Welcome, dear reader, to the first ever edition of Niche Sports Sunday, a blog thing that attempts to cover sports that I follow that no one else really cares about.
Princeton Crowned ECAC Champions
Congratulations to Princeton Hockey on extending their two month winning streak and capturing the Whitelaw Cup. Winning the postseason tournament is a great achievement, especially when you consider Princeton was ranked 7th in the league coming into it. That they pipped the top three teams in the league (Union, Cornell and Clarkson) on their way to the trophy makes the feat even more impressive.
The win also gives Princeton ECAC's only autobid to the NCAA tournament. Right now it looks like we'll be playing Notre Dame in the first round of the Mid Western Regionals. Ordinarily I would be nervous about playing the number 2 team in the country in a playoff, but we tied St. Cloud State (ranked first in the country) and beat Cornell (ranked second) in very recent memory. Princeton clearly has the firepower and defensive wherewithal to fight and win against the toughtest opponents; I expect great things from them in the tournament.
We've been waiting for this run since 2008: go Tigers!
Bangladesh and the Nidihas Trophy
Half a world away in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh won a heated do-or-die T20 against Sri Lanka to make the finals of the trilateral Nidihas Trophy. These kinds of tournaments are usually total snoozefests designed to meet FTP obligations, but this one has been insane because of poor player behavior on and off the field. Our 12th man got into a pushing match with a group of Sri Lankan players, Shakib Al Hasan caused all sorts of headaches by trying to call players off the field for debatably poor umpiring, and the team as a whole caused quite a stir by doing some serious damage to the their dressing room. The team's behavior was so attrocious that the Bangladesh board was then forced to issue a heretofore unimaginable apology to their hosts.
I have on occasion lamented the lack of assertiveness on the part of Bangladesh's cricketers (remember when one of our batsmen asked Steve Waugh for an autograph on the field?), but these kinds of shenanigans are a step too far. Our internet fans are already enough of an embarrassment without the national team also bringing our cricket establishment into disrepute.
Cricket in Nepal
We're going to go even more niche now. Topic: Associate Cricket!
Associate Cricket is a second-league international cricket competition used to promote the next generation of test playing nations.
After a long period of inactivity (or was it incompetence?), the ICC overcame its anti-expansion tendencies and started promoting less storied cricket programs to the top tier via the World Cup Qualifier program. Ireland got Test status a few months back, and by qualifying for the World Cup, Nepal has earned One Day status for the next few years.
That's right: a tiny, mountainous country with virtually no cricket culture (and a currently suspended cricket board) has boostrapped itself to international ODI status.
To give an idea of what cricket in Nepal used to be like: in the late 90s I remember scouring all of Kathmandu to find a large enough and flat enough field in which to play pickup cricket with my neighbors. The only place we could find was a piece of undeveloped land owned by the Pakistan Embassy. We took a lot of hits to the head that summer because of the undeveloped nature of pitch; overcoming these kinds of infrastructure problems and producing an international grade cricket team is a massive achievement.
Congratulations to Nepal: I can't wait to see what they do with their hardearned ODI status.
What It All Means
I am generally down on the state of cricket. The ever-rising tide of T20 money has made most players lose sight of what makes cricket great (hint: it's Tests). While I can't find it in myself to be angry about this -- the players are only human -- the combination of money, incompetent administration and the lasting stench of corruption that has pervaded the game for the last decade means that I haven't enjoyed top tier cricket for a long time.
A lot of fans seem to have moved down the value chain to find good stories and meaningful competition. Cricket in places like Ireland, Nepal and Papua New Guinea has been a revelation: these teams play because they love the game. And while there may be riches down the road, for now it's all about their pure, unadulterated joy in the game.
Long live Associate Cricket.