Dear Gentle Reader: Like the refugees in Casablanca, you have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this third and final post dealing with cricket. Your wait is over. Soon you will be in Lisbon, metaphorically speaking.
You’ll recall that the first post in the trilogy, An American Game, argued that, although cricket has pretty much fallen out of favor in the USA, there continues to exist a sub-culture of cricket playing in America. Part II, It’s Sorta Like 43-Man Squamish, compared cricket to an absurd game invented in 1965 by Mad Magazine writer, Tom Koch. Similar to 43-Man Squamish, cricket is defined by a series of seemingly nonsensical Laws (as one cricketer told Dennis Ryan and me, “Monopoly has rules; cricket has laws.” The Laws are published in the blue handbook under the auspices of the Marylebone Cricket Club, the keeper of the flame since 1788.
I confess that I was making fun of cricket when I compared it to 43-Man Squamish, although I don’t think the comparison is entirely unfair. But, after watching some videos about cricket including some video clips of cricket matches, I have come to appreciate the basics of the game, even if I don’t entirely understand the nuances.
At its core, it is a fairly simple game. Let us begin with the basics. Cricket is a contest between two teams, called sides, composed of 11 players each. It is a bat and ball game the object of which is to score runs . Whichever side scores the most runs wins. How simple is that! Well, there’s a little more to it than that, of course.
Cricket is played on a more or less oval field, called the ground. Here’s a diagram of a typical field:
Note the Squamish-like positions that the non-batting side can assume on the field.The Deep Gully is something like the Brooder in Squamish. The Silly Mid On and Off are more or less like the Overblats. Myself, I am particularly fond of the Forward Short Leg.
The center rectangle is the pitch. The pitch is sort of like the space between the pitcher’s mound and home plate in baseball. The pitch is 22 feet long and 10 feet wide. The ground between the ends of a pitch is hard-packed mowed grass like the tennis court at Wimbledon. Unlike baseball, the cricket ball, more often than not, is bounced on the pitch. “Bouncers” hitting a batsman in the head have proven to be fatal on occasion. At each end of the pitch are positioned three stakes, called stumps, upon which rest two bails. Together the stumps and the bails are referred to as a wicket. Here’s a wicket:
The distance between the two outside stumps is nine inches. The height of the stumps and the bails is 28 inches. The objective of the bowling side is to take down the wickets. The objective of the batting side is to defend the wickets.
The essence of the game is that while one side is being pitched to, called bowled, trying to score runs by hitting the bowled ball, the other side is in the field trying, in a variety of ways, to take down the wicket. Only two players of the side that is batting are on the field: the scoring batsman, and the non-scoring batsman. All 11 players of the bowling team are on the field. Here’s a helpful diagram.
The point of the game is that the batsman is attempting to defend his wickets while the bowler is attempting to knock the wicket down (take a wicket). A batsman can bat the ball all over the field; there is no foul ball such as in baseball. The batsman bats until he is out (his wicket is taken). When all 11 players on the batting side are out (well, 10 actually because you can’t have only a single batsman on the pitch), or, more precisely, when ten wickets are taken down, the side that’s been in the field has its turn at bat. Note that there are two batsmen at either end of the pitch. When the batsman who is being bowled to hits the ball, he and the non-striking batsman (at the other end of the pitch) run back and forth as many times as they can. Each exchange scores a point. The goal of a really good batsman is to score a 100 points before he’s out. The official record is 400 points for one batsman. Some of the ways a batsman is out are noted on the diagram above. It’s more complicated than that—there are at least 10 ways a batter can be put out—but you get the basic idea from the diagram. By the way, a batsman who is put out is said to have been dismissed. Also, by the way, a batsman doesn’t have to run if he thinks he might be dismissed if he and the non-striking batsman are running. The batsman also gets six points if he hits the ball in the air beyond the boundary of the ground; if the ball rolls over the boundary, he gets four points. I believe, however, that if a batsman is awarded six or four points, no other runs are scored so running back and forth on the pitch is of no value.
Given that a good batsman may be batting for a long time, and if you have 11 good batsmen, well, a cricket match could conceivably take a long time. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that the longest official cricket match was played between South Africa and England in Durban in 1939. The game commenced on March 3 and continued for nine days until March 14. England needed 41 runs to win at the close of the ninth day, but the match was a draw because the English players had to leave to catch their boat back to England.
Nowadays, the length of the match is agreed upon before the match starts. For example, in so-called test matches, the agreed-upon time is five days. Sides will play as many as eight hours a day, not including tea breaks. When the five days are up, the match is over. So, while there is no rigid “clock” as in American football, cricket matches do have an implicit time limit.
If a cricket match is not completely finished when time runs out, the match is a draw, no matter how lopsided the score may be. You could have the situation where a good side could bat and bat for five days in a test match, scored hundreds of runs and the other side hasn’t batted yet. But after five days, the game’s over and it’s a draw because the Laws of Cricket say that you have to take all ten wickets of the other side.
There is a way around this. It’s called “declaring.” At any time the captain of the side that is batting may “declare” that their innings are over, regardless of where the side may be in the batting order. The formerly batting side immediately takes the field, and the other side has its turn at bat. Remember, the batting side has to score runs, but it also has to take the ten wickets of the other side as well.
In the match that Dennis and I watched on Grantchester Meadow, the sides had agreed that they would play only two hours. Food and drink would be served at 4 o’clock. Game over. We did not stay around to see what the outcome of that friendly match was.
Let me explain one other concept, that of “overs.” A cricket inning is divided into “overs.” In one over, a bowler delivers six balls from the same side of the cricket pitch. When this is done, a different bowler delivers six balls from the other side. That’s the next over. Then a different bowler from that one (might be the first bowler, but doesn’t have to be) bowls the next over from the first side again. Sometimes a cricket match is timed by an agreed upon number of “overs,” 20 or 50 being common.
Well, that’s basically it. Shall we review? Cricket is played by two sides of 11. Each side is usually up twice. The first side is up, they send two players (batsmen) to the field. The two batsmen stand at either end of the rectangular pitch. The bowler delivers the first ball of the first over. The scoring batsman tries to hit the ball and/or defend his wicket. He hits the ball in any direction in an oval-shaped field. If he hits the ball, he does not have to run. If he hits the ball a little, he and the non-striking batsman run back and forth on the pitch scoring runs. If he hits the ball far enough, he may get a “boundary.” Six points if the ball goes over the boundary on the fly, four points if it rolls over the boundary. If the batsman is dismissed (wicket knocked over, fly ball caught, etc.) he leaves the field and is replaced by the next player in the batting order. When ten men are out, the innings is over and the other side is up. When each side has been up twice, the game is over. If it’s a test match, five days have elapsed. The side with the most runs wins. As in baseball, if the last side is having their last innings (“bottom of the ninth”) and they surpass the other side’s run count, the game ends immediately at that point.
On the day that Dennis and I wandered onto the cricket ground of the Grantchester Cricket Club, we were invited to sit on the sidelines and watch. Our host was John Anderson, or “Johnny” was he introduced himself. Johnny is 62 and a retired Cambridge policeman, a Bobby. “Johnny’s a Bobby,” said one of the other club members on the sideline. At one point, Johnny got up and came back with a cricket ball and bat, the characteristics of which he described to us.
Then he said to Dennis, ” Put your camera down.” and he gestured to Dennis to follow him. I knew what Johnny had in mind and I relieved Dennis of his camera. Johnny was going to give Dennis a lesson in holding, swinging, and eventually, hitting the cricket ball. And, by golly, Dennis took the instruction well and after a couple of misses, smacked the ball pretty impressively. You will note Dennis’s form in the featured image above. Johnny declared Dennis a “cricket natural” of such raw power the likes of which he had never seen before. Johnny was proposing to set Dennis up in a nice set of whites, beginning by slapping his hat on Dennis’s head. Is it too much to say that Johnny was nearly weeping? Yes, I suppose it is.
But the Lidgate-Ousden side objected, citing some obscure Law of Cricket from the Blue Book, and threatened to take the keg of beer they had provided and go home. Since beer and food are the main reasons that these friendly matches are played, Johnny snatched back his hat and declared that Dennis’s cricket career, at least with the Grantchester Cricket Club, was over. I made up this part.
The Preamble to the MCC Laws of Cricket reads: Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself.
The spirit of the game was alive on the cricket ground of Grantchester Meadow that famous afternoon that Dennis and I, having taken our lunch at the Orchard Tea Room, wandered onto the Grantchester Meadow and into history. The members of the Grantchester Cricket Club, Johnny Anderson in particular, could not have been more gracious to us. Members of both sides chatted with us before the game began and the Grantchester side invited us to sit with them.
For a brief time, Dennis—who was born and raised in Connecticut, and, therefore, is truly a Connecticut Yankee in King Johnny’s Court—and I felt as though we were characters in a Mark Twain story, part of the long and proud, if still somewhat baffling, tradition that is cricket.