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this IS cricket!
Roy Terrell
August 28, 1961
No game is more thoroughly misunderstood by Americans than cricket. Now a Sports Illustrated baseball writer visits England and discovers the skill and violence residing in this ancient game
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August 28, 1961

This Is Cricket!

No game is more thoroughly misunderstood by Americans than cricket. Now a Sports Illustrated baseball writer visits England and discovers the skill and violence residing in this ancient game

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Cricket is played on a circular or oval field, roughly 150 yards in diameter (although a village cricket ground may be of any size, like a baseball diamond in a vacant lot), between two teams, each consisting of 11 men. An innings—it is always plural in cricket, apparently to confuse things—consists of 10 outs; there are two innings for each side, and then the match is over and the team that has scored the most runs wins. This seems simple enough. But cricket is played to a time limit, usually 6 p.m. of the third day for a county match and 6 p.m. of the fifth day for a test match, and the game may not be complete when the deadline is reached. In this case, regardless of which team has the most runs, the match is a draw. This arbitrary time limit is perhaps the most absurd rule in cricket, but it governs the game so inflexibly that it can become the primary consideration.

Suppose, for example, that Lancashire is playing Yorkshire at Old Trafford. Lancashire wins the toss and bats first. Lancashire scores 125 runs and is retired on the afternoon of the first day. Yorkshire scores 200 runs and is retired just before tea on the second day. Lancashire comes in for its second innings and gets hot; it scores at a frightful pace, reaches a total of 250 runs that evening and 325 by lunch of the third day, still not out. Suddenly the Lancashire captain screeches to a halt. "My goodness," he says. "We might score 1,000 runs, but that won't do us any good. Yorkshire will not get its second innings before the time limit is reached, and the match will be a draw." So the Lancashire captain declares his side out.

If he has acted wisely, Lancashire will have time before 6 p.m. to retire 10 Yorkshiremen somewhere short of the necessary 126 runs, and Lancashire will win. If he has declared too soon, Yorkshire may outscore Lancashire in the time left, in which case red roses will wilt all over England, Margaret of Anjou will flip in her grave and the Lancashire captain may be run out of Manchester on a rail. If he has waited too long to declare, Yorkshire may not be able to catch up, but simply by lasting until 6 p.m. without making 10 outs Yorkshire can earn a draw. To declare or not to declare, that is always the question in cricket.

There is also the matter of weather, of which there is a great deal in England. No cricket match is ever postponed, or moved back a day or two, because of rain. Rain may halt play temporarily or even wash it out altogether, but it never changes the schedule. The match is over at 6 p.m. of the third day even if the players have spent all the time in the pavilion watching Deborah Kerr on TV.

Rain also delights the bowler because it softens the bowling area, which is known as either the pitch or the wicket (sticky wicket, you know), and the ball will behave even more erratically than usual off such a surface. Upon winning the toss, a team normally chooses to bat first, before the pitch is scarred and worn from all the activity; faced with a sticky wicket, however, it may elect to send the other team in for first innings and hope for clearing skies and a fast pitch by Saturday. This can get extremely involved; the best thing to remember is simply that in cricket, more than in almost any other sport, the weather is a great and constant consideration.

Most of the action in cricket takes place in the center of the field where the two wickets, each consisting of three sticks stuck into the ground, stand 22 yards apart, which is about six feet more than the distance between a pitcher's mound and home plate. From one wicket the bowler delivers the ball, taking a run first and then sending it toward the opposite wicket with that sweeping, overhead, stiff-armed motion that is so unnatural to Americans—and English, too—but which is a necessity in this case. If a cricket bowler were allowed to run and then cock his arm and throw as a baseball pitcher does, he would knock holes in every batsman stupid enough to stand up there. He can do enough damage as it is. That is why cricket batsmen wear gloves and pads.

At the other wicket stands the batsman, equipped with an object resembling a sawed-off canoe paddle, and it is his duty to protect his wicket from the ball and also to hit the ball far enough to score runs. If the ball is bowled accurately and gets past him, it will dislodge the stumps, or at least the small pieces of wood called bails that rest atop them, and the batsman is bowled out.

He may also be caught out, as in baseball, if he hits the ball into the air—which cricket batsmen try hard not to do—and he may be run out. This means that he hits the ball and chooses to run for the other wicket, only to find that someone has fielded the ball and thrown it there before he arrives. The fielder may either hit the wicket with his own throw or he may throw the ball to a teammate at the wicket, who reaches over and knocks off the bails.

Among several other ways in which a cricket batsman may be retired, two are particularly worth mentioning. He may be caught out of his crease, the whitewash line just in front of the wicket; while he is thus out of position the wicketkeeper (the catcher, so to speak) can grab the ball and knock off the bails. This is called being stumped. The most delightful way, however, is Leg Before Wicket. It is always abbreviated l.b.w. on scorccards and happens often enough to keep things from getting too dull. If the bowler delivers a ball which, in the judgment of the umpire, would have hit the wicket, and the batsman stops it or deflects it, not with his bat but with his leg or body, he is out, Leg Before Wicket. This is the one occasion when, if there is a questionable play, cricket players scream at the umpire. "Howzat?" the bowler and his fielders roar, leaping into the air. If the umpire, who wears a long white coat and looks like the neighborhood butcher, rules in their favor, they clap and smile. If he refuses their appeal, they say nothing more.

We have been speaking of one batsman when, all along, there are actually two on the field at the same time. While one bats, the other stands idly at the opposite wicket. If the batsman hits a ball and decides to run, the other batsman runs, too. They cross, and the batsman has scored a run if each reaches the opposite crease safely. If the two batsmen can cross twice, safely, the batsman scores two runs. Three crossings, three runs. If the ball goes all the way to the boundary on the ground, it is good for an automatic four runs and the batsmen do not have to run. This is called a boundary, and it is considered the finest of all cricket hits. If a batsman hits a ball all the way over the boundary in the air. he gets six runs and it is known as a six, though it looks like a home run. However, since it is so easy to pop the ball into the air and be caught out when trying for a six, there are relatively few of them hit in cricket, about as often as home runs were hit in baseball before Babe Ruth.

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