Explaining cricket to an American
Cricket is a game played by two teams of eleven players unlike the nine of baseball which, for some reason known only to aficionados, only fields nine out of the 15 players in the team. It may consist of one or two innings per side unlike baseball which may have up to nine. The cricket game starts by the two captains walking out onto the pitch, looking knowledgeably at the grass pitch and the sky overhead before tossing a coin to decide which team goes in first. There is no such ritual in baseball in which the visitors always bat first.
The first two players of the team that are in come out and try and hit the ball several times before they are out (or not out, which we will come to later) — when they go back in to be replaced by the next player of the in side who walks out to come in. When ten of the players of the side that is in are out or if the batting captain declares the innings closed, the teams change places so that the team that was in now comes out while two members of the opposing side, which is now in, come out. They stay in until they are out.
And that’s the easy bit.
The game is played under a set of 42 rules which we call Laws. Many of these Laws are simple enough such as Law 3 (a)(i) polishing the ball is allowed provided that no artificial substance is used and that such polishing wastes no time. Other Laws have occasionally led to violence on the part of the spectators such as that governing the decision by the umpire of Leg Before Wicket (LBW). This Law (number 36) states that — “If the ball is bowled and it hits the batsman first without the bat hitting it then an LBW decision is possible. However for the umpire to give this out he must first look at some of the factors stated in the cricket rules. The first thing the umpire need to decide is would the ball have hit the wickets if the batsman was not there. If his answer to this is yes and the ball was not pitched on the leg side of the wicket he can safely give the batsman out. However if the ball hits the batsman outside the line of off stump while he was attempting to play a stroke then he is not out.”
And that is quite enough about the Laws of Cricket.
The pitch is a rectangular area, usually grass, marked by four white lines 22 yards apart — or 20.1168 metres if you are a foreigner. Three round sticks of wood, called stumps are driven into the ground on the outer white lines which are known as the bowling creases while the inner lines are known, for no apparent reason, as the popping creases. Two small decoratively carved pieces of wood are then balanced on top of the stumps. These are called the bails and, if these are removed legally according to the Laws, the batsman is out and goes back in to the pavilion. The remainder of the playing area has a common name with baseball in being called the outfield which is surrounded by a boundary marked by a rope or other such material.
Runs can be scored by running up and down the pitch while a fielder chases the ball or, if the bowler steps over the popping crease when delivering the ball it is called a “no ball”, adds one run to the opposing side and cannot get the batsman out by hitting his wicket, being caught, stumped or judged to have been LBW. He can however be run out. More of this later. If the batsman hits the ball over the boundary he does not need to run as he is awarded four runs if the ball touched the ground before reaching the boundary or six runs if it clears the boundary rope without touching the ground. In the event of both the batsman and the wicket keeper failing to make contact with the ball whichh runs away into the outfield, the batsmen may run and add to their team’s score as ‘byes’ which are itemised on the scoresheet as Extras.
Unlike baseball we do not use such terms as offence and defence preferring to be less aggressive and describe the teams as either the batting or fielding side. The nine baseball players have their allotted positions on the field such as shortstop. first base and pitcher. (The only pitcher you will find on a cricket field contains the lemonade during the drinks break.) We don’t have batters in cricket, they are called batsmen, although with the march of diversity we may have to refer to them as batspersons. Despite the fielding side in cricket only having eleven players there are more than 35 different positions available to the captain to deploy in the hope of getting the opposing batsman out. There obviously has to be a bowler and a wicket keeper to gather up the balls missed by the batsman but other possibilities include a third man, deep gully, mid off, cover point and leg slip. Cricketers seem to have an obsession with legs. We have already discussed the difficulty of being Leg Before Wicket but there is a leg side of the pitch, a square leg, short leg, fine leg, leg slip, leg bye and leg gully among several more. There are both silly mid offs and silly mid ons which frankly become dangerously stupid if placed too close to an aggressive batsman.
The batsman has a variety of way in which he can lose his wicket — or get out. He can simply be bowled, caught (so long as the ball has not touched the ground before the fielder catches it), stumped if his back foot is outside the popping crease when thee bails are removed by the wicket keeper, LBW as before, obstruction of play, hitting his own wicket with his bat or person or run out. This latter is another curiosity of the Laws of Cricket. If a batsman fails to reach the popping crease at the end of the run when the fielder breaks the wicket with the ball he is judged to be not in and therefore run out. This is a decision made by the umpire who can declare the batsman not out and therefore remains in.
But does the attempted run count towards the team’s score? Not if it is the first run but if the two batsmen cross each other on the pitch during a subsequent run then the last run does count. Got it? Probably not.
If there is any question of a batsman being out in any form — except having his stumps knocked out of the ground by a fast bowler — the fielding side will throw their arms in the air and shout “Ows’at”, a diminutive form of “How’s that?” asking the umpire for a decision. The more players shouting the word while gesticulating furiously puts greater pressure on the deciding umpire which brings psychology into the game and increases the demand on the stress counselling industry. Keith Miller, the great Australian all-rounder of the 1950s, put it beautifully when talking of the pressures on the modern day cricketer, he said “Pressure? These guys don’t know what pressure means. Pressure is when you are out of ammunition in your Hurricane fighter with two Messerschmitt 109s up your arse.” (He had flown fighters in WWII for the RAAF.)
A batsman will often perform a ritual on arriving at the crease. He may prod the grass in front of him with the end of his bat to little avail and then he may survey the field giving him ideas of where there might be a gap through which he could score runs. These ideas will be completely forgotten after the first ball by an opening bowler whistles past his left ear at 80 miles an hour.
Batsmen come in different forms. There are the openers who have the ability to deal with a shiny new ball that takes only 0.57 seconds to arrive after leaving the bowler’s hand. Of this time 0.3 seconds are taken up by focussing his gaze leaving him just 0.27 seconds to decide what to do — leave it, drive it, duck, guide it behind the wicket, cut it late, fine or square, hook, pull, tickle, glance, sweep or even reverse sweep it. It is the job of the openers to knock the shine off the ball and tire out the opposing fast bowlers leaving the usually more accomplished batsmen to face the less aggressive bowlers of the opposing side.
Bowlers and pitchers
There are small but significant differences between pitching and bowling. The distance between the pitcher’s mound, itself being ten inches higher than the batter’s plate, and the distance between the mound and thee plate is 60ft 6ins compared to cricket’s 66ft. The baseball batter can increase this distance by standing further back in his box. A major league baseball pitcher can throw a fast ball at over 105mph while the best cricket fast bowlers rarely reach more than 95–100mph. A baseball has 108 double stitches of waxed red thread while the cricket ball has a single seam running around the centre of the ball which may be red, white or perhaps pink. This seam plays an important role in the art of bowling.
Baseball has its starting pitchers, relief pitchers, relievers and setup men as varieties of pitcher drawn from the full team of fifteen while the cricket captain only has eleven players of whom only four or five may be recognised bowlers. Cricket bowlers may bowl fast, seamers, swingers, off, leg and top spin, googlies and Chinamen. The first three are the speed merchants who rely upon the weather conditions and the state of the ball while the latter are the spinners who can not only make the ball behave differently in the air but turn it unexpectedly off the ground. Spinners themselves come in two forms — the finger spinner and the wrist spinner. A leg spinner is almost always a wrist spinner who can make a leg spinning ball act like an off spinner by delivering the ball out of the back of his hand. This is known as the googly or, if performed by a left-hander, a Chinaman. With me so far?
While the American pitcher lets fly without the ball touching the ground the cricket bowler uses the ground to deceive the batsman because a full-toss is an invitation to score runs. Being an all-rounder cricketer does refer to his midriff but his above average ability with both bat and ball.
Cricket umpires wear long white coats like aspiring doctors without the stethoscopes. The English weather being what it is they may carry the bowlers warm sweaters round their necks when the temperature drops into single figures. There used to be two umpires. One at the bowler’s end and the other at some distance from the batsman’s rear end where he is described as the square leg umpire. (It’s that leg obsession again.) In the modern game we have four umpires as well as a referee. The third umpire has access to video replays in the event of a dispute while the fourth is in charge of the ball used in the match — and the onerous duty of taking drinks to the on-field umpires.
The match referee’s responsibility is to ensure that the ICC Cricket Code of Conduct is upheld during the game, to assess any breaches of the Code, and to hand out penalties for any breaches. He has no influence on the result of the match itself.
Then there is the increasing use of technology such as Hawk-Eye which tracks the ball after its delivery; the Snick-o-Meter that detects any sound of the bat touching the ball; the Hot Spot which analyses contact between bat and ball and television replays. Technology has even taken over the umpire’s responsibility for counting the number of balls bowled in an over in the form of a CUC (or Cricket Umpire Counter). Previously umpires would carry six small stones in their pockets and transfer one from one pocket to the other when a ball has been delivered. Presumably this was considered unscientific and therefore replaced by an electronic device. The last pieces of electronic assistance carried by the umpires are the light meters. These are used to decide whether the light is sufficient for the game to continue safely. If not, the players remove themselves from the field often to extreme annoyance of several members of the crowd who have paid a large sum of money to watch a game of cricket.
Oh dear, gone are the days when a batsman acknowledged that he was out and walked to the pavilion. There is too much money involved for that sort of behaviour today — which is rather sad in a way. It’s just not cricket.
At the end of it all, it astounds me how much international clubs are prepared to pay someone to hit a round object with a bit of wood to the delight of idolising crowds. Footballers are paid even more and they are only asked to use their feet and heads. The latter being in the physical sense and not in the form of intelligence, although there are a few exceptions.
I belong to a gentler, more courteous time when a man’s word was his bond and dinosaurs like me roamed the earth.