By Patrick F. Cannon
It is not well known today that the British crown’s attempt to impose cricket upon the Colonies was one of the causes of the American Revolution. This is not remembered because, in an effort to tighten it up a bit so it would fit on one page, Thomas Jefferson was ordered to remove the following clause from the Declaration of Independence: “that he [meaning George III, of course] did order his royal governors and proprietors to impose upon his loyal subjects the incomprehensible game of Cricket; and further decreed that the necessary bats, balls and wickets must be imported from the United Kingdom…”
In response, we revolted and invented baseball. In all my years, I have only come across one game of cricket on these shores. One day, I was driving to Evanston (it’s a North Shore suburb of Chicago, for the edification of you provincials) and stopped at a red light next to a park. Lo and behold, I spied a group of white-clad fellows indulging in this game so beloved of the citizens of Great Britain and its Commonwealth countries. They were mostly brown skinned, so I assumed they were Indians and Pakistanis associated with nearby Northwestern University.
I didn’t give this any further thought until I found myself sitting next to one of the games legendary heroes, Sir Algernon Shinbone, on a flight from London to Karachi. He told me he was on his way to cover a “test match” between the Brits and Pakis for the BBC. It would last for five days, not quite as long as our baseball World Series, which can last as long as seven days. Indeed, he said, cricket and baseball – which he learned to play when he was a prisoner of war with American soldiers at Stalag 17 — share many similarities.
Both are played with a bat and ball. While our bat is cylindrical, the cricket bat is flat. It rather reminds me of the paddle that Sister Griselda of my grammar school used to wield against those who offended her sense of morality and decorum. In both games, the ball is round and covered with leather, although theirs is brown instead of white.
The athlete who wields the bat is called the batter in baseball and the batsman in cricket (women are allowed to play the game, and presumably are called batswomen). The player who throws the ball in the direction of the batter is called the pitcher in baseball, but the bowler in cricket. Now, we associate the word “bowler” with another sport altogether, ten-pin bowling.
Bowling also exists in the UK, but as lawn bowling, which is similar to bocce, now all the rage in this country. It may be that in cricket’s earlier days – it is said to date from the 16th Century – the bowler might have thrown the ball underhanded, instead of using the overhanded windmill motion that one sees today. Thus, the term “bowler” may be just one of those anachronistic traditions in the UK that makes no contemporary sense, much like the Royal Family.
In baseball, the field of play can vary in size depending on the whim of the builder and the ability of the home team. While the distances between the bases and from the pitcher’s mound to home plate are the same, nothing else has to be. In cricket (and soccer), it’s called the pitch. Now, the cricket pitch is a uniform 22 yards long by 10 feet wide. Outside of this is a larger area called the boundary. Try to imagine the pitch as a baseball infield and the boundary as the outfield. If you can’t, don’t feel bad.
In addition to the bat and ball, cricket has the wicket. This consists of three stumps driven into the ground, topped by horizontal bits of wood called the bails. To confuse matters a bit, the area between the wickets is also called the wicket. Perhaps you.ve heard the phrase “sticky wicket?” This refers to the condition of the wicket after a good rain. Now, we all know how runs are scored in baseball. Simplicity itself, but try explaining it to an Englishman. Ditto cricket.
I should mention that there are 11 players on a cricket team (or side). In addition to the bowler and wicket-keeper (something like our catcher), there are 9 fielders. When they’re up, everyone but the bowler bats (sort of like our American league). To score runs, the batter can hit the ball and run to the other wicket before a fielder can hit the wicket. Each time you do this gives you a run. If you hit the ball to the boundary line along the ground, it gets you 4 runs. If you manage this on the fly, kind of like a home run, you get 6.
Now, the other side can get the batter out by getting the ball past the batsman and hitting the wicket; by catching the batted ball on the fly; hitting the batsman’s leg in front of the wicket (ouch!); or by hitting the wicket with the ball before the batsman gets there. You would think that the winner would be the team with the most runs after a set number of innings, but it can be a bit more complicated. Alas, it was just at that point that we arrived in Karachi and Sir Algernon was unable to explain the intricacies of scoring in a five-day test match. Now, that’s a sticky wicket if I never heard one.
Copyright 2021, Patrick F. Cannon