by Abigail Cloud
Goldie Hawn: “Uh, Mr. Peter Sellers how do you play cricket?”
Peter Sellers:”Well, Goldie, darling, it’s very difficult to sum up in a few words…”
This clip from Laugh-In was my introduction to the noble sport of cricket. What followed from Sellers was a purely incomprehensible description that Hawn then likens to the way we (Americans) elect a president. But the joke is also about many Americans’ inability to understand cricket. I, my friends, your cricket correspondent, am here to solve that problem.
My credentials are few: I got slightly addicted in July and August when The Ashes Test Match Series was going on in England. I was puttering–yes, puttering–around on ESPN, and made the mistake? happy accident? or looking at the cricket scores, because a show episode I’d recently watched (Midsomer Murders) involved the sport. Perhaps you’re like me and you can’t stand not understanding things, so you’ll see why I then had to go to the Google and sort out the algebra I was surveying. I watched a few videos, then happened on the BBC Radio 5 coverage of The Ashes Test at Lord’s Cricket Ground (go ahead–say it again. Lord’s Cricket Ground. Doesn’t that feel good?). And…I was hooked.
It wasn’t even so much the sport (we’ll get to that in a minute, I swear), but the commentating. I watch so much British television you’d think I’d be unaffected, but in seconds these people took me to the green grounds, where I sat in a linen dress and a floppy hat drinking tea or perhaps something a mite stronger, and watched England pulverize Australia. In reality, I was in my bed as it was rather early in the morning, but the point is those accents, English and Australian, and the sheer love of the sport and the day sucked me straight in.
If you need an aural aid, and really, you do, check out Henry Blofeld, aka Blowers, but close your eyes while you do so, or it’s not as fun. Also check out BBC Radio’s highlights of the Test Match Series. My favorite is when Blowers gives us a view of the larger world, the pigeons and butterflies flying about, the man in the crane, the traffic…and calls us his dear old things.
A Test Match takes place over the course of several days, so I had ample opportunity to study the basics of the game. And since there are multiple tests in the series, I had even more time to absorb the subtleties. On this blog, for your edification and preparation–The Ashes continues in November down in Australia, so study up–I will detail the goings-on of cricket.
Got your linen suit on? Sweater vest? Cap? Brilliant. Off we go.
We’re playing on a ground, with the major action taking place on the rectangular pitch in the center. At either end of the pitch is a wicket–three sticks with wee slats across the top called bails–and a batsman (like baseball’s batter). The bowler (like a baseball pitcher) hurls a ball at a wicket. A bowler will bowl 6 balls (collectively called an over) before switching with the next bowler, who will hurl in the other direction, hence two wickets and two batsmen. The rest of the bowler’s team is spread out on the grounds ready to field.
With me so far? Let’s break it down: What Americans need to understand about cricket is that both teams are playing offense and defense at the same time.
The batsman is trying to protect the wicket/bails from getting dislodged by the bowler, while also trying to score runs by whacking the ball out of reach of the fielders and running back and forth across the pitch (like running bases, but more energy-efficient).
The bowler and fielders are trying to dislodge the wicket, while also preventing the batter from scoring runs, and trying to get him out. A bowler bowls in tricky fashions to keep the batsman from getting a good crack, and the fielders will try to catch any hits.
Once you know that, everything that happens on the pitch makes much more sense. In the grand scheme of things, the batting team will rack up as many runs as possible before 10 of their 11 men get out. The bowling team will bowl and field as strenuously as possible to get 10 men out before the run total becomes insurmountable for their turn to bat. That’s not so hard, right?
I know, I know: It’s more complicated than that, and in further blogs we’ll delve into more detail on outs, runs, fielding positions, breaks, and different forms of the game. Now, though, my dear old things, you have enough to launch yourselves gleefully into the domestic and international cricket matches currently taking place around the world! Check out espncricinfo.com…just be prepared to stay up late or get up early if you want to catch Australian, Indian, or South African matches!