Monday, November 25, 2013

Stress on the Trot, or, I talk about more stuff

Stress-related illness is not a lightning bolt. It is grinding drill. It doesn’t strike suddenly; it works away at you, like storm surf on a weak dam, until something gives way and the waves rush in.
In the wake of Jonathon Trott’s announcement that he is, in fact, suffering from a stress-related illness, and is leaving the Ashes series in Australia and returning home to England, I have been thinking back to my own scrape with stress.

For me it came to a head at work, at what was actually the end of what had been a long and stressful transition which I had been overseeing. There should have been light at the end of the tunnel; instead there was encroaching darkness. I thought I was having a heart attack; I went to my desk and put my feet up for a while, though, and seemed to be OK. It wasn’t a heart attack. But what was it? A trip to the doctor confirmed a serotonin issue. Which was quickly remedied.

That was years ago. Way behind me. Exercise and diet have helped me move on from it. But for Jonathon Trott, I don’t believe it will be that simple. I imagine it will take him quite a long time and effort to overcome this. But I think he will. Just look at the tenacity with which he fought it off for as long as he did. The scraping of then trench; the fiddling with the gloves; the whole routine, all the while everyone (myself included, sometimes) sniped at him about it.

It would be easy for us all to sit here and say that he should never have come on this Ashes trip. Trott knew he had a problem; by making the trip and failing due in no small part to his illness, he has endangered the team’s Ashes retention hopes. But it really isn’t that simple. Having read George Dobell’s excellent piece on this issue, it seems Trott has suffered setbacks due to this illness in the past, and has always been able to overcome them. Why would he think this time would be different?

It is also easy to blame the Aussies and their irresponsible media for, at least in part, contributing to Trott’s latest episode with stress. They should apologize, the thought may go, because they were being jerks to someone who was suffering from problems about which they didn’t know. But what should Trott have done? Announce publicly before he was suffering from a stress-related illness, and telling the media (and others) to leave him alone? Can you imagine the firestorm of ridicule? The headlines? “England Wuss Begs Aussies to Leave Him Alone.” And while my personal opinion is that much of the media and opposition players are guilty of being jerks and bullies, no apology is needed because Trott’s problem is, in the end, not of their making. Yes, Australia, you’ve nothing to do with Trott’s failures. David Warner’s unprofessional comments were just that. Trott’s flare-up could just as easily have been domestic cricket or the upcoming World Cup that would have brought it all to a head. It just happened to happen right now. The problem isn’t Australia: It is the constant demands of a high pressure expectation to perform at the top level, while one’s every move is held under a microscope, combined with other personal, private matters that may also be affecting Trott.

It was the same with my own stress attack those years ago. While the project I was working on was stressful, it was really the result of the waves of stress crashing against me for quite some time. What I was working on was actually quite helpful to the company, a big money-saver, and was having no negative impact on me at all. But it was going on at the time when those waves finally broke through.

So, to those players and media who are being blamed or feeling responsible for Trott’s problems: Before you start either A) strutting around because you’ve broken one of the “Pommie cheats,” or B) feel horrible and apologize, remember that you were fairly irrelevant. That should come as a relief to Aussie media and some players. But it won’t. In fact, unless I am being grossly unfair, it will likely be taken by some of them as the biggest insult delivered in this entire episode.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I Saw This Coming

Or, I make a poorly reasoned argument on England’s collapse and show how little I really know

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. And in making the statement in the above headline, I know I am opening myself up to that declaration from readers. Because I never really told anybody that I could see this coming, so I have no proof that I suspected what was on the horizon.

The “this” I’m talking about is, of course, England’s collapse on day two of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane. And collapse is what it was. Not necessarily a self-induced collapse, but also not necessarily a collapse initiated by superior bowling.

Have I confused you yet?

As quick as Mitchell Johnson might have bowled, and as well as he bowled, he’s no quicker than Dale Steyn or some other international fast bowlers. And Nathan Lyons definitely isn’t any better than any other spinners out there. England have faced similar—perhaps even better—bowling than this.

However, England’s collapse was not necessarily self-induced by panic or fright or lack of preparation, either. Johnson and the other Aussies bowled very well. Give them credit.

So, if the collapse was not initiated by necessarily unstoppable bowling, or by slef-induced panic, what caused it? Aren’t those the only options?

In a word, no.

Let me take a quick break and explain something about myself. I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world. I follow cricket. I have in the past followed baseball. But when I choose to follow someone, it’s usually a bad experience for both sides. The baseball team I have been a fan of since college? The Chicago Cubs. The English domestic team I follow? Surrey. So you see I have a history of following teams with less than stellar results. Because of that, I have many times seen false high hopes dashed by reality. Because of that, I have come to recognize the symptoms of an oncoming disappointment.

My explanation about England’s collapse? Their batting isn’t as good as everyone has always said it is. Sure, they’ve hit high points. Cook, KP, and Bell in particular have scored some big runs. And they are talented. But over the past couple of years many of the England batsmen have been shown to get out to poor shots to less than devastating bowling. Many times. Just not often all at the same time. And that’s what happened here. Plain and simple. They’ve all been passing form issues back and forth, and they have all come together at the same time for a perfect storm of bad batting. Prior has been shocking of late; Root’s too-quick move to open may have done for him as well; Cook has been disappointing and KP … well, you just never know which KP you’re going to get. This time all the bad things that can happen simply did at once.

My contention (and it is only my theory—yours will be different and maybe better than mine), however, is that this is more than bad form. The problems with England’s batting have been masked by the occasional high points, and winning ways that have as much to do with the poor form of opponents as the talent of England. Don’t get me wrong, the England players are talented; I just think we are fooling ourselves if we think they are more talented than anyone else. I see a lot of good batsmen out there everywhere, and a lot of good bowlers shared around, as well.

For me, the question is: How do we move on? Can our talented batsmen rise above the woes, better themselves and become consistent performers? Perhaps day 3 or 4 will tell, or perhaps the next Test. But one thing is certain: England is, in my opinion, probably more talented in the batting department than Australia when everyone is firing on all cylinders. Let’s just hope they will all be firing on all cylinders at the same time.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aussies Being too Broad-Minded?

In the long stretch of time leading up to this Ashes series—two entire months—it has been apparent that one of Australia’s tactics was to get inside Stuart Broad’s head, and use his now-infamous “not walking” episode from the previous Ashes series as a point of attack. A way to get under his skin. They felt his fiery temper was a weak spot where they could get to him and lessen his effectiveness.
This told me a couple of things. First of all, it said to me that the Australians feared the impact of Stuart Broad as a bowler. Secondly, it told me that they really didn’t think very hard about it.

Had they perhaps thought about it a bit harder, they would have realized that attacking him and calling him a cheat, among other things, would actually serve to, more than anything else, inspire him. I think that sort of thing is meat and drink to a player like Broad, and has inspired many others in the past. Events of day one in Brisbane showed the folly of the tactic; it really backfired. Broad slashed through the Aussie top order, ending up with five wickets on the first day. Of course, there was every possibility this tactic might work. It has in the past. Sledging has long been a part of the Aussie arsenal (and by stating that I am not saying it’s bad). The Aussies just made a couple of mistakes in implementing this strategy. First, they picked the wrong player. Maybe they should have gone after Joe Root or Michael Carberry, as the members of the England side with the least amount of international experience. Second, they assumed that they are still a good enough team to capitalize on it should the tactic work. This Australian team is pretty good, but it is nowhere near the quality of past teams. Even an Australia Ashes victory wouldn’t change that fact.

So for day two, maybe the Aussies should be less fiery and “creative,” and take more of a lead from Brad Haddin, the only batsman who stood tall as the rest of the team fell in ruins.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ashes to Ashes, or Do I Smell Something Burning?

Well, my American friends, it’s almost Ashes time again! It seems like it’s only been a few months since … oh … wait.

Anyway, for the next few weeks, you are likely to see my blog, Twitter, and Facebook blowing up with news from “The Ashes,” and I realize that when I say “The Ashes” is almost here, you are probably wondering what I’ve been burning. But “The Ashes” has nothing to do with burning. Well, it does, sort of, but …. Well …. Um …. So I guess I ought to take a brief moment to explain “The Ashes” to any Americans (or others) not sure what talk of cricket and Ashes is all about.
The Ashes is the name of an ongoing cricket series between England and Australia. It is what is called a Test series (that means it is the longest form of the game—five days per match—played between countries that are full top-tier members of the International Cricket Council). The Ashes is like the Superbowl or World Series, except every two years instead of every year, and always between these same two countries.

It all started back in 1882, when a team from Australia defeated England in a cricket for the ever on English soil. A newspaper article took aim at the debacle with an obituary for English cricket, stating that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.” During a return visit by England to Australia in 1882-83, the effort to win was called an attempt to “regain the ashes” of English cricket. During their trip to Australia, the English team was presented with a small urn with what is supposedly the ashes of a burned wooden bail—little pieces that go on top of the stumps (those sticks stuck in the ground behind the batsman).

Traditionally, this series is played every couple of years. So, since the last series wrapped up just about two months ago, then it’s time for the next Ashes series. HAH! Confused again? Well, this quick turnaround is thanks to the crazy scheduling rampant in international cricket.

I personally blame Barack Obama. Thanks, Obama!

If you want to learn more, you can check the Wikipedia entry here:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

38 Not Out, or Sachin's Last Stand

As of the time of this writing, Sachin Tendulkar is 38 not out. By the time I am finished and it is posted, he may be out, or he may have a century.

Neither one of those possibilities would matter in the least to what I have to say on the subject of Sachin's retirement after this match.

Many more knowledgable and respected writers than I (or, is that me?) have written on the legend and phenomenon that is Sachin Tendulkar. His career and impact have been dissected ad nauseum. So I will make my little contribution the discussion rather short.

As I said above, what he does in this final Test match matters very little to me, although it seems like the world is willing him to make one final century. But, what if he falls short? What if he is out on, say, 38? Will it make us respect him more? Detract from his accomplishments? Make him any any less Sachin? Did Bradman's final innings duck make him any less a legend and hero?

To me Sachin's final appearance is a bit of an anti-climax. Because his impact is above one innings. He has defied the gravity of the cricketing universe, much as Michael Jordan did with the NBA. Jordan has famously said he failed more than he succeeded...missed many more shots that he made. Sachin has failed many times and may fail when he strides out again in this final match. But the impact will still be there. The records. The inspiration to more than one generation of fans. The impact on other cricketers.

In fact, it might be fitting if Sachin either does fail, or perhaps retires when he gets to his century and strides off into the sunset, head held high. Because, althugh in one sense he has eclipsed the game of cricket, really he is not bigger than cricket. What a fitting tribute to the sport he has loved and done so much for if, after elegantly cover-driving his way to a century, he lifts his helmet and retires not out.

But even if he is out first ball on this new day, in my mind he will still be retiring not out.

Because among all the other accomplishments and strengths, the one which has my utmost respect is this: He is a sportsman and a gentleman who always has—for me, at least—epitomized the spirit of cricket. In this day and age, that says something.

In fact, if he had accomplished half of what he has, I'd still respect and honor him because of that.

Regardless of stats, we need more like him.

Friday, November 8, 2013

We Suck Sometimes

One of those "not about cricket" posts I promised.

I love my dog. That sounds like a silly, maybe even redneck thing to say. But I do. I love her like a family member. Which is the way it should be.

And yet I daily read articles, Facebook posts, blogs, and tweets about animals being mistreated, abandoned, abused, euthanized, and given up at high kill shelters for various reasons. My Friday started off with tears as I read one such story about a dog in Arizona. Only a year and a half old, the poor boy was given up by his owners because they found themselves without room for him. It was a high-kill shelter; within two days he was dead. Dead. Killed in a violent world for no other reason than convenience.

Here is a photo of our beloved Star Morgan.

If she looks a little unfamiliar, it’s because she is a Carolina Dog. Carolina Dogs are actually the only dog breed known to be indigenous to the United States—they weren’t brought here from Europe. They are in fact still running wild, mostly in the southeastern United States. She has many behaviors that are unlike other breeds. You can Google that for yourself. She has been my friend and companion for seven of her 11 years on this Earth and I owe her more could ever possibly be repaid with a couple of meals per day, some treats, and a walk every night. She is a member of our family. My wife and little girl feel the same.

When she was spooked by fireworks last year, got over our five-foot fence, and was gone for a week, we were panicked. We searched for her every day, everywhere we could think of. When we got her back, it was such a relief to all of us. I even wrote a message to deliver at my Friends (Quaker) Meeting (church) about it. I will share that as a post sometime, perhaps.

So when I read this morning that this dog in Arizona had been euthanized, it struck me, as such stories always do, hard. I railed in my mind, I cursed, a cried a bit.

Before you get all upset and comment that “they’re just animals, they don’t know what family is and can’t have feelings or know what is happening,” let me say this: I know that dogs (and cats) are just animals. But they do know what family is, and they do have feelings. Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat for an extended period of time knows this. And they know about “family.” My experience is with dogs, so I will talk about them. Dogs are pack animals; they function best in a setting where there are others around, depending on the dog and that the dog depends on. I believe they also can feel … maybe not love quite as we know it exactly but very similar. I know because I’ve seen it in action, and felt it personally.

So then why do people think it’s OK to take a dog to a high kill shelter? They are suddenly bereft of the pack that gives their life its meaning and its context. They are in a strange world of scary noises and the smell of death, and soon they, too, will probably be dead. Can you imagine feeling that way yourself? You might very well say that sometimes sacrifices need to be made. When it comes down to survival, the choice between the family pet and being able to eat or have a roof over your head must be made. But why is the death sentence of a living, loving being part of the equation at all? What if the dog had a vote, and chose YOU to be the one to go to death row?

The next time you or someone you know is getting rid of a dog or cat, do NOT take it to a shelter that kills animals. And if you do, check back on it daily and make sure it doesn’t get into the schedule for being euthanized. Google. Talk to friends. Talk to the shelter. Find out where the area rescue groups are. If you can’t find one locally, expand your search. There are many groups out there (and even if it is a breed-specific group, your dog doesn’t have to be pure-bred for most of them to take them in). It may wind up costing you some gas money and time. But isn’t a life worth that? Even if it is “just a dog (or cat)?”

Please, spare a thought for an animal today. Go to your shelter and adopt a dog or cat (make sure they are spayed or neutered, by the way). Donate. Volunteer. Lobby your local government to make your local shelter a “no-kill” shelter. Please. Do it today.

Knowingly dooming a life that has the intelligence level of a five-year-old human just isn’t cricket.