August 12, 2002
Two Peoples, Separated by a Common Language

In spite of the fact I can "engrish" British-isms at times, I think I'm the only person in my family who can watch "trainspotting" without needing the closed-captions turned on. And yet, today I stumbled onto this in the sports section of

England v. India: India move closer to safety in the second Test after Rahul Dravid reaches his first century against England.

I understand every word in that headline, and yet the sentence makes no sense to me. Clicking the link lead me to yet another incomprehensible page. But at this point I was smiling, because via the picture I knew they were talking about cricket. What I thought was funny was I noticed not once does the article mention it's talking about cricket.

Cricket is famous for being nearly incomprehensible to Americans, but I'll submit baseball and (American) football are just as screwy. We grew up with the latter, so the rules just seeped in.

Long ago a company I worked for had a division based just outside London. The brits came over for one of those horrid "7 habits" retreats in the country, and one of them brought a cricket set. The basics seemed easy enough:

X number of fielders and a pitcher on one side, a batter on the other. You score by smacking the ball and then running back and forth between two posts, which were about twenty feet apart (this is where it gets foggy... they're probably further apart than that). I think you could be tagged out, but only if you were between the posts. If the fielders caught the ball you were also out. If the ball hit the "wicket" (a stand of three sticks behind you with another stick set across the top of them) you were out. No bases, no "strikes" or "balls". I'm not completely sure how the game ended, but apparently they go on for days. The ball was really small, as I recall about the size of a golf ball, and the bat was flat and had two sides, more like a paddle.

And that was pretty much it, or at least all they'd tell us about at any rate. The toughest part for us Americans was hanging onto the damned bat once you got a hit. In baseball it's automatic to toss the thing and run like hell, but if you do that in cricket you can't score. The brits thought we Americans were amazingly good fielders, but completely hopeless pitchers. Eventually one of the mechanics got up and he split the cheapie ball the set came with, so we had to put it all away. But it was actually quite a lot of fun!

Anyway, I know I mangled the rules, probably badly. Hopefully Robert UK can stop laughing long enough to explain how it all really works. :)

Posted by scott at August 12, 2002 11:15 AM

eMail this entry!

However ever badly we think you Americans misunderstand us, you always seem to fail to live up to our expectations. This is game you've actually played?

Cricket is played by two teams of eleven men. One team fields while the other bats, when all the batsmen are out the teams change roles. When the second team's batsmen are all out the innings has been completed.

The wicket is the small part of the field where the batting and bowling happens. The stumps consist of three uprights and two short bales that bridge between the uprights. Hardly anyone bothers with bales, usually the ball touching the uprights is regarded as equivalent to knocking off the bales. The term wicket is sometimes used to refer to the stumps.

Batsmen play in pairs, although only one is on strike. The bowler bowls at the stumps and the batsman strikes the ball away. In the time that the ball is in the outfield the batsmen run between the stumps, which are supposed to be 22 yards apart (although again, no-one actually measures it - and 22 yards is far too far to be fun). Four feet infront of each of the stumps is a line called the crease. Each time the batsmen cross in the middle they score one run. If the ball runs over the field boundary (traditionally marked by a thick rope) they score 4, if the ball lands out of bounds, without touching the ground first, that's 6 runs.

Batters can be out in a number of ways. As you say, a catch is out. If the bowler knocks the bales off, that's out - although you rarely see players bowled in First Class cricket, aiming for the stumps gives away too much to the batsman. If the fielders return the ball while the batsmen are running and use it to knock the bales off before the batsman touches the crease, that's 'run out'. (This is why you keep your bat - trailing the bat infront of you across the crease counts as 'safe').

The one you didn't mention (your British chums probably chickened out!) is leg before wicket. This is on a par with the various offside rules in other sports. Basically you must use your bat to protect the stumps, not your legs. If the ball strikes your leg (your legs are protected by wide guards called pads), then that's out, but only if the ball would've knocked the bales off had your pad not been there.

The bowling action is weird, I'm not at all surpried you didn't get it. The arm must be straight and the ball must be released before the ball crosses the bowler's crease (failing these criteria results in a no-ball from which the batsman can score runs, but not be out). It takes many years of practice plus natural talent to be a good bowler.

A match will normally be a complete number of innings. Test matches are played over 5 days and two innings. There are also '1 day' matches where the innings are limited to 60 overs (one over = 6 or sometimes 8 balls, not counting no-balls), or until the last batsman is out. A test match only yields a result if one side has been bowled out twice having scored less than the other. Test matches ofter result in draws - this one just has.

A cricket ball is not very dissimilar to a baseball, I've no idea what you were playing with.

Because the ball actually touches the pitch, cricket is extremely sensitive to the condition of the wicket. If the ground where the ball bounces is rough, this gives a tremendous advantage to the bowler. It is not at all possible to judge the relative strengths of two teams from only one team's score (200 might be a very good score on a poor wicket, 500 might be a poor score on a good wicket).

Cricket is more of a strategy game than it might appear. From the choice of bowlers - pace or fast bowlers try to throw the ball as fast as possible, a spin bowler's technique is more like a baseball pitch, the spin of the ball is used to bend the tragectory and control the bounce. Bowlers will be either pace or spin and the teams are, of course, fixed before play begins. The layout of the field is also a major strategy choice, fielders close to the wicket have a better chance of getting a catch, but if you deplete the outfield the batsman will score lots of runs if he can get the ball over the close fielders' heads.

This is only the sketchiest outline of the rules of cricket - the full First Class rule book (rather grandly called The Law) runs to over 200 pages. Perhaps because of this complexity and the generally slow pace of the game, cricket is often regarded as peculiarly British, somehow encapsulating a British eccentricity. But cricket has a fanatical following in the countries that were once the British Empire - Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the 'West Indies' (that is, the former British colonies in the Caribbean) all field strong teams and play test matches against each other every summer (each team will probably play against only one or two other teams each season).

That'll have to do for now - I've no doubt missed several very important things and committed numerous typographical errors. For further reading I refer you to Wisden, publisher of the Laws of Cricket.

Posted by: Robert UK on August 12, 2002 03:30 PM

Thank you Robert, That cleared it right up *Goes and gets dictonary so he can understand terms such as Stumps, (What's left after you cut down a tree?? :-) Wicket's (Wasn't that the name of the cute Gremlin??) and short bales (Isn't that what happens when your cotton crop didn't come in as planned??* Anywho I am so glad you cleared that up for us *Whaps brother on the head* See I told you you were playing it wrong!

Posted by: Jeff on August 12, 2002 04:46 PM

OMG! Never mind there are things I just don't need to know or will ever understand. Perhaps Cricket is one of them.

Posted by: Pat on August 12, 2002 06:10 PM

To simplify Robert UK's convoluted (although accurate) description of this Great British past-time, cricket is a game played between two opposing Commonwealth countries in which the English always lose. The most obvious effect of watching cricket is that the viewer gradually falls into a light coma during the fifty-three days required to complete each match, slumping unconscious into his...never is not a game for women who are banished to the long room during matches where they are forced to prepare cucumber sandwiches and raspberry crush for their was I? Oh yes, slumping unconscious into his strawberries and cream whilst red squirrels steal their Panama hats. The entire game was invented by W.G. Grace to give the Australians something to feel superior about, God only knows they need it, has inspired many unnotable books that tend to be as equally dull and incomprehensible as the game itself and has blighted the summers of English schoolboys (the Scottish and the Welsh have normal childhoods) since time immemorial by causing temporal lobe damage when the ball (which incidentally is made from limestone) shatters their unsuspecting crowns. For more information on this subject there is an excellent book out there somewhere entitled 'Why I took up sheep impressions instead...' by Arthur St John Tallywacker.

Posted by: Brian Hughes on August 12, 2002 06:48 PM

OMG!!! That is so freaking funny!!!! I think this is what is called "taking the piss" out of someone, yes?

[reads the linked blog]

I WANNA VOTE SOMEONE OFF!! I don't understand who I'm voting for, or why, but I wanna!

(Thank god, yet another blog that doesn't take itself so seriously!)

Posted by: scott on August 12, 2002 07:46 PM

Taking the piss?

Never! It's all true I tell you and it makes me proud to be does the Queen Mother's sadly deceased but still yellow teeth, our glorious railway system (as soon as we can find an alternative to fossil fuels we'll have those engines up to scratch) and Des O'Conner.

In the meantime...feel free to vote off whomever you want. (That's the general idea after all.) The Voting Board will be back in place sometime this evening with a bit of luck and the next two victims who have failed to entertain me sufficiently will be set to dance the polka of humilation. I am a cruel blog-master...but ultimately fair I believe.

Posted by: Brian Hughes on August 13, 2002 02:55 PM
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