Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Idiot's Guide to Cricket

I am not bragging when I say that I know a lot. I do. I know a lot of things about a lot of things. I even know some pretty useless things - I used to collect useless elephant facts in my early twenties, for example. (Did you know that elephants are the only animals with knees and ankles that cannot jump? Or that they are the only animal you can teach to stand on its head?)

But one thing I do not know much about is sports. I suppose if you broke it out into all the different sports that I don't know much about, it would be a lot things that I do not know. Take hockey. Don't know much about it even though I once lived with three star players on an elite university hockey team. Or football. Don't know much about it, either, even though the same university was also known for its football program. In fact, in seven years in university there is just one non-graduation photo of me in the university yearbook, and wouldn't you know it, it is of me at the one football game I attended. On the two page spread, I am just about in the middle of the page. Everyone else in the stands are on their feet with their hands in the air, mouths open, as they cheer for...well, for something, but I have no idea what. And there is me, sitting there with a confused look on my face.

So it is not surprising that I know nothing about cricket either. In fact, the only cricket I had seen prior to this last week was the groups of men and boys that play in the sports fields that dot the country.

Steve does know a lot about cricket. Having spent time in India and Sri Lanka before, he has come to love the game. At Pizza Hut last week his eyes were glued to the television screen, as were everyone else's except mine. Yesterday he tried explaining the game to me as he watched the highlights reel of a big match from last weekend while we were eating at Burger King in Colombo, and while I sort of got it, it still really made no sense to me. Then again, I was distracted by the most awesome veggie burger I have ever had and was composing a "please extend your Asian veggie burger to North America" letter in my head to Burger King.

Cricket is a big deal in much of the world. It ranks number two only to football - soccer to North Americans. Yesterday when we were in Colombo we were slowed down getting to our destination due to a huge parade that stretched at least four or five city blocks. It was a precursor parade rally to a big cricket match that was happening between two high schools. There were numerous floats, countless instruments being played, music blaring from flatbeds, dancing, decorated cars, shouting, cheering, chanting, flag waving.... All for a high school cricket match. When Steve asked the tuktuk driver about it, he replied, "It's a very important game today for the school." With such fervour over a high school match, you can imagine how things get when the Cricket World Cup is on. In India alone, the big cricket match today between India and Sri Lanka was watched by 195 million people. India won, by the way, much to Sri Lanka's dismay.

Today, Steve, hoping to further enlighten my sports befuddled brain, found this piece which explains the game quite well, and could easily be dubbed "The Idiot's Guide to Cricket". Here is an except from the section on how the game is played:
  • The pitcher (called a bowler) sends the ball bouncing off the ground, rather than directly through the air.
  • When it gets to the batter (called a batsman), his primary goal is blocking it from hitting a set of three stumps stuck in the ground behind him, called a wicket. These stumps (roughly analogous to home plate) have a pair of small sticks (called bails) balancing on top of them, and if the ball knocks them off, the batter is out.
  • Instead of four bases, cricket has just two wickets. The batsman's other goal is hitting the ball into the field, which allows him and the other batsman (there are two at any given time) to score runs by running back and forth between the wickets until the ball is returned.
  • There's no foul territory: the batsman can hit the ball in any direction. If it goes past the boundary, he automatically gets four runs (if it bounced over) or six runs (if it flew over).
  • There are no strikes, and the batsman doesn't have to run after hitting the ball. In the form of cricket played in the World Cup, each batsman gets one at-bat per game, but the at-bat can last a really really long time — it goes until he gets out, either by hitting a ball up into the air that gets caught, or getting caught running between the wickets, or by allowing the ball to hit the wicket behind him, or by blocking a ball with his body that the umpire thinks would have otherwise hit the wicket.
  • Each team bats for one extended period of time (called an innings), then fields for the rest of the game, instead of switching back and forth like in baseball. A team's innings is finished when ten of its eleven batsmen are out, or when the other team has bowled a certain number of times (as measured in "overs," which are sets of six consecutive pitches).
  • In the form of cricket played in the World Cup — called one-day cricket — each team can bowl 50 overs, and matches generally take about six hours.
Okay, that's pretty basic, right? But apparently this kind of cricket is played only to make the game more accessible. Real cricket is a grueling game called Test Cricket, which is designed to see which team has the most endurance and real skill, and can last up to five days!

Here is my favourite explanation of how the game works, from a sign on the wall at Lord's Restaurant....

That just about sums up the game, right?