I played a new sport yesterday, see if you can guess which one based on the following description:
- You have two sides, one out in the field and one in.
- Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out.
- When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.
- Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
- When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.
- There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.
- When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!
If you guessed cricket, the national sport of England, you would be correct. A few weeks ago an email went around my department asking for people that might be interested in playing in an inter-departmental competition. This seemed like my best opportunity to try playing, so following one of my New Years goals, I said yes to something new.
I spent one of the first weeks on the sideline getting a play by play the entire time of what was going on in order to learn the rules. Once I was sure that I had a solid grounding of how the game was played, I signed up for a couple of practice sessions to make sure that I could actually play. Well, the first practice session morphed into a friendly with one of the college teams, so I was forced to learn on the fly.
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game, similar to baseball, and I’ll be comparing the two sports throughout this post. A cricket ball is slightly smaller and slightly heavier than a baseball, but the two are very similar. The cricket ball is cork and wound string inside and also covered in leather, but as you can see there is one large seam down the middle instead of twin stitch seams on a baseball. Another difference is the way the two are thrown. Baseball has a “pitcher” that starts from a stationary point and winds up to throw to the catcher. Cricket has a “bowler” who often takes a running start to a specific release point and the arm must be straight and wound in a circular fashion while the ball heads toward three wickets at the other end. All this really means is that during our pre-match warmups although I could throw it hard on target, I couldn’t manage the correct technique and therefore would not be called on during the match for fear of penalty.
The equivalent to the infield is a 22 yard long ten foot patch of grass/dirt seen in the center of the picture above. One team bats, trying to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the runs scored by the batting team. A run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed. The teams switch between batting and fielding at the end of an inning. We were playing a shortened game (20 overs for each team) so I considered this switch to be halftime.
And at halftime we got to head into one of the college buildings for tea and sandwiches and cakes. I’m not kidding. One of my teammates asked me if I was coming in for tea and I laughed, then I realized he was serious and followed him inside. Biochemistry (my team) was fielding first, and I was actually pretty good in the field. I can track the balls once they are hit easily, run relatively quickly to one if it comes in my direction, and throw darts in to the wicket keeper (catcher). This is one area that playing baseball helped me. In fact, one of the guys said that some of the top cricket teams are bringing in fielding coaches from Major League Baseball to teach their guys how to field better.
The batting part wasn’t nearly as easy for me to pick up as the fielding. A cricket bat is shorter, heavier and wider than a baseball bat. It is also more awkward to swing if you are used to playing golf and baseball. To use baseball terms, my swings were basically vertical bunts with a follow through. Once learned I’m sure that a cricket bat is more versatile than a baseball bat actually, because you can use it for blocking and defense, or for offense with an all out swing.
First and foremost though, the job of the batsman is to protect the wickets. Wickets are three wooden poles situated directly behind the batsman and the bowler on the other end is trying to throw the ball at these poles for a direct hit. If this happens the batter is bowled out. There are several ways batters can also get out including being caught out (like a fly ball) or run out (like being thrown out at the plate). Batters can stay in for many bowls as long as they don’t make any mistakes and the runs sort of accumulate depending on how they actually hit it. A short hit past some of the defenders may be 1 run (like a single) or a hit deeper into the field can go for more if you run back and forth enough (like doubles and triples). The circular outfield also has a boundary, and if the ball goes past the boundary on the ground it is four points (kind of like a ground rule double) and if the ball clears the boundary in the air it is six points (homerun).
I was really hoping for a couple of singles and maybe a double. The first few bowls to me were wide outside so even if I swung and missed, there was no penalty except a loss of scoring opportunity on the bowl. Once I got settled a little bit the next few resulted in solid connections but went right to the fielder so essentially another loss of a scoring opportunity. Every 6 bowls is considered an “over” and after each over the bowlers switch directions and a new bowler pitches to the batsman on the other side of the pitch. I made it through one over fine, no offense but solid defending my wickets. After scoring a few runs on my fellow batsman’s hits the over was again finished and it was my turn to face a new bowler.
This is where my experience in baseball failed me. This one threw heat. In baseball if you are standing near the plate and a ball comes a little too close to you inside, many batters will let it go by hoping for a “ball” call. In cricket the batsman is almost blocking the wickets with his body, but actually doing so is illegal and will result in an out. So there I was, essentially standing over the wickets waiting for the bowler. After a big run-up and huge wind-up the ball came flying at me at a speed that I had not seen before. All my newly learned blocking and hitting techniques went out the window and I resorted to do what I would have done for an inside pitch in baseball, watched it go by. Unfortunately for me, the ball went right past me and right into the wicket. I was bowled out. Crap.
Picture above is the scoreboard, with our team’s score being the dismal one. We were pleased that we were able to hold the opposition to 89 runs, but unfortunately our big hitters all got caught out and our final hopes came down to me , and, well, you just read how that went.
In summary I had a great time learning to play a new sport. I was pleased how my fielding went, think that I can figure out bowling with some practice, and am not surprised that I can’t hit. I can knock the dimples off of a golf ball but for some reason could never really hit a baseball. Maybe batting will get easier with practice. I hope look forward to the opportunity.