure of the group. The ACF has a new Web site up and running, although it is still in the early stages of development: http://www.cricketfederation.com/ is the current address. The American Cricket Federation can also be found on Twitter (@AmerCricketFed) and Facebook (American Cricket Federation page).
It is early days in this effort. Will the ACF continue to grow and compete with or replace the current USACA organizational structure, which has had so many problems? Or will it fall to the side, shot down by a ruthless and powerful enemy? Only time will tell. But for American cricket fans, especially those who feel the USACA has held the game back here in the States, there is perhaps a hint of tenseness in the air, a whiff of a coming showdown and the hope that, whatever the outcome, the winner will be cricket in the United States.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Below is a press release recently sent out by a new group calling itself Cricket America. I came across it on www.DreamCricket.com. After reading the release, I approached their media contact for an interview. I will write more about the group based on that interview in the coming days.
More than twenty cricket leagues from across United States joined together to form a new organization to manage the sport yesterday. The participating leagues include several of the largest and historically rooted leagues. The new organization will be called Cricket America.
Cricket has been played in America for three centuries and the United States is responsible for many historic cricketing firsts including the first international cricket match, first overseas tour and first overseas tour by a collegiate team. Throughout the twentieth century, however, cricket lost ground to other sports. During the last decade, the United States has experienced a groundswell of interest in cricket in the country, especially among immigrants from cricket playing countries.
While the sport is once again experiencing a surge in grassroots enthusiasm, it has been unable to make significant inroads into the American sporting landscape. The reasons are many but foremost among them are the absence of a coherent strategy and a robust organizational framework.
The new organization hopes to have greater success by effectively coordinating player and fan development on and off the pitch. Cricket America will foster an inclusive community involving all of the sport’s stakeholders and attract investment by managing the sport through a commitment to transparency and sustainable development initiatives.
"The need for transparency, authentic political inclusion and effective participation of all members in the decision-making process are the founding principles of Cricket America. We believe that the way forward for cricket in the USA is inclusion and not exclusion," said Leighton Greenidge, President of Southern Connecticut Cricket Association, who is the Convenor Cricket America's Steering Committee.
Cricket America's forward-looking vision is to offer each aspiring cricketer and fan the opportunity to discover, learn, and participate in the sport regardless of age, gender or cultural background.
Cricket America will channel the passion and energy of those already playing the sport to attract new players and continue grassroots development. Consistent with this, Cricket America will focus on creating shared resources and sporting infrastructure that can be utilized by organizers and volunteers around the country to fuel the game's expansion.