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Samir Chopra

What Cozier meant to me

When you thought of West Indies cricket in the 1980s, his name was up there with those of Lloyd, Roberts, Marshall, Holding and the rest

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
21-May-2016
I read Tony Cozier before I heard him. I borrowed his seminal Fifty Years of West Indies Cricket from a school friend and read it at breakneck speed, savouring the new understanding - in the political and cultural dimensions - I had suddenly gained of my favourite cricketing outfit. Here was history, outrage at colonial-era slights, pride in West Indies' cricketing achievement, respect for cricketing opponents; here, too, were memorable turns of phrase.
In his report on the fourth Test of the famous 1976 series between West Indies and England, Cozier began his summary of one of the most remarkable first days of Test cricket in the modern era by writing, "An unceasing volley of punishing strokes took the West Indies to 330 for 2 by tea-time." When I came to this sentence, I stopped and stared. Three hundred and thirty in the first two sessions of play on the first day of a Test? Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards unleashing "an unceasing volley of punishing strokes"? Be still my heating heart. In one phrase Cozier had captured an apparently essential quality of West Indies cricket: the power, the dynamism, the cricketing mastery, and of course, as evident in the "unceasing" and "punishing", the ruthlessness. (The "blackwashed" English teams of 1984 and 1986 would agree.)
Later I heard Cozier too. Perhaps during the 1979-80 tour of Australia, or perhaps the 1980 tour of England. Memory does not dredge up the correct date for me now, but it does resurrect quite effortlessly his mellifluous voice. Long before Michael Holding bewitched us with his Jamaican drawl, a Bajan voice had already entranced us with its take on cricket. And like Holding, Cozier could speak for West Indies cricket with a distinctive mix of protective pride, passion, and when the occasion demanded it, a fierce inwardly directed criticism as well.
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Lessons from three T20 games

Context trumps ranking; wickets matter; and it's still a contest between batsman and bowler

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
23-Mar-2016
I want to direct your attention to three recent moments of meditation on the game of cricket, each inspired by the happenings in three different T20 games.
Oman's innings was underway. An "upset" was brewing; a potential Cinderella story was being written. Truth be told, it wasn't much of a contest choosing which game to watch: I picked the one that "meant" something. It would break some hearts and fill others with joy and allow further dreams to be dreamed of. The other game was surely important for those playing, and for those watching at the ground, and possibly even those tuning in to the live telecast in South Africa and Australia. But other than possibly providing some T20 practice before the World Cup there was little riding on the game. There was no larger background context to embed the game into. It would soon be forgotten. I knew the Oman game wouldn't be - especially if the men from Oman won. Which they did.
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Once upon a cricket pavilion

When a place of refuge and sanctity in the game was used for torture

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
01-Mar-2016
Is it just me or does it seem like the word "pavilion" has lost some ground in cricketing discourse, replaced by "dressing room" and "dugout"? I don't doubt that pavilions still exist; after all, dressing rooms are still located in pavilions, and the Wikipedia page for "cricket pavilion" showcases many lovely photographs of pavilions all over the world. It's just that no one seems to talk about them anymore.
There used to be a time when a batsman's dismissal was described as him being "sent back to the pavilion", or a dismissed batsman was described as "cooling his heels in the pavilion". But it does not seem to me that we hear these sorts of locutions any more on television or radio commentary. Something rather stately - and perhaps staid - seems to have left the language of cricket as a result of choosing the greater intimacy of "dressing room" to describe the place in a cricket ground where the cricketers not immediately involved in the action bide their time.
As this photograph of the Sir Garfield Sobers Pavilion at Kensington Oval in Barbados shows, a pavilion includes - more often than not - the dressing rooms and a pair of stairways. Under the classical model of batsmen arriving and departing, the new batsman walked down one set of stairs, the dismissed batsman up the other.
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FFS: a Scotsman's Ashes lament

The shared pain of watching the Edgbaston Test of 2005

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
05-Feb-2016
Instead, I'd be watching the cricket with a Scottish friend. I had met K a few years earlier during my visit to Sydney over the 2002-03 season. Then, we had spent a day at the SCG with an Australian friend of ours, and enjoyed watching Steve Waugh's four-off-the-last-ball-of-the-day century. Then too, I had discovered that K was proudly and resolutely a Scottish nationalist, one whose slogan could well have been "Anyone but England". He was especially prickly about Scotland's ties to the United Kingdom; on seeing a Barmy Army member walking around the SCG's precincts in a shirt that said "England's Barmy Army", he walked up and asked, "Excuse me, why are you wearing a shirt that has the Union Jack on it and says England's Barmy Army? Shouldn't you have a flag with the St George's Cross on it?" We dragged K away just in time from his bemused interlocutor.
Now K was in town and offered to host the cricket-watching at his apartment: he had a Sky subscription and was well stocked up on beers and food. We were set. At the toss, I heard K offer a pithy summing up of his opinion of Ricky Ponting's decision to bowl first: "For f***s sake, Punter! Bat!" A minute later, when Ponting informed the commentators at the toss that Glenn McGrath had been injured and would not be playing, K, on cue, expostulated, "For f***s sake, the Pidge isn't even playing!"
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The women in my cricket-watching life

Cricket fans may be predominantly male, but there are plenty of women about as well

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
12-Jan-2016
For some reason, there has been a great deal of talk recently about the role of women in cricket: players and journalists alike. I have no idea why this has been the case - perhaps some kind soul could enlighten me with the relevant links - but in any case, I'm going to throw my tuppence in the conversational pile by offering some fond reminiscences of a few women cricket fans with whom I've had the pleasure of talking cricket over the years.
Tale number one: In 1994 I worked as a user assistant in my graduate school's computer lab. There, one day, I was asked for help by a young graduate student in linguistics. As we talked, I noticed her distinctive accent, which I did not then recognise as an Afrikaner one. Unable to restrain my curiosity, I asked her where she was from. As she answered, "South Africa", I noticed, almost immediately, that in the pile of papers she was carrying around was a magazine, the partially visible cover of which appeared to show a bat. Once again, unable to restrain myself, I asked, "Is that a cricket magazine?" Her face beaming, she pulled it out of the pile and handed it over. It was.
At that point in time, South Africa's return to international cricket was still a matter of some disbelief to me. I had not ever expected them to be welcomed back to the fold. But that long, slow, road back, which had perhaps begun with Nelson Mandela's release from Robben Island, finally culminated in the South African team's tour of India in 1991. Now, appropriately enough, in the United States, that international meeting ground of the nations, here I was, talking to a South African cricket fan. The first one I had met in the flesh.
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Why I didn't watch the All-Stars

Overpriced tickets and mediocre cricket: fans in the US deserve better. How about proper international matches?

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
18-Nov-2015
Many years have gone by, and now I steadfastly eschew attendance at reunion/revival events put on by superstar dinosaurs. I have little interest in watching former greats - pale shadows of their former selves - put on second-rate performances. Especially if the tickets are overpriced, and if it seems like the primary purpose behind the staging of the event is not the provision of high-class entertainment but the fattening of the pockets of cynical promoters.
As you might have guessed from this preamble, I did not attend the "All-Stars" Sachin and Shane Jamboree in New York City, and neither did I watch the telecasts of the games played in Houston and Los Angeles.
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Set the fielders free

Artificial constraints, such as fielding restrictions, make ODIs and T20s feel contrived. The duration of the contest ought to be the only limitation

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
22-Oct-2015
As England gallantly chased 99 to win against Pakistan in the first Test, in Abu Dhabi, a chase they might have pulled off had the fading light not intervened, I was reminded again of a pet peeve of mine against one-day internationals: their highly contrived restrictions on field placings.
Legend has it that the bewildering modern constraints on where and when fielders may be placed in one-day internationals (inside and outside the fielding circles at various points in an innings) can be traced to the perfidy of the England captain Mike Brearley during the 1979-80 World Series Cricket triangular tournament. In a game against West Indies, Brearley sent all his fielders, including the wicketkeeper, David Bairstow, to the boundary, in an attempt to save the required boundary off the last ball. West Indies failed to beat this stratagem, and the fielding circle was born. Or something like that.
Ever since then, it has been the received wisdom that in order to make one-day internationals "exciting", to prevent fielding captains from "unfairly" stacking the deck against batsmen - the ones who use helmets, elaborate body armour, heavy bats, and receive the benefit of the doubt from umpires - some fielding restrictions must be imposed. Otherwise, as the chest-beaters would have it, we will be treated to the boring spectacle of fielders ranged on the boundary - presumably for all 50 overs - while batsmen, cheated of boundaries, will be forced to run singles and doubles and triples. The horror!
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It's better from behind the stumps

It used to be routine in the old days but is confined to replays now. The absence negatively affects our experience as viewers of sport on TV

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra
28-Aug-2015
During Sri Lanka's second innings in the recently concluded second Test against India, Dinesh Chandimal, in the course of a brief stint at the crease, dramatically hooked Ishant Sharma for six. Television viewers who had missed the action - or had not seen it in acute enough detail - were then treated to two replays of the shot. Those replays reminded me of a long-standing peeve of mine against modern television coverage: the marginalisation of the behind-the-stumps view of the batsman.
Perhaps beginning with Channel Nine's telecasts in the 1980s, TV coverage of cricket has been distinctive for its use of two primary television cameras, placed at either bowling end, for capturing and transmitting live action. When bowlers change ends, producers move their dominant perspective; as a result, viewers are always following the bowler running in, with the batsman facing. The other perspectives - side-on from point or square leg, among others - are made available to the viewer on replays. But we are never allowed to view live action from behind the batsman. Or at least, I cannot remember any such occasion in recent memory. I can last remember such an angle used by Indian television in the 1980s. This perspective is only made available on replays. But not on all replays. As in the case of Chandimal's hook for six.
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