Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cricket: from My Observations

Cricket is an enigma to most Americans. In all honesty, it was enigmatic to me as well, before I became interested in it. It's still kinda sketchy to me at times. I think I have a halfway decent grasp of it, though.

The first thing I noticed was the similarity to baseball. That's not coincidental. Modern Cricket and Baseball come from the same roots. Baseball is more popular, and bears the least similarities to the games from which it likely evolved. Those games were most likely Stoolball and Rounders. With humble beginnings as an overturned milking stool, the strike zone is somewhat the equivalent of the wicket in Baseball. The original goal was to defend the stool from being hit with a ball or object of some sort. I've read that it was originally a type of spin-the-bottle type game dating back to at least the 12th century. If you failed to defend your stool, you'd have to give up a kiss, or something like that.

In cricket, the ball is 'bowled' on an area of ground called the 'pitch' rather than 'pitched'. The pitch is the Cricket equivalent of the infield in Baseball. While the rest of the field is covered in grass, the pitch is typically packed dirt. The bowler, as in baseball, attempts to get the ball into it's equivalent of the strike zone, which is actually physically represented by 3 sticks stuck in the ground, known as 'stumps', with 2 little pieces of wood precariously balanced on top of the stumps known as 'bails'. The bails indicate that the wicket has been struck by falling off. That leaves no question about where the ball went.

The field has similarities to baseball, but is very different in ways, too. Homeplate is called the 'popping crease'. The popping crease is a line that the batter must cross to either score runs, or to be safe. Imagine a line dividing homeplate, with the batter's right leg on one side, and his left leg on the other, and that's what the crease looks like. There are 2 creases on the field, instead of 4 bases, as in baseball, and both of them allow the runners to score. Instead of being a diamond with an outfield, Cricket has an oval field with the pitch (infield) in the center. Fielders stand 360° around the pitch. There are no fouls. Runs can be scored, and outs, or 'wickets' as they're known in Cricket, can occur from every ball thrown.

There are 11 players on a cricket team, as opposed to 9 in baseball. The object of cricket from the batting team's perspective is to score as many runs as possible before either the end of the innings, or all of their players get out. When a batter, or 'batsman', gets out, he will not bat again in that innings. To score runs, the batsman must run between the creases. And here's a funky part: instead of being only ONE runner on the field, there are TWO. It's like there's always someone on 3rd base. Another twist: you BOTH have to cross the crease in order for a run to be scored. The runners do this as many times as they can before the ball gets back to the pitch. If one of the runner's wicket is hit before he crosses the crease, he's out. It's like a force out in baseball. And the fielder doesn't have to be standing by the wicket, either. Fielders can hit it from as far away as they want. If they miss, though, the runners can continue running. Another difference of note would be that, unlike a batter in baseball, a batsman never drops his bat when making runs.

The object of the game from the fielding team's perspective is to get all the batting team's players out, and to keep them from scoring runs. Once 10 of the 11 batsmen are out, the batting team is 'all out'. There are several ways to get outs, or 'wickets.' The first, and most obvious way, is when the batsman fails to defend his wicket. The 'bowler' (pitcher) runs up quickly to the crease opposite the batsman and hurls the ball towards the batsman's wicket. The ball can bounce off the pitch or hit the batsman, as long as the ball was aimed at the wicket. If the ball hits the wicket, the batter is out. If the batsman deflects the ball, or if the 'wicket keeper' (catcher) misses the ball, the batsmen will want to run to the opposite crease, scoring a run. The fielding team will then want to run out the batsman by hitting his wicket before he can get to the crease. If a fielder catches the ball on the fly, the batsman is out, just as in baseball. If the ball rolls over the boundry, an automatic 4 runs are given to the batsman. If the ball flys out of the playing field without hitting the ground, 6 runs are given. These are 'boundries'. The closest thing in Baseball would be a homerun.

So far, the equivalents to baseball I've noticed are as follows:

wicket=strike zone/out
wicket keeper=catcher
crease=home plate/pitcher's mound
no ball=balk/ball (+1 run awarded)
wide=ball (+1 run awarded)
bye=ball (batsmen can go for runs)

Other than the setup of the field, the main difference between Baseball and Cricket is the organization of the innings. An innings in Cricket is divided into 6 ball 'overs'. An over is when 6 balls have been bowled from one crease. At the end of an over, the ball is bowled from the opposite crease. When the allotted number of overs is complete, the fielding team and batting team swap; the batting team then fields, and the fielding team bats. When both teams have batted, the innings is complete. (innings is the singular in Cricket, as opposed to inning is baseball) Which ever team has the most runs with the least amount of wickets lost wins.

Test Cricket is like a series in Baseball. It is the most widely recognized form of Cricket. The teams play several innings over several days. The team with the most wins at the end of the series wins.

If you read this completely, you are probably bored to tears. Sorry.

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