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Time out for tea. Styal comes in for its innings. Your man bats third in the order. He blocks the first ball. He swings at the second and dribbles it off to the left, too close to run. The next he deflects sharply, past gully to third man (you look in your book to see what the fielders' positions are called) and lights out for the other wicket. He scores, and you murmur, "Well run." The other batsman is facing the bowler now, to complete the six balls of the over, and you talk to your neighbor, who is also sitting on the ground and chewing a blade of grass. Yes, crops were good this year. That church? Oh, back around 1284. In a few minutes your man is up again. He swings mightily and hits the first ball to the boundary for a four. A bit overconfident now, he attempts to deflect a wicked spinner to his leg side, misses and his wicket goes down. He grins and retires, through for the day.
"Well bowled," you whisper, hoping that no one minds if you give one little cheer for Whitchurch—or whoever the other side is that day. No one minds.
The game they play at Lord's is cricket, too, but the resemblance ends with that. Lord's, which was named after a man who owned the property and has nothing to do with nobility, is in London, 20 minutes by taxicab from Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square. Home of the Marylebone (pronounced Mrrbn) Cricket Club, Lord's is the cradle of the game. They charge you four shillings, or 56�, to get in there.
The famous pavilion, accessible only to members—and never to women—occupies one end. Grandstands and bleachers encircle the other sides. The crowds can be huge at Lord's, for a county or a test match, and there was a time when they were just as mannerly as in the country. But in 1889, incensed at the extreme caution with which an Australian captain named Darling was batting, a section of the crowd forgot itself and began to whistle The Dead March from Saul. "This unseemly demonstration," reported a London newspaper, "was happily without precedent at Lord's." No more. For one thing, Lord's has its Hilda Chester, too, right out of Ebbets Field. Her name is Yorkshire Annie, she weighs approximately 20 stone, and she has a most stentorian voice. For another, Lord's has a pub located right on the grounds, between two sections of the grandstand, and in midafternoon, along about teatime, the barracking can get very loud over there.
The cricket played at Lord's is vastly superior in skill to that at Styal, though it loses something in the way of atmosphere. The batsmen and the bowlers, you begin to realize, are artists.
Each of the duelists has advantages that soon become apparent to the baseball-trained eye. The bowler can deliver the ball at a number of different speeds. He can throw it very hard, so that it skips quickly past any batsman who lacks a sharp eye and quick wrists. Because the cricket ball has a high, raised seam running around its middle, he can also make it bounce off that seam and kick abruptly to either side.
He can make it curve through the air by wrist action, as does a baseball pitcher—in cricket this is called swerve bowling—and he can make it jump in either direction off the ground by imparting more of the same kind of spin.
Then there are yorkers, which hit the ground virtually at a batsman's feet, and bumpers, which are the cricket version of a bean ball. It was never considered necessary to legalize against bumpers—not cricket, you know—until in 1932 the English test side on tour in Australia decided that the only way to get rid of Don Bradman was to resort to what they chose to call "the body-line attack." So they threw bumpers at Bradman until even that heroic figure began to stand loose up there. The Australians threatened to break off relations, the English were insulted that anyone should accuse them of unsportsmanlike conduct—and pointed out to the Aussies that cricket would die down under without the Ashes—but eventually it was all patched up. The bumper is illegal now—which doesn't mean that it isn't used.
The batsman has his defenses, too. For one thing, anything he hits in a 360� circle is in play, as if every foul tip and whistling foul line drive off Yogi Berra's bat had to be captured by the other team. Because of the great area that the nine cricket fielders—exclusive of the bowler and wicketkeeper—must defend, there are a lot of-holes in which an adroit and skillful batsman may dump safe hits.
Since he does not have to run unless he wants to, he can wait for the pitch, or rather the ball, he wants. The rest he simply blocks or bunts onto the ground if they threaten his wicket. There is too much of this in first-class play and it is the primary cause of the long-drawn-out match. India and Pakistan, those bitter rivals, have played 12 successive draws in test matches. For political reasons, neither side can bear the thought of defeat. The batsmen simply block and punch their shots and never move until a run is a sure thing.