Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bowlers and Wicketkeepers - Cricket in the United States

Cricket is an intriguing game.  I was interested in going to a match last year in Boston, but when I looked up the schedule of the Massachusetts State Cricket League, I discovered that I was too late, that the season was already over.  I guess I had to wait until the following Spring to see a match - this Spring.  Going into the game, I was aware of only a few of the rules.  That the Bowlers tried to get the batters out by hitting the wickets behind the batter or by catching a hit ball.  The batters tried to score runs by running back and forth across the pitch after hitting a bowled ball.  Not surprisingly, there is a lot more to this game than this rudimentary understanding.

Wrentham, MA.  12pm.  We decided to see what the game was all about.  I select the game that is closest to us, at the old Development Center (Loony bin as I like to call it) in Wrentham.  When we arrive, we notice that there are a number of cars parked on the grounds.  But alas, they were there for Terrier Day (seriously) and for miniature plane flying (even more seriously).  This was a man-child's dream (if that man child still lived in his parents' basement). The kids then spot a parking lot closest to where the Cricket match is being played.  We decided to park there.  In my infinite wisdom, I decided that we would watch from the car.  Another rule that I remembered was that these matches could last forever - literally days.  I felt it impolite if we watched for an hour and then up and left in the middle of an inning.  So we settled in and started watching the bowlers and the hitters from the comfort of our own heated car.

This is as close as we're allowed.
Immdeiately, the boys started asking about the rules.  They have been taught a lot about baseball in recent years and certain aspects of cricket looked familiar, yet foreign at the same time.  Why was the pitcher running toward the batter and bouncing the ball?  Why are there fielders in front of and behind the batter?  Why were they running back and forth between bases when they hit the ball?  What were those sticks in the ground near the batters?  These were only a couple of the questions that I fielded.  I was able to answer those questions pretty easily, those were basic rules.  Some basic rules...

1.    The field consists of 11 players on the fielding (bowling) side (one bowler - pitcher, one wicket keeper - catcher, and nine fielders), two batsmen on the batting side and two umpires.  Behind the batters are wickets that hold the three stumps (wooden stakes sticking out of the ground) and the bails (two modules loosely connecting the stumps to one another.)  The pitch is the area from bowler to batter - similar to a  pitching mound to home plate.  The batting side also contains 11 players, but only two hitters are up at one time.

2.   The batters have two objectives:  score runs and prevent the bowled balls from hitting the wickets.  Two batters at a time are on the pitch and when a ball is hit, both batsmen run from one end of the pitch to the other trying to register runs.  If a batted ball goes far enough on the ground, 4 runs are automatically scored (think ground rule double) - if far enough in the air, then 6 runs are scored (a home run) and either way no running is necessary.  The batting side is considered out when 10 men have been put out (the 11th batter needs to have a partner in order to continue batting).  Batting is seen as defensive, because a batter remains up until the wickets are hit and this becomes the most important aspect of batting.  Runs may be scored at will and thus are cheap to come by.

3.  The bowling/fielding side, on the other hand, is trying to get the batting side out (or having the batting team lose wickets).  While there are a number of ways this can happen, the four most common ways of getting a batter out are:  (1) bowled out - hitting a wicket such that the bail becomes dislodged from the stumps - this would be akin to a strikeout; (2) Caught - after a ball is hit, one of the fielders catches the ball on the fly; (3) Run out - a fielder has broken down the wicket before a batsmen has scored a run - similar to an outfielder throwing a runner out at home; and (4) a leg before wicket (this has no real baseball cross reference - essentially if a batter obstructs a bowled ball from hitting a wicket with his leg, then he can be called out).  When the bowler gets 10 men out in one of these fashions, the fielding team is then up (these are called innings).

This being a game that originated in England, there are numerous other rules and regulations that go on to make this game polite and unceasingly self-important.  I think that in test cricket, the teams actually take a break for tea.  While the game itself is exciting to watch, the rules (laws as they were) become a little too much - its a game, folks.

Back to our match.  After a while, the kids start getting restless and need to be fed.  They start to honk the car horn and squirm their way into the front seat with us.  The players start to look around, and I wonder if its because of us.  It's time to go, I think.  I asked the kids if they learned anything about the game today.  I receive back some blank stares, mostly because they were hungry.  We'll try it again; they'll be the only people in their group of friends who know about this interesting sport.

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