Explaining cricket to an American

Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash

The Game

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


The Players

Getting Out

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

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.

The 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.



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Adrian Arnold

Retired veterinary surgeon now a collector of trivia. Married to a wonderful wife, four children and four grandchildren. Author of A Veterinary Life on Amazon.