Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Ashes Preview

The British are currently enjoying a Golden Age of Sports.  The U.K. won 29 gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics, coming in third behind the United States and China.  Andy Murray just became the first British man to win the Wimbledon men's singles title since 1936.  Justin Rose just became the first Briton since 1970 to win the U.S. Open golf championship.  (Although the Brits also claim credit for two Ulstermen -- Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy -- who took that crown in 2010 and 2011.)  And after losing every battle for the Ashes from 1989 to 2003, England has won three of the last Ashes matches, including the last two in a row.

So the mood in England is quite cheerful as they prepare for their latest cricket battle with Australia.  This will be the 67th battle for the Ashes, in a series that goes all the way back to 1882.  Here's how it works.  England and Australia will play five "test" cricket matches.  A test match lasts for five days, or until each team has completed two innings.  If two full innings have not been completed in five days, that match will be declared a draw, no matter what the score is.  Whichever team finishes with the best record will win "the Ashes," an ancient trophy symbolizing the "death" of English cricket after England's first loss to Australia back in the 19th century.  If the matches end in a draw, then whichever country currently has the Ashes (in this case, England) gets to keep them.

How, you ask, could it take more than five days to play two innings?  Imagine a baseball game played inside a giant oval with no foul territory.  You have two batters placed 66 feet apart from each other.  A pitcher throws to one of the batters, who can hit the ball anywhere in the field.  Once he hits the ball, the two batters race back and forth.  Anytime they switch places -- that is, cover 66 feet -- that's a run.  There are only 11 fielders (including the pitcher, or "bowler") to cover the whole field.  So all you have to do is just keep whacking ground balls all over the place.  How long do you think really great contact hitters like Wade Boggs and Rod Carew could keep batting under those circumstances?  The answer is a really long time.  It's not that uncommon for a single batter -- or "batsman," as cricketers say -- to score over 100 runs in an innings.  Plus, each innings lasts for 10 outs.  Plus, they take breaks for lunch and tea.  Oh, and any rain delays count against the five days of play.  So, yes, you can easily have a situation where they play five days without completing two innings.

Here is the schedule:

July 10 to July 14:  Trent Bridge, Nottingham
July 18 to July 22:  Lord's Cricket Ground, London
August 1 to August 5:  Old Trafford Cricket Ground, Manchester (Note:  This is not the same Old Trafford where Manchester United plays soccer.)
August 9 to August 13:  Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street, County Durham (Note:  This will be the first time Riverside Ground has hosted an Ashes test.  The official name of Riverside Ground is "Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground."  I will not be using that name in any reports.)
August 21 to August 25:  The Oval, London

Here are the latest odds in Britain:

England are 2 to 5 favorites to win
Australia are 9 to 2 underdogs to win
The odds are 15 to 2 against a draw.

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