All posts by Elliot J. Cornish

Could Donald Trump win? Definitely, maybe

Donald Trump is still a thing. When he took to a raucous Trump Tower in June to finally jump into a presidential race after years of teasing, even the most astute of political junkies predicted a brief Trump whirlwind before crashing out ignominiously.

However, the brash billionaire businessman has taken the presidential race by storm and, as the primaries draw closer, the lead that was supposed to dwindle has only solidified and grown. The Summer of Trump overran into autumn and is whipping up a winter storm as 2015 draws to a close.

It was not supposed to be this way, especially after a series of comments that would have been campaign-ending for anyone other than The Donald.

But where others would fall, Trump only seems to strengthen his advantages. The backlash over his policy to temporary ban Muslims from entering the U.S. in an effort to combat Islamic State would have finished lesser candidates, but the very next day, he was back on TV cruising through interviews with ease.

In his short time as a politician, Trump has shown his mastery of the media. Despite a glaring lack of specifics over the past six months, no interviewer has been able to successfully pin him down – Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has arguably been the best at calling out unworkable policies and question dodging. Why? Because Trump answers the questions he wants to, happily wanders off on tangents, while ensuring he provides a few juicy quotes to grab the headlines.

It’s all in Trump: The Art of the Deal 

As explained in Trump: The Art of the Deal, “the second-greatest book of all-time”, sensationalism sells and guarantees that “the press is going to write about you”. The Trump-coined phrase “truthful hyperbole” suggests slight exaggeration is innocent, and a “very effective form of promotion”.

These quotes help to clarify the logic of Trump’s approach, and dispel the claims that he is clueless. Most of Trump’s eyebrow-raising moments are examples of this ideology put into action. He knows exactly what he is doing.

For the media and Trump, it’s a convenient alliance – however much the two may like to despise each other. The media offers Trump copious exposure because he draws the ratings like no other. That exposure has allowed the New Yorker to keep his campaign coffers virtually full. While former establishment favourite Jeb Bush has expended $32.5 million on practically useless ads, Trump has shelled out just $216,000.

Polls continue to strengthen

The polls, as you have probably heard from the man himself, have been “beautiful”. After briefly dipping briefly due to Ben Carson’s short rise, Trump has surged once more and he now regularly chalks up 35 to 40 percent in national polling.

As there is no national primary, such numbers come with a healthy dose of caution, but even in the early voting states, Iowa appears the only obstacle – the Hawkeye State sees Trump locked in a battle with fellow anti-establishment candidate and Republican buddy Ted Cruz. In New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada he leads handily, and has done so for much.

Consider too that the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses have picked the eventual nominee just two times out of six, failing to win the Midwest state wouldn’t spell doom. However, if Trump does win Iowa, his overall strength suggests he could indeed “run the table” and cruise to the nomination.

The biggest hurdle for Trump may not come from the opposition, but from closer to home. Polls have indicated that his rise isn’t coming thanks to the GOP faithful, but from outsiders being wooed back into politics by his candidacy.

It could go one of two ways: the cold winter nights may ultimately see many decide against making the effort to go and vote, or, his vitalised base could turn out in force, much like Barack Obama’s did in 2008. If Trump’s crowds are a true measure of his support, the latter outcome seems probable.

No-nonsense Trump resonates with disaffected voters

Determining why Trump is enjoying such unprecedented domination among the GOP candidates is simple – he speaks the language of Americans utterly fed up with Washington and has the no-nonsense approach to “get things done” that the rest so sorely lack.

That he has flip-flopped on the Second Amendment and abortion – two Republican issues – doesn’t matter, nor does his past praise of likely presidential adversary Hillary Clinton. He claims to have evolved like Reagan, and says that as a businessman it was his job to buy politicians and get along with everyone.

For those not on the Trump Train, such statements obviously do not wash, but his ability to speak frankly about Washington corruption is what appeals to so many others – many Americans are overjoyed they now have somebody to voice the opinions they have held for so long – and that he is entirely self-funding his campaign helps too. Illegal immigration, jobs going abroad, shoddy trade deals to mention three, Trump is throwing out the red meat and getting the exact response he wants.

Detail has been missing, but who needs detail when you can sell a good story? Trump presents himself as a negotiator, someone who can make the necessary deals to solve America’s problems.

Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate in 2012, claimed three years ago that Russia was the country’s “number one geopolitical foe”; three years on, and the party’s current front-runner is trading compliments with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

Those dismayed with Obama’s leadership and consider the US a waning force on the global stage see Trump as the solution to that problem. As far as they are concerned, his business has excelled and such cut-throat nous will help America do the same – especially with the strong team Trump promises his presidency would boast.

Before Trump jumped in, many pundits thought Kentucky Senator Rand Paul would be a major force with his libertarian outlook, even if he isn’t as rooted in the ideology as his father Ron is. As it has turned out, small government and liberty has been swamped by big government and “security”. If the primaries confirm that, it proves Republicans were never really searching for a reduced state, just a powerful leader.

Trump v Clinton

The prospect of a Trump-Clinton showdown is decidedly juicy, especially from the safe vantage point of across the pond. It’s a match-up that gives both sides reasons to be happy, while both cause for concern.

For the Democrats, Trump being the opposition over a smoother candidate such as Marco Rubio would be cause for early and perhaps premature celebration. The Hispanics – an increasingly important section of the electorate – US Muslims and floating voters could flock to Clinton in wake of Trump’s tough immigration stances, handing the Democrats a clear path to the White House.

But underestimating the power of Trump has been a foolhardy strategy so far. His ceiling continues to rise in spite of those deeming he has peaked, and he would likely run a charm offensive in a general election, opting for a more centrist stance. His business background would serve him well in the economic battle, and the “bringing jobs back” message could be very potent with the working class, even among minority voters.

As of now, Clinton has a solid lead in head-to-head polls versus Trump, but with more than 10 months to go until the race culminates, what’s happening now has limited relevance.

Could Donald Trump become the Republican nominee? Definitely. Could he then march to the White House next November? Definitely, maybe.

 

 

Johnny Cueto’s high-stakes gems ensure Royals fans will remember him fondly

Royals fans will be hoping they have seen the last of Johnny Cueto. Not because of his performances, but because it would mean when the club returns to Kansas City, they would be doing so not for a high-stakes Game 6, but as World Series victors.

Cueto’s three-month rental at the Royals has had more ups and downs than a dodgy romcom, but ultimately, when the franchise has needed their hired ace to deliver, the Dominican has swaggered around the mound like no Kansas City hurler has for years. It was a win not just for Cueto or Kansas City, but for his fellow countryman Edinson Volquez, whose father tragically passed away before the start of Game 1.

In Game 5 of the Division Series against the Houston Astros, Cueto threw eight innings of magical two-run ball, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. On Wednesday night at The K, Johnny Beisbol went even better, firing a two-hit complete game to shut down the New York Mets – the best performance from a starting pitcher in the World Series since Greg Maddux’s gem for the Atlanta Braves in 1995. Cueto’s first feat kept the Royals dream alive, his second gave them a 2-0 lead in the Fall Classic, and a prime opportunity to end their 30-year wait for a world championship.

Cueto knuckled down after Luis Valbuena’s two-run dinger in the ALDS, and he mirrored that effort against Houston in his dismantling of the Mets. Only in the fourth inning did any trouble arise, and had Mike Moustakas’ throw from third to first been more on target, Cueto would have escaped with no damage. As it was, Lucas Duda’s bloop into left field landed safe and allowed New York to scratch out a run. Lesser men would have wobbled, but the only wobbling Cueto did was with his “rocking chair” wind-up – he proceeded to retire the next 15 batters, his solitary lapse came when he walked Daniel Murphy with two outs in the ninth. A night off for the bullpen added the finishing touches to a perfect night.

The Royals bats continued to stick firmly to their mantra. Making contact, getting the ball in-play and keeping the line moving. The most telling statistics from the first two games were deGrom and Matt Harvey’s strikeout count. They totalled just two apiece which prevented from blowing their adversaries away as they have all year. The Royals made them grind, and that persistence paid off.

After leaving the bases loaded in the fourth, Ned Yost’s men got straight back to work, bashing deGrom for as many runs in one inning – four – as he had conceded all postseason. Alex Gordon walked, Alex Rios singled, Alcides Escobar clobbered an RBI single, Eric Hosmer drove in two, Kendrys Morales got aboard before Moustakas drove in a fourth. Similar frenzied hitting in the eighth tacked on a further three runs and gifted closer Wade Davis the night off. A comfortable win was the exact tonic needed after the 14-inning roller coaster ride which had taken place just hours before.

Forget Cueto’s horror show in Toronto, his troubles working with catcher Salvador Perez, and all of those face-palming regular season starts that added fuel to the doomsayers’ fire. When Kansas City gave up Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed in July, this was the impact they weren’t just hoping for, but expecting. To echo Ned Yost’s words all season, the 2015 Royals are a ballclub borne entirely out of expectation.

Yet, even when the dreadlocked star was struggling on the mound, his presence radiated and aided a marked upswing in form for the Dominican Republic’s brightest young prospect, Yordano Ventura. Kansas City’s Opening Day starter endured a testing first half of the season, blighted by injury and a frustrating knack of instigating on-field fights, notably with Mike Trout. Ventura’s command was awry and his inability to knuckle down with runners on base saw his ERA balloon above 5.00. But after, the Cueto signing and a near demotion to Triple A, the 24-year-old talent began to light it up. One burgeoning ace looked to impress a bona fide ace. The result? A 9-1 finish to the season with a 3.10 ERA. It provided the Royals rotation stability and confidence while their prized asset suffered. Tie in “Steady Eddie” Volquez, one of the best off-season pick-ups, and the deadly Dominican trio was complete.

The mystery of Cueto’s tenure as Royal will have bothered him as much as anyone. He turned up and produced as expected, pitching a four-hit shutout in his first home start, but he then combusted with five successive horrendous starts. With free agency looming, his chance to escape the freefalling Cincinnati Reds for a winning team presented an opening to show the baseball world what Postseason Johnny Cueto is all about. That he is more than the man who dropped the ball after being relentlessly rattled in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game at PNC Park.

Indeed, the Blue Jays and their fans still rumbled him north of the border. Chants of “Cuueettoo, Cuueettoo” rang out, and murmurs of Toronto stealing signs left him confused. But at home, Cueto has been a different beast. Beating Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace-in-waiting, and handing Kansas City command of the World Series sent out an assertive message to all teams eyeing up a move for the 29-year-old in the off-season. When it matters most, chucking the ball to Cueto will give a side as much assurance of triumph as baseball ever can. On the road he remains an enigma, however on his own patch, he has thrived.

Yost knows this, and has used him expertly. For all of the seemingly baffling decisions which come out of the Royals dugout at times, Kansas City’s general manager has enjoyed unprecedented success in October – his 20-8 postseason record is the best-ever. Royals fans joke, but for the most part, it’s the opposition who have been “Yosted”. Even the Chiefs picked up a win when Yost was in attendance – perhaps it is destiny.

Maybe the Royals will not win the World Series. They are still two games from glory and the next three are in New York and, as ESPN will make sure you know, the last two teams to come back from two behind in the Fall Classic were from the Big Apple. However, Kansas City looks in magnificent shape, and with Ventura and the ultra-consistent Chris Young to follow, snaring baseball’s grandest prize is within touching distance.

If the Royals do take the crown, none of it would have been possible without Cueto. The late August and September waters were choppy, but once again, Dayton Moore has been vindicated. The all-in move has paid off, and the Royals faithful will remember Cueto fondly rather than fretfully. Now, it’s up to the rest of this historic Kansas City unit to finish the job. Missouri’s keenest baseball town is euphoric, excited and expectant.

Mike Trout shows the future is now as MLB delivers at Midsummer Classic

As the most-watched All-Star event in professional sports, Major League Baseball has a duty to put on a spectacular show each year, even more so in an era where interest – particularly among the youth – is apparently on the decline.

And as eyes descended on the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, it’s fair to say baseball delivered.  The revamped Home Run Derby brought with it new excitement, while the continued emergence of Mike Trout as the sport’s brightest young star was welcome, even if the MLB does do everything possible to shoehorn him into the limelight – no, “hitting for the cycle” doesn’t count if it takes you four games.

The showpiece All-Star Game saw the American League secured home advantage for this year’s World Series with a 6-3 victory over the National League – their 15th triumph in the last 19 Midsummer Classics. Trout homered off the fourth pitch of the game; Brian Dozier sent his first at-bat as an All-Star into the crowd as well, while Aroldis Chapman’s superhuman arm fired 12 out of 14 pitches over 100mph, striking out Brock Holt, Mike Moustakas and Mark Teixeira.

Dispelling the myth that a mass invasion of Kansas City Royals into the game would threaten the American League’s chances, their three eventual starters – Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez – went 3-8 and Perez also reached first base after being struck out, courtesy of Madison Bumgarner’s wild pitch, in a painful rematch of the final out from last year’s World Series (if only that had happened in Game 7 at Kauffman Stadium). Wade Davis threw a typically filthy eighth inning, retiring two, while the other Royals pitcher, Kelvin Herrera, did not get on the mound.

Trout was MVP for the second year running – the first time that has happened in All-Star Game history – but the award perhaps should have gone to Cain who was the only player with two hits, which he complimented with an RBI and a stolen base. The MLB’s desperation to find the “face of baseball” is an understandable one however, and it’s a decision that is hard to take too much umbrage with.

Derby Delights

In Monday’s Derby, hometown kid Todd Frazier saw off the impressive challenge of the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson.  The competition still managed to thrive despite being bereft of Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Trout, who were unable to take part due to a broken left hand, a father not well enough to pitch and a humble 23-year-old who wanted to allow his Angels teammate Albert Pujols a chance for glory. No complaints there.

The new time format sped up the contest and made for an exciting couple of hours, even if the repeated “back-back-back-back-back” line from Chris Berman in the commentary box became slightly tiresome.

Pederson showcased his big-time talent in his first full season as a Dodger and his match with Pujols made for the most touching moment of Monday evening when the latter hugged Pederson’s brother, Champ. The two met for the first time earlier this year and Champ, who suffers with Down’s syndrome like Pujols’ older daughter Isabella, struck a chord, with Albert signing a jersey for him.

Champ said that Pujols was his favourite player at the time although was supporting his brother when the two faced off – the family bond is pretty unbreakable, especially in baseball.  It was one that tugged the heartstrings.

Viewing figures were reportedly down once again, which was in part due to the “Derek Jeter” effect. New York tuned in en masse in 2014 for the Yankee shortstop’s final All-Star Game and their interest in this year would have been muted further since there were no Bronx Bombers starting. An absence of Red Sox starters too marked the first time in All-Star Game history that there were no starters from either the Yankees or Boston. However, in comparison to other All-Star Games, baseball still towers above its competitors.

There were plenty of concerns ahead of the 2015 Midsummer Classic, the fan voting, the injuries – losing Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gordon and Stanton to name a trio were big blows – and the new Derby format. But by and large it worked, and in Trout, baseball is in possession of American sport’s hottest young property. The future may yet be bright.

 

Where are the British sluggers?

Baseball is one of the staples of the American sporting calendar and has a broadening global appeal. But while many countries revel in playing ball, Britain lags far behind

THE DIAMOND: the world’s glitziest and most precious gem. The definition pretty much ends there for most. It certainly doesn’t register even the remotest of sporting flickers for the vast majority of British folk. But across the pond, eyes are locked on the diamond from April to October as America indulges in its favourite pastime. Baseball.

Every year, two leagues of 15 – the National League and American League – do battle to determine their most proficient team. Then, the victor from each goes on to the World Series – the annual showpiece where the ‘world champion’ of Major League Baseball (MLB) is crowned. It is pure sporting theatre laced with that special, infectious buzz only the US of A can offer.

Baseball has played host to tumultuous achievements and scripted some of the most magnificent tales too. Last year, the Kansas City Royals looked poised to end 29 years of hurt and be crowned world champions once more, as they capitalised on the wildcard that granted them a post-season appearance. But they hadn’t bargained on the pitching might of Madison Bumgarner, the San Francisco Giant whose unrivalled performance earned him Sports Illustrated’s coveted Sportsman of the Year award.

Romanticists are not without a generous serving of entertainment either. The American League Championship Series of 2004 spings to mind: the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox – two of baseball’s most iconic franchises. The Red Sox looked down and out when trailing three games to none, but multiple escapes that Harry Houdini would have marvelled at ensured the dreams of a city came to life. Boston won 4-3 and went onto trounce the St Louis Cardinals a week later to claim a first World Series title since 1918.

But one cannot kid oneself. Such folklore is not etched into the minds of Britons. Baseball goes almost totally ignored in the United Kingdom, labeling it a minority sport is perhaps too kind.

It’s not as if the existence of the game here hasn’t been acknowledged – you will find a smattering of the world-famous Yankees caps on the streets of Britain’s towns and cities. But ask one who dons it whether they saw A-Rod’s crunching blow over the Green Monster at Fenway Park the other week – an effort which saw him tie Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list – and you will get more than a quizzical look.

Cricket – the most classic of English sports – is baseball’s closest relative. The parallels are clear. The ball is dealt, players attempt to hit it and fielders do their utmost to snaffle it. Both games are statistic-laden too. At times, one wonders whether the plethora of records for every nook and cranny are necessary, but they sure are fun to delve into.

However, on closer inspection it is crystal clear that while they may belong to the same family, they are now nothing more than cousins. The combination of precision hitting and agility found on a ballpark has yet to be perfected on a cricket field, even with the birth of the sport’s brashest offspring: Twenty20. And unlike in cricket where 360-degree shot-making is fast becoming the norm, the rules of baseball means a slugger is forced to “hit in the V”. Geoffrey Boycott would be proud.

Capturing the market

While cricket is constantly struggling to innovate and attract newcomers, baseball has a contrasting problem. According to co-host of the now defunct MLB on Five, Josh Chetwynd, the MLB has a fanbase, it is just neglecting it.

“It’s very telling that both the NFL and the NBA have staged regular season top professional games here in the UK and baseball hasn’t. MLB has a presence here but they need to be aggressive about the market.

“The fact that they let a domestic-based show on baseball slide and have basically been willing to just allow people who are already fans to either pay for a premium channel, or for MLB.TV, isn’t a great commitment,” laments Chetwynd.

On a potential MLB on Five comeback in the future, he is hopeful but currently unexpectant. “It would require MLB to make a commitment in this market. The NFL did just that and I think that’s why they remain on terrestrial television. Until that happens, it may be a long wait.”

Matt Smith from BaseballGB, a UK-based website which covers the sport in this country as well as in America, thinks that bringing a Major League game to the UK could be a stepping stone.

He commented: “Behind the scenes, MLB has had discussions recently about the potential of doing that (playing a game in the UK) in the next few years – potentially playing somewhere like Surrey Cricket’s Oval or at the Olympic Stadium – and we’ll have to wait and see if that comes to fruition and exactly how British baseball could really make use of that short burst of publicity.”

Smith is also acutely aware of the versatility some sports have over others when it comes to staging events – something which has held baseball back.

“Sports like basketball and ice hockey have been able to create this (presence in the UK) by playing in multi-purpose arenas, which provide a good viewing experience for paying fans and a good backdrop that sells it to TV companies like Sky, who have shown highlights of games from those domestic leagues. We really don’t have anything like that in baseball as whilst you can shoe-horn a baseball field onto a cricket field, it’s not quite the same.”

Scope for growth?

That American football and basketball have cut through into the British market and baseball hasn’t says either one of two things. That Britain doesn’t care about baseball, or more likely, investment and promotion is lacking. The game of rounders adopts many of baseball’s principles and is played regularly by schoolchildren on these shores, which indicates we are not averse to the concept, the interest just hasn’t been harnessed.

Chetwynd understands the problems and, with the right measures, he thinks progress can be made.

“We lag behind greatly in infrastructure. The creation of a proper field at Farnham Park was a great step forward, but there needs to be three or four more facilities before you have a critical mass that will start attracting kids. To paraphrase the movie Field of Dreams, I do believe that if you build it (over and over again) people will come. We just need nice purpose built baseball facilities,” he said.

Yet British baseball is not only lagging far behind America, Japan and the Dominican Republic – the game’s powerhouses – but mainland Europe too. While the Netherlands stunned all to grab a fourth-place finish in the 2013 World Baseball Classic – the best showing from a European side – the UK failed to even qualify for the 16-team tournament.

The British Baseball Federation (BBF) has been in charge of the sport’s affairs in this country since its foundation in 1987. The organisation oversees the National Baseball League (NBL) – the biggest senior league competition in the UK – and eight other divisions in three lower tiers.

The perennial difficulty, and one that is yet to be overcome, is to craft something that will not only give baseball a sustainable base in Britain, but a system that encourages more people to both participate and spectate.

Chetwynd added: “I believe that the BBF and the developmental organisation Baseball Softball UK (BSUK) have come a long way in offering support for aspiring baseball players. There are lots of clinics and efforts to help teams in pockets without any baseball experience get going.

“That said, I’m always cautious on this front as British baseball’s history has had tons of ebbs and flows where it looks like the sport is gaining traction, only to have a few key figures who are driving expansion lose interest or have other factors derail their efforts. I do believe BSUK is more structured than most of those previous efforts, but you never know.”

The future

It’s difficult to predict if Farnham Park – a fully-fledged ballpark in Slough – will prove to be a trailblazer or whether it is destined to be an anomaly within the UK’s sporting landscape.

“I won’t be happy until we have every boy in America between the ages of six and 16 wearing a glove and swinging a bat,” Babe Ruth, one of baseball’s best, once chimed. While such an event here would be pure fantasy, taking heed of the aspiration would not be a bad thing. Baseball in the UK is a niche market, but essentially, that market is there. Ensuring the game is accessible to those who want it is key.

The MLB lost the luxury of terrestrial TV in 2008 after 13 unbroken years – it was a hefty blow. It’s tough enough for a mainstream sport to be bereft of free-to-air coverage, nevermind a plucky outsider.

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way,” goes another Ruth gem. The road may be long, bumpy and at times without hope, but the desired destination is never totally out of reach. Just ask the Red Sox.

Fact Box

Playing ball at Stamford Bridge

Over 100 years ago, before World War One had begun and the New York Giants were known as a baseball team, Stamford Bridge – the home of Chelsea Football Club – hosted a match between the Giants and the Chicago White Sox. King George V and 20,000 others watched on a February day in 1914 as the final game of the teams’ world tour went to extra innings. The White Sox eventually prevailed 5-4 – thanks to Tommy Daly’s home run in the bottom of the 11th inning – to wrap up the series 24 games to 20.

Britain were world champions?

The first version of the Baseball World Cup (it was then known as the Amateur World Series) took place in 1938 and was contested between Great Britain and the USA. The five-match series was held across the north of England over a week in mid-August. The Brits raced to a 2-0 lead with wins in Liverpool and Kingston upon Hull before the Americans kept the competition alive with a triumph in Rochdale. Great Britain were not to be denied in their bid to win their first, and so far only World Cup though, sealing the title with a 4-0 victory at the Shay in Halifax.

The Northampton pitcher

Few English players have ever made it into the Major Leagues and even fewer have become seasoned campaigners. Danny Cox was an exception to the rule. The Northampton pitcher enjoyed plenty of moments in the limelight in an 11-season career, most notably for the St Louis Cardinals. Cox pitched twice in the 1985 World Series – which the Cardinals lost to the Kansas City Royals – but his finest moment arguably came in Game 5 of the 1987 World Series, where his winning performance gave his team a 3-2 lead, only for the Minnesota Twins to fight back and be crowned world champions in a deciding seventh game.

Contracts

The MLB has a reputation for being lucrative and it currently boasts 27 of the 30 largest contracts in all of sport. Alex Rodriguez broke the record twice when signing deals with the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees but he was usurped by Venezuela’s Miguel Cabrera, who penned a $292 million 10-year contract with the Detroit Tigers in 2014. Miggy was then toppled just months later by Giancarlo Stanton when he struck a $325 million deal with the Miami Marlins. However, since his agreement is set to last three years longer, Cabrera remains the highest earner per match.

 

Guthrie pitches six scoreless to give Kansas City Royals best ever 40-game start

Jeremy Guthrie (4-2) pitched six scoreless innings, struck out three, and walked two as the Kansas City Royals cruised to a 7-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds in front of over 30,000 at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday evening.

The win ensured the Royals moved to 26-14 on the season – a franchise record after 40 games – and cemented their lead at the top of the American League Central, courtesy of victory in both Interleague matches against the Reds.

Guthrie’s efforts also aided the Royals to tie another franchise best with 24 consecutive scoreless innings, a streak stretching back to the beginning of Sunday’s game with the New York Yankees.

Jason Marquis (3-4) opened proceedings for the Reds but was replaced after conceding four runs inside the first four innings.

A 10th double of the year for Eric Hosmer helped the Royals take the lead in the second and a grounder in the fourth allowed Mike Moustakas to score – marking Hosmer’s 30th RBI of 2015. Kendrys Morales’ sacrifice fly also meant Hosmer could reach home in the same inning.

Moustakas continued his hot run with the bat, going 3-for-4 with three singles, taking his season tally to 51 hits and his batting average to .342.

Alex Gordon’s sacrifice fly scored Homer in the second but his night will be remembered for his catch on Todd Frazier in the fifth which saw him crash into the left field wall.

The Royals added further pain with two more runs off of Raisel Iglesias in the eighth inning, but by then the Reds looked a spent force, as they slipped to 18-22 on the year.

After a day off tomorrow, the Royals will return to action on Friday evening when they open a three-game I-70 series against the St Louis Cardinals. Chris Young (3-0) will be on the mound, fresh from a win over the Yankees last Friday.

The Reds also have a break and will be back on the diamond on the Friday evening, as they take the trip to play the Cleveland Indians.

Premier League Darts: Table-toppers to face off in Glasgow

High flyers Michael van Gerwen and Dave Chisnall are set to face off in a top-of-the-table clash on the seventh night of the Premier League at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow.

Old foes Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor meet in the third game of the evening with the struggling Dutchman seeking to stave off relegation in a fortnight’s time.

Gary Anderson will play his first match in Scotland fas world champion when he takes on last-placed Kim Huybrechts while Stephen Bunting goes in search of a third consecutive win against Peter Wright.

Elsewhere, James Wade looks to strengthen his bid for the playoffs in his match with Adrian Lewis – the latter is without a victory in the competition since the opening night.

Dave Chisnall v Michael van Gerwen 

Chisnall’s stint as league leader was short-lived following his loss to Bunting in Nottingham while van Gerwen eventually eased to a 7-3 win against Taylor with an average in excess of 107.

The Dutchman won both of their meetings in last year’s Premier League and is currently on a seven-match winning streak against Chisnall – the St Helens thrower’s last triumph came at the 2013 World Grand Prix. However, their most recent meeting at the Masters in January went to a deciding leg, with van Gerwen needing a 110 average to prevail in an incredible contest.

Inconsistent scoring from Chisnall led to his demise last week and failure to correct this could see him punished again. The world number one has significantly improved his treble-hitting in 2015, a trait that has afforded him more opportunities at doubles, and fewer for his opponents. Chisnall will need to score heavily to keep it close.

Prediction: van Gerwen 7-4 Chisnall

Raymond van Barneveld v Phil Taylor 

Van Barneveld’s defeat to Wade last Thursday has left the defending champion in a perilous position, and his troubles could get worse when he takes on arch-rival Taylor in Glasgow, who is also looking to bounce back after losing a week ago.

The Dutchman secured a first television victory over his nemesis in six years in last year’s semi-final but has been a pale shadow of his former self over recent months, regularly appearing uninterested on stage, and unsure whether to wear glasses or not. Meanwhile, Taylor has produced some up-and-down performances of late but has generally seemed comfortable in the Premier League – where he has played his best.

Much depends on which van Barneveld turns up and if the five-time world champion can start well, this will be a tight affair. A typical Scottish darts crowd can be expected which has a tendency to be anti-English, and boisterous audiences can bother Taylor. But judging on each other’s results this year, and their head-to-head record over the past few seasons, the Englishman should come through comfortably and keep pressure on those ahead of him.

Prediction: Taylor 7-3 van Barneveld

Kim Huybrechts v Gary Anderson

A raucous welcoming for Anderson is guaranteed as he throws his first arrows in his native Scotland as a world champion and after hammering Lewis with a 109 average he starts as favourite against the improving Huybrechts.

The Belgian was narrowly edged out by Wright in Nottingham and finds himself rock-bottom in the league table with just three weeks remaining before two players are eliminated.The two have never clashed on TV before but Anderson holds a 10-4 advantage in their matches on the floor. The Scot is also riding high after claiming a Players Championship win at the weekend in  Barnsley.

An expectant Glasgow could create nerves for Anderson who has been fallible in his home country in the past, and Huybrechts will cash in if given chances. The world champion has little to fear though, and he should cement his position in the top four with two points here.

Prediction: Anderson 7-3 Huybrechts

James Wade v Adrian Lewis 

These two will open the evening’s proceedings and a poor night for Lewis could potentially see him slip into the bottom two. A win over van Barneveld on week six has moved him into the top half of the table, while Lewis has not won in five games.

Wade, fresh from a strong weekend in Barnsley – he won one Players Championship and reached the final of the other – is enjoying a purple patch at the moment and another success here will confirm his playoff credentials. Lewis used a new darts for the first time last week and despite being thrashed by Anderson he did manage an average nigh on 104, which suggests they are worth sticking with.

The two’s extensive rivalry has seen them play 42 times but Wade holds a 6-2 lead in their Premier League encounters – they have also drawn twice. There isn’t too much to choose between them but their records in this competition indicate Wade nicking a tight one.

Prediction: Wade 7-5 Lewis

Peter Wright v Stephen Bunting

After a torrid start Wright has gone unbeaten in his last four outings – winning his first match of the tournament last week – and looks to have finally found an optimum setup with his darts. Bunting has also reversed a poor period, with wins in his last two firing him up into the mid-table.

Wright, who like Anderson is playing on home turf, whitewashed Bunting 10-0 at the UK Open earlier this month but he has lost their other three matches on TV. Both have five points to their name after six weeks, making this an important match as the winner will move close to the top four, while the loser could yet get dragged down into a relegation battle.

This could be the closest bout of the evening with both likely to average around 100, going by the last fortnight. Their scoring should be evenly matched, meaning double-hitting will be even more crucial than normal. The draw is a firm possibility.

Prediction: Peter Wright 6-6 Stephen Bunting

England’s World Cup Campaign: An Optimist’s Review

Judging from much of the media chatter, you could be forgiven for thinking that England have just endured yet another horror show at an ICC event. Failure to secure a victory against a Test playing nation, and bowing out of the competition before the quarter-finals have been the headline grabbers.

However, after looking at the data, it can be deduced that England’s World Cup campaign in Australia and New Zealand has actually been a rip-roaring success. Peter Moores enjoyed his most decorated World Cup as coach – admittedly it was his first, and likely only – while Eoin Morgan recaptured the ability to reach double figures with the bat.

Let’s take a look at each of England’s matches at the event, and why the Barmy Army can make the 10,000-mile trip home in high spirits.

England v Australia – England lost by 111 runs

England’s match with Australia in Melbourne formed part of the curtain-raiser for the tournament and the Three Lions wasted little time in silencing the 84,000-plus crowd. Fearsome bowling from Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes saw them take Australia’s first three wickets for a paltry 70 – a feat unmatched by any other at this year’s World Cup! If not for Aaron Finch, and Glenn Maxwell playing in a way that’s just not cricket, England would have been chasing nowhere near 343.

James Taylor’s 98 left the Poms with much to be encouraged about, and his unfair dismissal – a run-out that screamed of umpiring conspiracy – was evidence of the opposition being terrified England would chase down the further 112 needed in 8.1 overs with one wicket in hand. All in all, a solid start.

England v New Zealand – England lost by 8 wickets

Admittedly, this was hardly the most earth-shattering performance, but there was still plenty to glean from this relatively short display at the office. Winning the toss and batting proved an inspirational decision from Morgan, as England racketed to 100 in 25 overs: well on track for the par score of 250 – wait, it is still 1992 isn’t it? From thereon Tim Southee sent the innings, well, south. But 123 was a total they should have been confident of defending.

It didn’t go quite as planned, yet England could take solace from a killer spell by Chris Woakes, who snaffled two wickets in three overs, with a maiden over to boot. There is no substitute to restricting in-form batsmen when it comes to winning games, and it was Woakes again who delivered, sending Brendon McCullum’s bails flying on only his 25th delivery. Unfortunately, by then he had already tonked 77. Can’t win ’em all.

England v Scotland – England won by 119 runs

England charged to a frighteningly easy win over old foes Scotland. Moeen Ali spanked a Virender Sehwag-esque ton at the top of the order. A day which saw the doubters well and truly silenced. No further comment required.

England v Sri Lanka – England lost by 9 wickets

In a perfect batting display, a Joe Root-powered innings saw England saunter to 309 – superlative to any targets set by the trusty Windows 2000. Root’s 121 was complimented by a late cameo from Jos Buttler, and the duo’s knocks made up for an out-of-form Gary Ballance and a stodgy effort from Morgan.

If they hadn’t spent quite so much time drooling over the soon-to-be-retired Kumar Sangakkara, England perhaps would have claimed a win here, but there were far more important matters at hand. Moeen recorded the second-most economical figures for a spinner who bowled their full 10 overs against Sri Lanka at this World Cup, leaking a mere 50 – only Daniel Vettori conceded fewer. Keeping their opponents batting until the 48th over ensured Sri Lanka were at the crease for longer than in their matches with the two tournament favourites, Australia and New Zealand. A commendable day.

England v Bangladesh – England lost by 15 runs

England narrowly avoided victory against Bangladesh in a contest which typified their tournament. Limiting the Tigers to 275 from their 50 overs – 13 fewer than they managed against the Kiwis – wouldn’t have been possible without James Anderson’s glorious bowling figures of two for 45. It was a score Moores’ side would have been confident of chasing at the interval, with the newly-purchased Windows XP stating they would win providing they scored at least 114 runs from the first 23.1 overs, and lost a maximum of 2.6 wickets.

Once again, forces beyond their control prevented England from keeping their World Cup hopes alive but the Poms had much to cheer about in defeat. England’s innings of 260 was a full 260 more than Australia accumulated against the same opponents – that match was, however, a washout. Early wickets in England’s chase meant Buttler had ample time to make an impact; his 65 from 52 gave his country much to be hopeful about in the future, playing with an aggression never previously seen in his game. Far from an ebbing low, in years to come this match will be viewed as a towering crest for English cricket.

England v Afghanistan – England won by 9 wickets

England culminated their finest World Cup showing for 23 years by pummeling Afghanistan – who will never set foot in a World Cup again if the ICC have their way. Exerting their dominance, England bundled the Afghans out for 111 – their lowest score of the tournament, before biffing off the revised Duckworth/Lewis score with a full seven overs remaining, sending the travelling fans home happily with two points.

Result: England OUT – 5th in Pool A

A mathematical irregularity resulted in two wins from six not being enough to qualify for the next phase of the tournament, something the ICC will undoubtedly try to correct before the 2019 World Cup, which will be held in England and Wales.

However, there are, as usual, many positives to take from England’s curtailed campaign. Due to their early exit, the Test side now have ample time to prepare for their series against the West Indies starting on 13 April. The month lay-off may come as a disappointment, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Which is, yet another positive.

Bowlers hold the key in batsman’s utopia

This article was originally published on Last Word On Sports.

Much has been made about the dominance bat has acquired over ball in One Day cricket—a theme that has only been amplified during this World Cup. The benchmark total of 300 is rapidly being replaced by a younger model, 400—although no one seems to have told England—and in the space of five years, the triple century has usurped the double century as a batsman’s ODI Everest.

When Chris Gayle plundered a sorry Zimbabwe for 215 in Nelson two weeks ago, we witnessed the first ODI 200 that radiated inevitability instead of incredibility. As AB de Villiers shaved five deliveries off Corey Anderson’s fastest hundred in Johannesburg in January—he needed just 31 balls—we took another step towards inexorable batting perfection. David Warner then toyed with the idea of crunching three in Perth last week, as he cantered past 150 with over a third of Australia’s innings to go; admittedly he was “only” battering Afghanistan.

Of the 15 occasions where 400 has been posted by a side in ODI cricket, four have occurred this year, with three from South Africa. Interestingly, four of the five highest totals were recorded in 2006—two by the Proteas. A further 63 totals make the list when including innings in excess of 350, with 27 coming since the turn of the decade. The run-gluts are coming at an unprecedented rate.

However, in the 75 times a target of 350 or greater has been set, only thrice has it proven not to be enough. Scoreboard pressure has, at least, has remained a constant. Sri Lanka looked to be on track to challenge Australia’s 376 in Sydney on Sunday, anchored by yet another seamless Kumar Sangakkara ton, but ultimately, they still fell 65 runs shy of victory.

Analysis of individual statistics would paint a similar picture, there is little point indulging with further mind-boggling statistics. The dawn of batting supremacy has broken—for the first 50 overs anyway.

Therefore is all hope for bowlers lost? Can we conclude that all future pliers of the bowling trade are either masochists or insane? Well, despite the apparent overwhelming evidence, no. In fact, this World Cup has, and will continue to showcase that capable bowlers are worth their weight in gold, fast bowlers in particular. Granted, it is much tougher. Miserly career economy rates are long gone, in that aspect the game has fundamentally changed. Batting powerplays, bigger bats and smaller boundaries suggest this is ICC-induced change, but it doesn’t matter. The contest remains the same.  Good bowling is still good bowling, and it shines as brightly in the new game as it did in the old.

Tim Southee’s seven for 33 against England earlier in the tournament killed the game. In firing out their opponents for 123, New Zealand had killed the game. Similarly in Auckland, Trent Boult’s five wickets gave the Kiwis total command against Australia, dismissing them for 151. It was only another equally impressive bowling effort from Mitchell Starc—who claimed a six-fer—that almost pulled his side back from the brink.

It was Starc who was also vital for Australia when they played Sri Lanka. On a day where 688 runs were racked up, his eight overs for 29 with two late scalps that proved decisive. Conceding fewer than four-an-over choked Sri Lanka’s chase. Every other player in the match went for more than five; four leaked over eight. If just one bowler from the opposition turned in a Starc-like performance, Australia would likely have been restricted to under 350: a score Sri Lanka may well have got close to, considering how ably they handled the first 30 overs of their innings.

Pakistan demonstrated that small totals can still be defended, even against the batting might of South Africa. The choking tag is always bandied around when the latter loses, and in pursuit of 232 they perhaps should have fared better, but Pakistan won this match more than South Africa lost it. Aggressive, fast bowling—a Pakistani trademark—snared wickets, which allowed them to secure the win with the Proteas unable to utilise fourteen overs of their innings. Pakistan’s ferocity with the ball, albeit not at the level of cricket’s Class of ’92 (the Imran Khan-led side who trumped all the last time the World Cup was held on these shores) was a match-winner.

It is not altogether facetious to suggest that the best way to counter attacking batting is through attacking bowling. Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps are living proof. Five times New Zealand have bowled their opposition out this World Cup, five times they have won. Instead of sitting back and protecting strong starts, they have gone for the jugular—employing slip fielders well into the middle overs has not been uncommon. It’s an intriguing policy and one that could prove a trailblazer for future ODI bowling.

Forget slow bouncers and all the other “variations” that in a previous era would have been treated with the disdain they deserve, batsmen have cottoned on. For bowlers, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but perfecting their original art. Attempting to contain batsmen has become a largely fruitless exercise, although pacers would be well served finding appropriate medication for their yorker allergy. In modern ODI cricket teams must seek to bowl the opposition out at all costs. It’s a high-risk strategy but if a side bats 50 overs they’ll most likely end up well into the 300s anyway—a score that is rarely chased. In this World Cup alone, only three times out of 18 has a 300-plus score been successfully tracked down.

So, working from these musings, who is best placed to take the plaudits at this cricketing carnival? New Zealand are the obvious candidates. McCullum’s men are playing like their rugby counterparts have so often. His brazen approach with the bat has paid dividends so far while Boult and Southee are spearheading the bowling attack with great aplomb: they are currently first and second respectively on the list of leading wicket takers for the tournament.  However, the hosts are yet to break their semi-final duck at World Cups and this run is very much mirroring their 1992 run, the year they last hosted the event, where they topped their group before exiting in the last four.

Australia possess extraordinary batting depth, to an extent where Brad Haddin can come in as low as eight, but they came unstuck against New Zealand in Auckland, and also looked shaky at times with the ball against Sri Lanka: Starc has bailed them out somewhat. Moreover, batting first in all four games has done little to assess their versatility credentials. That said, home advantage and a winning know-how will stand them in good stead as the competition reaches the knockout phases.

Claiming that South Africa have underachieved in the One Day arena would find almost unanimous agreement, and despite the compelling argument for them to break their World Cup duck in 2015, the seeds for another choke are already in place. Untouchable when given first-strike, they have looked a side confused chasing, falling 130 short of India’s 307 in Melbourne, before being skittled for a paltry 202 against Pakistan. Once again, an ICC tournament looks like being South Africa’s kryptonite.

As goes the saying in the sub-continent: “If India and Pakistan never partitioned they would never be beaten,” for the former has the batting might while the Pakistanis have historically reigned supreme with the ball. Alas, we will never know if that presumption would hold true but both have reasons to be optimistic ahead of the latter stages.

Unfancied by many, especially after their tri-series with Australia and England, India have once again turned up to an ICC event and performed. Unbeaten so far, their quick bowlers dismantled West Indies and convincing all-round displays against Pakistan and South Africa gives the defending champions much to be confident about. A likely quarter-final with Bangladesh is an added bonus for MS Dhoni’s men.

Meanwhile, Pakistan announced their revival with a blitzing of South Africa’s power-packed batting lineup in Auckland. They may no longer have the Wasims and Waqars, or the Miandads and Inzamams, but it appears that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men have found some belief. Pakistan’s two ICC victories (1992 World Cup and 2009 World Twenty20) arose following hapless starts. In beating South Africa, we saw glimpses of the old Pakistan. The fiery trio of Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali caused chaos with the ball while Sarfraz Ahmed’s inclusion brought a world-record six catches behind the stumps as well as a mood-setting 49 at the top of the order. Their bowling makes up for what their batting has so far lacked—strength in the former may prove vital. A long shot maybe, but the mercurial Pakistan can never be discounted. They thrive on adversity.

Cricket may be hurtling towards a batsman’s utopia, but in a perverse way, it makes a star bowler all that more instrumental. The ability to thwart the McCullum assault is a far rarer trait than being able to blast the ball beyond the boundary, as is the nous to protect a sub-par total. No, the bowler is still essential. It is far too soon to be scribing their obituary.

Premier League Darts: Taylor and van Gerwen to meet in Nottingham

Newly-crowned UK Open champion Michael van Gerwen will look to extend his unbeaten run in this year’s Premier League to six weeks against Phil Taylor in Nottingham on Thursday evening.

Dave Chisnall – the league’s early leader – takes on Stephen Bunting, while defending champion Raymond van Barneveld clashes with James Wade.

Adrian Lewis has the chance to condemn Gary Anderson to a third TV defeat in a week, before Kim Huybrechts rounds off the night against UK Open finalist Peter Wright.

Phil Taylor v Michael van Gerwen

Fresh from another TV title, van Gerwen comes into this showdown as the form horse in world darts. The Dutchman was held to a draw by Wright in Exeter last week, but it was their post-match fracas which stole the headlines, while Taylor overturned an early 4-1 deficit to defeat Wade.

Both are near the peak of their powers at the moment meaning a close affair here is likely. Taylor holds a 26-11 career advantage over van Gerwen but the latter has only been beaten once in their five Premier League encounters. Taylor, however, has prevailed in their last two meetings on TV.

Averages north of 100 should be expected, hence 12-darters will probably be required to break throw. Van Gerwen’s scoring has been heavier and more consistent of late, an edge that makes him a narrow favourite ahead of this contest.

Prediction: van Gerwen 7-5 Taylor

Stephen Bunting v Dave Chisnall 

Bunting and Chisnall will begin the evening’s action in a repeat of their UK Open bout at the weekend – which Bunting won 9-6. Chisnall has been superb so far in this competition, topping the table with nine points, and he averaged over 110 in beating Anderson a week ago.

Meanwhile, Bunting has started to regain some confidence lately, backing up his first Premier League win over Lewis with a run to the last four at the UK, before losing 10-0 to Wright. His victory over Chisnall in Minehead will encourage him ahead of their match in Nottingham, and with only four nights remaining until the bottom two are eliminated, the Liverpudlian could do with some points to break clear of the four-way tie for bottom.

It will be tough for Bunting to match Chisnall’s scoring power though, and providing the league leader doesn’t miss doubles – as he did at the weekend – he should secure another win.

Prediction: Chisnall 7-3 Bunting

Gary Anderson v Adrian Lewis 

After losing to Chisnall in Exeter and suffering a horror loss to Mervyn King at the UK Open – he missed 13 match darts – Anderson aims to get back to winning ways this week against Lewis, who has also had a disappointing week.

World champion Anderson is currently fourth in the table with six points while Lewis has managed four, despite winningly only once (against van Barneveld) in five outings. The Scot leads their Premier League head-to-head 3-2, most famously beating Lewis in the 2011 final, and they have drawn three times.

Anderson’s doubling has been haunting him recently and failure to hit them early could see him struggle again. However, Lewis will have to improve on his 91 average against Bunting to punish him. It’s unlikely he’ll play that poorly again though, therefore this should be close.

Prediction: Anderson 6-6 Lewis

Raymond van Barneveld v James Wade

Van Barneveld looked uninterested in his 9-1 hammering by Wright at the UK Open and looks a shadow of the man who has won the world championship five times. His Premier League defence has also yet to kick-start and he finds himself joint-last after five weeks.

Minehead was not the most lucrative of weekends for Wade either who bowed out in the last 16 to eventual semi-finalist Andrew Gilding. Licking his wounds from a frustrating loss to Taylor last Thursday, a fragile van Barneveld presents Wade with a good opportunity to capture two points.

With van Barneveld seemingly more concerned about battling his mind rather than his opponent, a solid showing from Wade could be all he requires to win. Much depends on which van Barneveld turns up however, and if he plays like he did to dismantle Lewis 9-3 at the UK, he may win just as convincingly.

Prediction: Wade 7-5 van Barneveld

Kim Huybrechts v Peter Wright

Huybrechts sealed his first Premier League success in Exeter but faces a difficult task if he is to notch another in Wright. The Belgian reached the last 16 at the UK Open where he was beaten by van Gerwen, while Wright claimed a stunning victory over Taylor before coming unstuck in the final against Huybrechts’ victor.

With both footing the league table, defeat for either could see them cut adrift from the pack, a perilous position with Judgment Night a mere three weeks away. Wright is the only man yet to win a match in the tournament but he has drawn his last three games.

Huybrechts looks to have become comfortable with the Premier League arenas, which suggests he will turn in another decent performance. Still, Wright must fancy his chances of picking up a first league win and building on what has been an impressive few weeks.

Prediction: Wright 7-4 Huybrechts

Holi – The World’s Greatest Festival

Towering stacks of vibrant coloured powders can be seen lining the streets in the days before, children are fervently snapping up pichkaris (water-guns) ahead of the big day, while the more mischievous may look to acquire some bhang. This is Hindustan’s party. This is Holi.

On Friday, India will once again stop for their annual festival of love, celebrating the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil – or more namely, Prahlada’s triumph over Hiranyakashipu. A chance to spend time with family and friends, one of the country’s most important customs.

I was lucky enough to play Holi last year in the Pink City of Jaipur, during my tour of Rajasthan and two-month excursion of India. It was the most memorable moment of the trip by a stretch – usurping the Amber Fort, the Golden City of Jaisalmer, and even the iconic Taj Mahal. An almost exclusive diet of paneer and vegetables didn’t always sit well, but it was an acceptable sacrifice for this mesmeric journey.

The locals, plastered in the most vivacious hues, while dancing unburdened around the forts, palaces, and gardens. For one day, this city and countless others halted to rejoice in unrivalled happiness. “Bura na mano, Holi hai!” (Don’t be upset, it’s Holi!) you’ll be told, as someone splatters you.

There are plenty of parties organised for tourists offering the chance to play “safe Holi”, but the real fun – albeit somewhat more boisterous – takes place on the streets. Things get wild, and from afar it can seem rather intimidating, but you have to go with it. A couple of hours dancing Bollywood style, drinking, and throwing colours before the kids proceed to soak you with their pichkaris will leave you looking like a modern-art canvas and probably knackered, but koi baat nahi. It all comes out in the wash.

Holi Festival
Playing Holi in Jaipur. Photo credit: India Parish

It’s not always fun and games though. Holi has come under fire for not being safe for women and a few have even labeled it a “festival of groping”. Too many bhang lassis (a cannabis-infused drink) can lead to some pretty sleazy behaviour but many of the offenders appeared just to be opportunists. In truth, as a male, it wasn’t an issue I gave much consideration at the time. As to all travelling, the usual advice of “keeping your wits about you” applies.

Predictably, light-skinned tourists stand out and regularly attract attention from the inquisitive – which is most people in India! – although it is nearly always harmless and in fact, quite welcoming. Conversation is an underrated art, and one technology is endangering. Indians are extremely proud of their country and as people, things aren’t perfect, far from it, but at times you could be forgiven for thinking they were.

Things are changing. Jaipur’s traditional Elephant Festival didn’t take place last year after pressure from animal rights groups although it looks to be going ahead this time around.

Holi has become a more international experience over recent years. I was one of many Western people who had made the trek, some had come solely for the festival. Europe and America have also attempted their own imitations. But they are just that. Imitations. Only the frolicking and intoxication remains. They are glorified paint parties with a pretence of cultural enrichment that reek merely of commercial gain. You can take India out of Holi, but you can’t take Holi out of India… Well, it’s big in Nepal too.

No, to immerse yourself and truly understand the magic you have to bite the bullet and go. For all the pictures that utilise the whole spectrum, nothing beats being there. And as I look at the paint-stained shirt hanging in the wardrobe, I long for the day I can return and do it all again.