Probably the world’s most misunderstood game but I’m certain it is one that the wise folk who hang around these parts will be able to comprehend with ease and is close to taking Poland by storm. Who needs volleyball (girls game anyway) when you can play cricket?
EDIT – HOLD THE FRONT PAGE – There is a Polish cricket club who for some reason have decided to play six a side. [Imagine me rolling around the floor wetting myself here] Still, at least they’re trying. Good luck to you!!!
It is an immense subject but I’ve never been one to shy away from impossible posts and I need to maintain my record of the man most likely to use the “curiosities” category, so here goes!
Much has been said about cricket;
“When’s the game itself going to begin?” – Groucho Marx
“After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind), I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry” – Bill Bryson
“Cricket civilises people and creates good gentlemen. I want everyone to play cricket in Zimbabwe; I want ours to be a nation of gentlemen.” – Robert Mugabe
“a game which the English, not being a spiritual people, have invented in order to give themselves some conception of eternity” – Lord Mancroft
It is not a game, it is an institution, a peculiarly British one, or at least that’s how it started out around 500 years ago. Since then it has gone the way of most British sports, to be better played by the old colonies. In the case of cricket, this would be mostly Australia and New Zealand but we’ve been known to be thoroughly thrashed by India, Pakistan the West Indies and just about everyone else on a fairly regular basis! One very fine attribute of cricket, though, is that the French are crap at it!
A recent trip to the land of my roots gave me a chance to capture the game in all its beauty so here’s an illustrated guide.
You have two teams, each with 11 players one of whom is the captain. Someone tosses a coin and the winner of the toss decides whether to bat or bowl. The batting team sends two players out to play, the bowling team sends out all 11. All the players wear white, this helps the makers of washing powder commercials when talking about removal of grass stains. A couple of other guys wander out wearing butcher’s aprons (also white), black trousers and approximately seven sweaters tied round their waists, these are the umpires, or judges.
They all walk onto a large and generally flat grassy area known as a cricket “field”. There is a white oval shaped line marking the outer perimeter of the field, or “boundary”. In the middle of the whole grassy thing is a long rectangle looking a bit like an old abandoned allotment with hardly any grass, this is the most important part and is called the “pitch”. At either end of the pitch are three wooden sticks standing vertically with two smaller wooden sticks laid across the top of them, these are the wickets and bails. Close to the pitch is the “infield” further away is the “outfield”. Pitch, infield, outfield, boundary – See, I told you it was easy.
Here they all are standing around waiting for something to happen
The captain of the bowling team then decides where he wants his 11 players to stand. One of them is going to be bowling of course, but the other 10 need to be standing somewhere where they are most likely to help get the batsman out. This whole “standing around trying to get the ball and throw it somewhere” activity is called fielding (because you’re in a field!). The number of possible positions is almost endless but there are a few “tried and tested” options and for a beginner it’s best not to get too adventurous. As a captain, it is advisable to send the dunces of your team as far away as possible. This would be generally be to positions called “deep” or even “deep backward” if the player is particularly stupid. These positions are right next to the boundary, approximately half-way to the nearest pub. Here’s the dunce of this team on his way far far from the rest of his mates where he can be easily forgotten about and is unlikely to cause much trouble.
You’ll notice the large building in the background. This is the clubhouse, or “pavilion”. It is in here that the players get dressed up in the white kit. As a cricket ball is VERY hard and often moving VERY quickly in your direction the batsmen also apply assorted protection devices. By far the most important is what is known as a “box”. This is something behind which you place your wedding tackle to ensure that, should a rogue fast ball hit you smack in the gonads, you’ll still be able to have children. Next most important are the “pads” and gloves. The pads cover the front and side of your legs and are designed to flap around, especially when running, such that you get the feeling a swarm of bats from the nearby church steeple (with cricket, there is always a nearby church steeple) have suddenly become attracted to a strange smell emanating from your inner thigh area. This adds a whole new dimension to the game. The gloves help you to keep your fingers the same size and unbroken. Lastly, for wimps, there are helmets.
The pavilion is also the place where the nine players of the batting team that are not playing right now hang around, drink beer and chat up the vicar’s wife. However, the most important function of the pavilion is to produce lashings of ginger beer and piles of cucumber sandwiches.
When everyone is settled in, the game begins. A bowler runs as fast as he can towards one end of the pitch and throws the ball (bowls) in the general direction of the batsman at the other end of the pitch. Here’s one about to release the ball
I appreciate that at this point he looks a little like Marcel Marceau climbing a ladder, but his right arm is about to swing right over his head and the ball will then be travelling at the speed of light in the direction of the batsman’s “box”, or perhaps head. You’ll notice the umpire keeping a close eye on the bowler to make sure he doesn’t break any of those “bowling rules” and that the ball does not become “dead”, “wide”, “no” or any other non-playable kind of ball.
The bowler has what is called an “over”, which is essentially six goes at chucking the ball at the batsman. When he’s finished his six balls, the over is over and another bowler has a go from the other end.
In-between overs, the fielders need to change positions. This is very exciting, here it is in slow motion;
At the other end of the pitch from the bowlers, are the batsmen. The idea for these guys is to smack the ball as far away as they can without anyone catching it. Here’s a batsman waving his bat in the general direction of the approaching ball;
And here’s a guy who just caught a hold of one;
If he’s lucky, that ball will fly all the way over the boundary without touching the ground. If that happens it is a “six” and the team get six points (runs). If he’s not quite so lucky it will still cross the boundary but having touched the ground and will be a “four”. If the ball ends up in a place where there are no fielders (but does not cross the boundary) then the two batsmen can run from one end of the pitch to the other while the fielders get their act together. Each time they do that they get one “run”.
You’ll notice in the above pictures some fielders standing what might appear to be a tad too close to the batsman. Some of these positions have very apt names like “Silly mid-on”, silly being the operative word because if the ball hits you at that distance, you’re ambulance fodder! Surprisingly this doesn’t happen very often. More usual is the batsman fluffing his shot and just catching the ball with the edge of his bat so it plops up nicely for one of these idiots to catch it.
More often than not, the batsman has no clue where the ball is going and so manages to miss the thing. Here’s an example where the batsman has missed the ball (which is now just flying past his “box”) on its way to the “wicket keeper”. The fact that all the fielders appear to staring at the batsman’s crotch is a bit of a give-away, would make a lousy question in a “spot the ball” competition.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of cricket is to understand how it is you get a batsman “out”. When a batsman is “out” they have to stop what they were doing, leave the field, go back to the pavilion, drink beer, eat cucumber sandwiches and ravage the vicar’s wife in the locker room. As the batting team only has 11 players and as they have to have two batsmen on the pitch at all times, when the tenth batsman is “out” the fat lady sings and however many “runs” they managed to gather is now the target for the other team to beat. A batsman is “out” in these main ways
- Bowled. This means the ball hit the wooden sticks (wicket) and at least one of the smaller horizontal wooden things (bails) fell off.
- Sort of bowled. The batsman may, at his own discretion and to the limit of his incompetence, hit the wicket with his bat and get himself out.
- Caught. The batsman hit the ball into the air and someone, a fielder of course, catches it before it hits the ground.
- LBW – leg before wicket. Tricky one this. The general idea is that the ball would have hit the wicket if the batsman hadn’t stopped it with his leg, or “box” or other bodily part. This is the source of the famous cry HOWZAT!! meaning “Excuse me umpire but don’t you think that ball might have hit the wicket?”. In cases of LBW, the umpire is king.
- Run out. Perhaps the most embarrassing way to be out. This is where the batsman hits the ball somewhere and thinks they may have enough time to get a run but misjudges things badly. The batsmen start running, a fielder picks up the ball and throws it to another guy standing near the “stumps” (another word for the wooden things). The catching guy then smashes the stumps with the ball, the bails fall off before the batsman (now running, avec bats, towards that end of the pitch) is able to get himself, or his bat (in this case wooden, not furry) at least, into his “crease”. The crease is kind of a safe zone for batsmen. Obviously, if the fielder is a sharp-shooter he can just throw the ball straight at the wicket from whatever distance as long as he hits it, the batsman is out.
- Stumped. This usually means the batsman, in his eagerness to smash the ball into the next county, has wandered out of his crease, missed the ball which has then missed the wicket but been caught by the wicket keeper who then smashes the wicket with the ball before the batsman can get back to the safe zone.
There are probably other ways, but I think six is enough for now.
As with any 500 year old “club” there are many oddities to wonder about – the sound of leather on willow, linseed oil, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack (since 1864), W.G Grace, bodyline (fast leg theory), The Ashes………I won’t go on.
Personally, I always enjoyed playing cricket and never really enjoyed watching it. If there is enough interest I’d be happy to captain the “PCC”, Polandian Cricket Club!
Next week I’ll cover the equally riveting British pastime of fishing.