I'm not very good at anniversaries. I don't even celebrate my own birthday. I regularly become confused about whether I was married in 1986 or 1987, much to my wife's consternation. She has given me a mnemonic to help remember it, but I can't remember the mnemonic. It always seems strange that the word that signifies helping you to remember something is such a hard word to remember.
So when it comes to celebrating ESPNcricinfo at 20, I'm not really the natural type. It all feels a bit self-congratulatory. But I am going to brace myself because it really is worth celebrating. ESPNcricinfo is simply the best place in the world to cover cricket properly. That has to be worth a party.
The oddest thing about the site is that it still has a streak running through it that proclaims its roots come from outside journalism. But I joined ESPNcricinfo, after 27 years covering cricket in the traditional media, because it covered cricket better than anywhere else: in more depth, with more variety and with more conviction; reporting matches, breaking stories, analysing issues, parading opinions; communicating with people who cared about the game just as deeply.
If that is not journalism, I don't know what is.
It's intriguing to think that this behemoth began to stir in 1993, when I was on my first major overseas tour for the Guardian, a three-month tour of India that was characterised by heavy England defeats and an airline strike, which meant the England touring group was in a persistent state of crisis. At a time when cricket-starved students were beginning to use Internet Relay Chat to swap cricket scores, I was queuing outside Indian phone shacks to shout news of England's latest defeat down the line to a copytaker in London, often watched by scores of Indian cricket fans hanging on every word - and sometimes correcting them: all of us trying to communicate in our own way.
From that point, almost imperceptibly, Cricinfo seeped into my consciousness. In India in 1993, I loved the theatrical delivery of the Kolkata scorer, Sheikh Abdur Rehman, the old trouper himself, perspiring heavily, stabbing the air with his finger and ringing his red bell to demand silence as he shouted information without microphone across a not entirely attentive 150-seat press box. These days, there are still press-box scorers, but even they check their facts with ESPNcricinfo.
There are so many Cricinfos, all jostling for attention, like different members of a family all managing to rub along. Somehow, despite this mass of contradictions, they all come together to create the most successful single-sport website of all time.
I could write about the radical, ground-breaking Cricinfo, which occasionally still imagines itself as part of the internet's Wild West, or even please my pay-masters by paying homage to the corporate ESPNcricinfo, which is now owned by a multinational organisation. I could proudly parade my inner geek and offer up a stat about how many times Sachin has been caught at leg gully against a left-arm seamer, or instead stress our part in the zeitgeist and concentrate on our experimentation with Google Hangouts.
Do I admit that most days are just a valiant attempt to cobble together truth from chaos or describe us the way we like to be described: as the Cricket Website In The Know, upholders of the integrity of the global game?
Uniting all those varied Cricinfos is an essential truth: you want us to report cricket matches; lots of them. Live scorecards and quick, fair-minded, well-written match coverage, delivered quickly, must remain the order of the day as we enter adulthood. Support that with influential match analysis, strong news stories and intelligent takes on the issues of the day (whether by word or video) and the successful ingredients are no secret.
As the traditional media becomes more internet-savvy and new rivals try to intrude upon our patch, we have to immerse ourselves in the fabric of the game.
Even now, as I write this, the daily demands of ESPNcricinfo are appearing from all directions. Les' webcam won't work on Windows 8, Vish is late with the county blog preamble because of wi-fi problems at Chelmsford, the story I expected to see from Australia when I woke up hasn't arrived, our profile of CB Fry has been questioned (the description of his long jump record in 1922 is wrong, apparently), and someone has been on to complain that his mobile bill has been challenged. Oh yes, and I have to buy something and none of us understands the purchase system.
For most of us, that is the essence of ESPNcricinfo at 20. It will rush past in a blur of thousands of little decisions as we seek to keep our heads above water for another day. It is an enormous, all-consuming furnace, seeking to cover cricket throughout the world in unrivalled depth. It is a beast that never sleeps; it is truly 24/7, 365 days a year. When England rests, India or the United States remain voracious for all the cricket they can get.
I never fail to be staggered by the number of readers who pull us up for the tiniest error. Misspellings or factual errors are routinely pointed out by readers, who clearly feel they have an ownership of the site and want to keep its standards high
Before I joined ESPNcricinfo, I recognised its depth and the commitment of its staff. But from outside it seemed quite passive. I never quite saw it as a furnace.
Some words to describe the site:
My most overpowering emotion working for ESPNcricinfo is an enormous sense of obligation, both to our readers and to the game. Everybody in the media makes that claim, but here people really believe it and are influenced by it every hour of the day. The desire for balance and accuracy is forever present. It can be infuriating at times as we delay publishing a story because we are unsure of one pertinent fact among many, but it is important to keep the faith.
Other newspaper journalists used to deride the theory that ESPNcricinfo was the future. Now they know ESPNcricinfo is the present. Many still wish it did not exist.
That much I know.
Here is a provocative opinion as we reach 20. I truly believe that in the UK we have a greater influence on the game these days than Wisden, long acknowledged as cricket's bible, simply because we influence the debate day after day and reach a far larger readership, a readership of committed cricket followers. In India that argument has long been won.
But there are always blank spots and the non-internet-using chairman at a county members' lunch will still stumblingly introduce me as David Hopps from E-S-B-N-C-R-I-C-ehm-info.
I was fortunate enough to join ESPNcricinfo post 50, when I was desperate for a new challenge. Too often, cricket coverage in the UK media has become depressingly narrow as football holds sway. There were times when English newspapers only seemed interested in the Ashes and Freddie Flintoff. Later this changed to the Ashes and Kevin Pietersen. Too often it felt like cricket provided for football fans. This seemed no way to record the greatest of games.
ESPNcricinfo has an abiding faith that its readers love cricket. The respect we try to give our readers is often returned in heartwarming fashion. I never fail to be staggered by the number of readers who pull us up - the vast majority of them kindly - for the tiniest error. Misspellings or factual errors (not that we like to admit to them) are routinely pointed out by readers, who clearly feel they have an ownership of the site and want to keep its standards high.
I am also permanently struck by how hard ESPNcricinfo staff work to try to meet those expectations. They value the chance to work for such an iconic brand and the hours they work have to be seen to be believed. Only here can you check late-night stories at 11pm to find that the entire UK desk, officially long since off shift, is doing the same thing.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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