Saturday, March 24, 2007


As I write this, it is (according to the countdown clock on the Major League Baseball home page) 8 days, 8 hours, 7 minutes and 10 seconds away from Opening Day-- yet the sports pages are still full of pictures of basketball players jumping up in the air.

And I'm still fuming over an article yesterday on the op-ed page of the Times, in which one Shashi Tharoor, a United Nations official, sneered that cricket --cricket -- is that most sublime of sports, one well beyond the grasp of crass baseball-loving Americans. "Nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld," this poet panjandrum wrote.

Oh, that cricket, that interminable game, famously capable of being played at a competitive level even after slugging a half-dozen pink gins in the scorching sun of the old Raj?

But hold on one minute now, Shashi.

Lookit today's paper with that front-page story about the murder in Jamaica of Pakistan's cricket team coach, one Bob Woolmer, found strangled and presumed to have been whacked. Coach Woolmer is thought to have been a victim of what is described as the "dark side" of world cricket, where "huge sums of money are offered to players to throw matches."

According to the Times story by Marc Lacey, Coach Woolmer -- in the accompanying photo he is in a cricket shirt with a "Pepsi" ad splashed across his chest -- held a press conference the day before he turned up dead, at which he was asked "how his team, a perennial power that was a contender for this year's cup, managed to lose two consecutive matches, one to a weak Irish squad."

To which Coach Woolmer replied mysteriously, "I'll sleep on it and tell you tomorrow."

Tomorrow came, but the coach wasn't talking, having been found strangled in his boxer shorts.

So much for Shashi Tharoor's "rich complexity."

As to the ambassador's swooning over the "dozen different ways of getting out" in cricket, we owe a tip of the hat and a big fat stadium-organ fanfare to one Paul Sussman, of Rye Brook, N.Y., whose letter to the editor in reply to Ambassador Tharoor appears on today's Times editorial page.

Mr. Sussman writes:

"By the way, there are more than 12 ways to get out in baseball: fly out; force out with fielder tagging the base while holding the ball in advance of the runner; a strikeout (looking or swinging); on a swinging third strike, a dropped ball is thrown to first base and bag is tagged; a foul ball on a two-strike bunt; the infield fly rule; a double play; a triple play; one runner passing another runner on the base path; running outside the base path; interference with the ball while in the base path; the runner is picked off by the pitcher; the runner is cut down by the catcher while trying to steal; a caught foul tip with two strikes; the appeal play." And, the learned Mr. Sussman adds, "There are more."

In his op-ed article on Friday, Shashi Tharoor had declared of the wondrous complexity of cricket and the American disinclination to grasp it: "I have tried to explain the allure of the sport to a skeptical Yankees fan by sketching a cricket pitch on a napkin in a sports bar during World Series commercial breaks."

The fact that he wasn't found strangled in his boxer shorts out back of the bar the next day tells you all you need to know about the culture of baseball versus that of cricket.

Beneath his op-ed article, Shashi Tharoor is described as a "departing under secretary general of the United Nations."

Someone in the stands ought to holler: "See ya later, Chump! Don't let the door hit you in second base on your way out!"


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