Sunday Morning Coffee — June 23, 2024 — Jiminy Cricket This Sport Is A Bore

June 22, 2024 Baseball, Sports 6 Comments

No, today’s SMC is not about Jerry West or Willie Mays, two American icons of sports in the 1950s and 60s who were still relevant until their dying days. Mr. West passed on June 12 and Willie this past Tuesday.

With great deference to the two superstars, SMC is about a park on Long Island, also iconic since the 1950s and still as relevant today as maybe ever. And about a sport, worshipped in many countries around the globe, that if I never watch again would be soon enough.

Growing up on Long Island, Salisbury Park was our outdoor recreation venue. All 930 acres of sprawling green, larger than renowned Central Park, about 25 miles west in Manhattan. Salisbury Park first opened in 1949 when much of Long Island was farmland. Our family moved to the Island in 1955. I was three-years-old and the park, three miles from our front door, had everything a kid could want: ball fields, lakes that became ice skating ponds in the winter, picnic areas, a golf course, a driving range, playgrounds and tennis courts that really didn’t become fashionable until we were teens and Chrissie and Jimmy sparked the rage. One thing we never gave a thought to, or a damn about, was playing cricket in the park.

And who knew anything about cricket when we were kids anyway? Cricket to us was Jiminy or the incessant chirping of the nighttime insects and never knowing that was really the male call to mate. Based upon the endless noise, the male appeared to have had as much action as Eddie Munster at a middle school dance. Or in our rebellious years we used a Cricket lighter to flame our Tareytons or L&Ms. That’s all we ever needed to know about cricket.

Long Island’s temporary cricket stadium and bowlers and batsman scurrying around doing something.

Two weeks ago Salisbury Park, which was renamed Eisenhower Park in 1969 after the late president, was the site of the International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup qualifying matches. Nassau County, home of Eisenhower Park, built a 34,000 temporary seat stadium on open green to host the event. The modular stadium was constructed of steel and aluminum and is presently being dismantled to return the park to its glorious pre-cricket era.

Nassau County’s vision was ingenious. Participating countries of Sri Lanka, South Africa, Ireland, India, Canada, Netherlands, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the United States sent international teams to the park. With it came thousands of countrymen mobbing local hotels and restaurants while pulling for their favorite sides hoping to reach the World Cup final a week from today in Barbados. The concept and related risks turned into an economic boom for local Long Island businesses and its economy.

When I first heard about this a couple of weeks ago I immediately flashed back to my first, and fingers crossed, only experience with cricket. Clearly I missed what some 160,000 devotees over eight Long Island matches found so enticing.

For two decades, from 1998-2018, I would go to London every spring to do business in the Lloyd’s of London reinsurance market on behalf of Medjet. The London insurance industry is known to be a relationship market developed over time. For me that certainly was the case. Personal business bonds with brokers and underwriters developed into friendships. They still exist today, six years after I retired. Even though when it came to some things their tastes weren’t necessarily mine. Sure I enjoyed a pint at the pub and their chips, our fries, were fabulous. On the other hand I drew the line on enjoying spotted dick as a delicacy for dessert. I could find some interest in soccer, or footie, as they call it. However, there was none for me in cricket.

So Matt Webb and William Waddell-Dudley invited me to come over a couple of days early in 2015 to see County Championship cricket play. The blokes warned me in advance the caliber was below the international level, but I probably wouldn’t notice. You think?

After about five head spinning, confusing minutes I came to the conclusion that anyone who thinks baseball is slow has never seen cricket.

Comparatively, baseball is the excitement equivalent of a two-man power play advantage in overtime in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final; it’s a goal line stand up by six with ten seconds on the clock; it’s a LeBron three pointer from the corner down by two as the buzzer blows; it’s even an 89th minute penalty kick in soccer for anyone who can watch that long.

Put it this way.  In my life I’ve never had tea and a scone at 4 pm.  I really don’t care for tea.  That day at the cricket match was different. At least it proved to be some afternoon excitement.

(Clockwise from top left:) – Plenty of good seats remain for the County Cricket battle; tea and scones await the three ‘smartly’ dressed blokes.

The venue was the 200 year-old Lord’s Cricket Grounds on London’s West End to watch host Middlesex play Warwickshire.  My hosts upgraded us to the exclusive Lord’s Clubhouse where dressing ‘smart’ is compulsory for entrance.  Mr. Waddell-Dudley was the Club member. ‘Smart’ dress defined as shirt, tie, jacket, ‘smart’ trousers and ‘smart’ shoes.  In other words, riffraff need not apply.

I rooted for Middlesex because I couldn’t pronounce Warwickshire.  Chanting their hymns wasn’t a consideration.  Middlesex never made it to bat while I was there  that Sunday.  It was the first of a four-day, two-inning match, and much like a Phish song having no idea when it was going to end. I figured by Wednesday, when my flight home left, Middlesex might get a chance to bat.

Lord’s that day had all the feel of the Marlins and A’s playing on a Wednesday afternoon in Oakland. There were more vendors in the 28,000 seat stadium  than fans.

I now know all about wickets, overs, batsmen and bowlers.  Runs, or singles, are scored when a batter strikes the ball and runs to the opposite end of the pitch while their batting partner runs in the other direction. It looks like a Three Stooges movie. After Warwickshire scored their 86th run, a bell rang, and a 20-minute tea break was in order for both teams. That bell woke up most of the 200 spectators scattered among the 27,800 empty seats.  The players sat down for their tea and scones. Much like the Yankees and Red Sox taking the seventh inning stretch, setting up tables down the first and third base lines, throw on some blue and red tablecloths, and in our tradition enjoy a cold Miller Lite and bag of Old Gold pretzels. Earlier that London day, the start of play was delayed by four hours because of weather.  Unfortunately, it eventually stopped raining. That, combined with blustery temperatures in the high 40’s and England playing New Zealand on the telly in international cricket, didn’t encourage leaving your flat or hotel room. Most everyone didn’t.

I’ve been known for quick exits but there was no way I was going to miss my first ever 100-run inning.  The 1962 Mets, the worst Major League Baseball team of all-time, never had a 100-run inning against them. Personally, I’ve had a few that came close at fantasy baseball camps, but when Warwickshire posted 101 with seven of the batsmen still remaining in the first, I called it a day. Cricket rules dictate you get either 10 batsmen or 300 bowls (to us Yanks those are pitches) to score as much as a team can. I had Middlesex plus 90, which didn’t do much to endear me to the sport either.

That’s all the more kudos to Long Island and Nassau Country officials for their foresight and gamble. Assuming anyone who went to any trouble to be on hand at Eisenhower Park for the tournament knew all about wicket keepers and stumps and overs and white kits and tea and scones. And spending lots of money, which was a good thing for the host community.

If at any point you are contemplating watching cricket and not needing a good snooze or hot tea and a scone, don’t. Instead flick on You Tube and watch Jerry West or Willie Mays career highlights. Even though the duo is now gone, it’s still a lot more entertaining than watching a bowler trying to dismiss a striker’s wicket and dislodging the bails.

After spending a very long afternoon at Lord’s Cricket Grounds, trust me, I’m doing you a favor. I’ll lay two stumps to a scone you’ll be glad you did.

6 Comments

  • Ken Rich says:

    Incredible! Thanks as always for the education.

  • Dave Pokress says:

    According to Newsday the economic impact of the cricket tournament was not as expected. Not bad but not great.

    Some cricket matches can go on for days as I found out covering a tournament years ago which prompted this conversation with my editors at the NY Daily News.
    Desk: Dave, when will we see your photos of the winning team?
    Me: I’ll file when the match is over.
    Desk: We’re on deadline.
    Me: I know.
    Desk: How soon?
    Me: Thursday. (It’s Monday)
    Desk: Tell them to hurry up. We’re holding the presses.
    Me: For this? If it’s so damn important where’s Mike Lupica and Bill Madden?
    Desk: Point taken. Now file your damn photos.

  • Marc Andrews says:

    Nice story

  • Jiminy cricket, I think I have a sticky wicket. Thanks Roy. I had to stop for tea and scones to make it through.

  • Roy Abrams says:

    A very young Connie Steven’s nickname on a late 50s tv show was Cricket. The show was Hawaiian Eye.

  • I covered a few cricket matches for the Daily News in the 1990’s. I think the picked me because I covered soccer. Got an opportunity to meet the great Brian Lara.

    Interestingly, Newsday did not have any of their writers covering the matches. It can be a complicated sport for the uneducated. They had writers from news side write features.

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