Cricket for Dummies…..and Americans

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Podcast Transcript

Cricket is the world’s second most popular spectator sport, behind association football or soccer. 

However, it is played almost nowhere outside of former British Colonies.

It is a game that can be confusing to those who are uninitiated and, if played in its traditional manner, can take an extremely long time to complete.  

Learn more about Cricket, how the game developed and how it is played today on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

I want to start this episode by saying that I am confident that I know more about cricket than 99% of the population in the United States

I want to follow that up by saying that is an absolutely meaningless statement because no one in the United States really knows anything about cricket. 

In the course of my travels, I’ve come to view the word as being divided into there parts. First, there are the countries that play baseball, which I’ll call the baseball-sphere. This included the US, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic. Puerto Rico, Aruba, Curacao, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan

Then there are the countries in what I’ll call the cricket-sphere. These are the UK (broken up into its four constitute countries), Ireland, and all of the former British colonies in the Caribbean, including Guyana, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand

The third group is everyone else who plays neither baseball nor cricket. 

The amazing thing is that there is basically zero overlap between the cricket-sphere and the baseball-sphere. 

My first real exposure to cricket was in 2008. I spent a month in Melbourne, and I was watching TV one day when there was a cricket match. I figured I’d watch it to try and learn something. They eventually cut away for the news, played a full episode of the Simpsons….and then went back to the match, which was still in progress. 

Over the years, I kept encountering cricket and gradually learned more about the game. 

In 2014 I rented a car and drove around South Africa. In many of the more remote areas, I’d listen to cricket matches on the radio and was familiar enough with the game that I could follow along with what was happening. 

I still wouldn’t call myself a hardcore fan. I was in a restaurant on the island of Antigua once having dinner when I noticed photos all over the wall of a cricket player. I casually asked who it was, and they looked at me as if I was from Mars.

That cricket player was the greatest player from the West Indies and a native of Antigua, Viv Richards. 

I don’t normally give this much personal background in an episode, but I know there are listeners from cricket-sphere countries who are going to wonder who am I as an American to be talking about cricket. 

This episode is mostly going to be for people in non-cricket playing countries. For those of you who live in the cricket-sphere, you will have the gift of be entertained by listening to an American talk about a sport which isn’t played in America. 

Cricket, in some form, goes back several centuries. It is much older than any other team sport which is played today. 

There were recorded cases of children playing stick and ball games in England going back about 1,000 years. 

The first documented use of someone referring to the game was in 1597 when during a land dispute case in the town of Guildford, England, one man testified that he used to play creckett with his friends on the disputed land 50 years earlier. 

The origin of the word “cricket” probably comes from an old Dutch word for “stick.”  It is likely to have come from Dutch traders who frequented England. 

Cricket was so popular in 17th century England that laws were passed limiting the amount that could be bet on matches. 

Just as with football, the early rules to the game were quite fluid and weren’t fixed. This was rectified in 1744 when the Laws of Cricket were published, giving the game a fixed set of rules. 

Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the game was mostly played in the south of England.

As the British Empire grew, cricket went along for the ride. British soldiers, merchants, and civil servants took the game to Australia, the Caribbean, South Asia, and Africa. 

The game never really caught on in Canada and was only mildly popular in the American colonies. However, as you’ll see in a bit, they did manage to field some teams in the 19th century.

One of the biggest changes in the rules occurred in 1760 when the ball ceased being rolled on the ground underhanded. This is why the person who throws the ball in cricket is called a bowler. It is because they originally, literally, bowled the ball like in bowling. 

The change in bowling from a rolled ball to a thrown ball also changed the type of bat which was used. Cricket bats used to look like field hockey sticks to better hit the ball on the ground. When the ball started being through the air, it changed the bat to a straighter, flatter one.

The 19th century saw more formal, organized teams, usually representing clubs or communities. 

The very first international match, believe it or not, was between the United States and Canada in 1844 at St. Georges Cricket Club in New York City, located near the corner of 30th and Broadway.   Canada won by 23 runs.

It wasn’t just the first international cricket match, but the first organized international match in any sport.

In 1859 an English team toured North America and in 1862, Australia. 

The first international test match occurred in 1877 between England and Australia. 

Here I should explain the term “test match” as it isn’t a phrase commonly used in the non-cricket-sphere. Today a test match is an international match between national cricket teams. The term “test” comes from the phrase “timeless test”, which was a cricket match that had no time limit and no ties. 

The term “test match” in many Commonwealth countries has been adopted for any international sporting match. In the US, such a match is often called a “friendly”, which, to be honest, is a term I hate because it implies that the game has no meaning.

Before I get into the modern game, I should explain exactly how it is played because unless you grew up watching or playing cricket, it is probably a mystery to you. 

I will use some comparisons to baseball because I know that most of you listening are in North America.

The game consists of 11 players on each side. Like baseball, the object is to score runs and avoid outs. 

The game is played on what is called an oval, which is roughly the shape of most fields. The exact dimensions of an oval can differ, just like the dimensions of a baseball outfield can differ from field to field. 

In the middle of the oval is the pitch. The pitch is made of dirt like a baseball infield. The pitch is a long rectangle and on either end is a wicket.  The wickets are 15 yards away from each other. 

A wicket consists of three vertical posts called stumps that are 28 inches tall and two small wooden bails which rest on top of the stumps. More on the wicket in a bit.

The wickets can be thought of as the object of the fielding team. 

The goal, as in baseball, is to score as many runs as possible before getting called out.

The batting team always has two batters on the pitch at the same time.  The fielding team will have a bowler who throws the ball at one of the batters. 

What the bowler is aiming for is the wicket. If the bowler can hit the wicket and knock off one of the bails, the batter is out. The batter, then, is really defending the wicket with his bat. 

Each inning is ten out, because there must be two batters on the field at any time. Once the 10th out is recorded, the remaining batter would be alone. 

Most cricket matches are just two innings. The first team to bat, which is usually determined by a coin flip, will bat until they record ten outs. 

However many runs they scored, that is now the goal for the second team to beat. If they can score more runs, they win the game, and the game ends. If they get 10 outs before they can achieve that, they lose. 

Runs are different than in baseball. Because the pitch is in the middle of the oval, there are no foul balls. The batter can hit or deflect the ball in any direction. 

To score a run, the batter has to hit the ball and then run to a line in front of the other wicket. Both batters have to move, switching places for a run to be scored.  There is no limit to the number of runs that can be scored on a single-hit ball. 

In the event that the ball rolls beyond the boundary line of the oval, it is an automatic four runs. This is the cricket equivalent of a ground-rule double. If it goes over the boundary line on the fly, it is six runs. This is the cricket equivalent of a home run. 

One of the biggest differences between baseball and cricket is that batting in baseball is mostly a failure. A very good baseball player will record an out 70% of the time. In cricket, however, a batter will probably score dozens of runs before getting out. It is entirely possible for a single batter to score 100 runs or more in an inning, which is called a century. 

The size of the field makes it more difficult for fielders in cricket because they have to cover more ground. Also, cricket fielders do not have the large gloves that baseball players wear. Everyone, except the wicketkeeper, which is the equivalent of the catcher, is barehanded. 

There are several ways to record an out. The first, as I mentioned, is to hit the wicket. If the batter accidentally hits the wicket, he is still out. If a fielder throws the ball and hits a wicket before a batter gets there, he is out. This is the equivalent of a force out.

Also, if a ball is caught in mid-air, the batter is out. Also, if the batter interferes with the ball that would have hit the wicket, he is out. 

The bowler is the equivalent of the pitcher in baseball, with some major differences. For starters, a bowler can bounce the ball off the ground. This is usually the case. This allows the ball have more movement.

Also, bowling is not throwing. A bowler cannot bend their elbow as you would throwing a ball. To compensate for this, the bowler is allowed to get a running start. 

The fastest cricket bowlers are just a hair behind the fastest baseball pitchers. The fastest cricket bowlers in history can just barely hit 100 miles per hour. The fastest baseball pitcher ever was 105 miles per hour. 

Whereas a baseball game is nine innings at almost every level of competition, there are several different types of cricket matches. 

The first and most prestigious are the international test matches. These are usually four innings, with each side batting twice. They last a maximum of five days, which gives cricket the reputation of taking a very long time. In reality, it isn’t much different than a five-game series in baseball. The difference is that they just roll it into a single game rather than splitting it up into five different ones. 

In an effort to provide faster games, there is also something called a One Day International March.  In a one day international match, each side is limited to 50 overs.

An over consists of six legitimate bowled deliveries, not counting no-balls or dead balls. So, each side gets to bowl 300 times. 

The approximate length of a one day international match is about 8 hours, which is still much longer than most sporting events. 

There is a relatively new form of cricket called Twenty20 cricket. Twenty20 cricket limits the number of overs to 20 for each side, which means each side will bowl 120 times. To put that into perspective, the average Major League Baseball team throws 146 pitches per game.

Twenty20 cricket matches are, on average, 3 hours long. 

Cricket, for decades, was mostly the realm of national teams at the highest level of the sport. 

In 2007, the Indian Premier League was launched, which is a professional cricket league consisting of ten teams in major Indian cities. This allowed the best players in the world to make significantly more money than they would have just playing on national teams. 

Earlier I mentioned how cricket is the second most popular spectator sport in the world. This is largely due to the popularity of the sport in India. Cricket is overwhelmingly the most popular sport in India. It is a very common sight to see kids playing cricket on the street with a makeshift wicket. 

There is a cricket world cup held every four years. The matches are all one day international format matches. The next world cup will be held in 2023 in India. The reigning world champions are England. 

There is also a Twenty20 World Cup, which is actually taking place in Australia as I am recording this episode. 

The longest rivalry in international test cricket is between England and Australia. Their test match is called The Ashes. It got its name after Australia defeated England in 1882 in London. A satirical obituary in a British newspaper reported that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

The next year, the English team vowed to go to Australia and “regain those ashes.” 

After the match, a group of women in Melbourne presented an urn with burnt wicket ashes to the English team, which is now on display in London. 

Australia leads the all-time series with 34 wins, versus 32 for Englan and six draws.

The Ashes is a series of five test matches, which means the entire thing can last a month. 

Even if you have no desire to become a rabid cricket fan, I’d suggest at least watching some cricket highlights on YouTube to get a better feel for the game. 

I’m not a huge fan, but I’ve personally adopted the West Indies team as my own, as they are in the neighborhood. 

Cricket is a sport with a rich history and a passionate international following. Once you understand the rules, it makes it much easier to follow and watch.