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On a lovely winter day in 1958 on the island of Barbados, a small Pakistani named Hanif Mohammad came to bat in a cricket test match between Pakistan and the West Indies. Like Luke Appling fouling off bad pitches, he protected his wicket with monotonous diligence, blocking those balls he didn't want to hit, choosing to run only on a sure thing. Mohammad remained at bat for 16 hours and 39 minutes and scored 337 runs. By the time he was retired, the better part of four days had elapsed. So had most of the spectators.
On a gloomy summer day in 1930, at the famous cricket ground in Leeds in England, an Australian named Donald Bradman came to bat in a test match between Australia and England. He attacked everything opposing bowlers put within reach. He slashed drives through the defense, he angled placements behind him to the boundary 225 feet away, he sent cricket balls soaring into the crowd. He scored 100 runs before lunch, another 100 before tea and another 100 before the stumps were pulled that evening, a triple century in one day. The next morning, still swinging away, Brad-man went out quickly at 334.
Between the two performances—and each was magnificent in its way—Mohammad and Bradman demonstrated what is worst and best about the game of cricket: the tedious hours of tactical patience, the spectacular and sustained skill. It is unfortunate that the dreary one has kept Americans from appreciating the exciting other.
For cricket is a superb game. Its past stretches back into England's history for more than 500 years, and it has been played in virtually its present form since 1744. Nothing so absurd as the game some Americans describe as cricket could possibly have survived as long as cricket has or retained its charm for so many thousands of people across the face of the globe. It is not baseball—and no one should expect it to be baseball—but cricket, too, is basically a duel between a man with a bat and another man with a ball, and it is replete with many of the same athletic skills. The trouble with cricket is that it is a sport peculiar to the British and, like practically all British peculiarities, it often is incomprehensible to others.
Cricket is a remnant of another day, another age, when men had more time to play. It was born in the lovely, rolling English countryside, among the great oak trees and the meadows filled with browsing sheep; it grew to maturity on the village green, where the squire would gather his people on a weekend, after the work was done, and join them in this ritual that became a game. Cricket grows no longer—it is, in fact, battling superhighways and television sets and yacht clubs for survival—and a great many Englishmen do not really like cricket today. They prefer soccer. The demand for "brighter cricket" fills the English newspapers, the music halls of London and the Houses of Parliament. But the cricket fan manages to ignore most of the complaints. England, to him, is divided quite simply into two parts: those who love cricket and those who do not count. Let the latter shout.
Unlike soccer, which appeals almost entirely to what the English used to call the lower classes, cricket cuts across class lines. It is played by Welsh coal miners and English factory workers as well as graduates of Cambridge and Oxford; it is played on school grounds and on the village green and at Lord's, where the Marylebone Cricket Club reigns as it has for 175 years, in dignity and splendor, while maintaining an unceasing vigilance over everything that takes place.
In England today cricket is still everywhere. The immaculate white trousers and white shoes and white shirts and white cable-stitched, knee-length sweaters appear on a summer day by the hundreds of thousands upon every cricket ground in the land. Cricket clubs dot London and Manchester and Birmingham and the other bustling cities. There are the great intercounty matches—the big leagues of cricket—at Lord's and Leeds and Old Trafford and the Oval, all the hallowed sites. And this summer the touring test side from Australia is on hand as well, contesting England for the Ashes. The Commonwealth can crumble and the Common Market jolly well go hang when the Aussies are in town.
To appreciate cricket, an American must first understand it—which should not be so impossible when one considers that 50 million English, 85 million Pakistanis, 15 million South Africans, 10 million Australians, 3 million West Indians, 2 million New Zealanders and 400 million Indians seem to know what the game is all about. The first thing an American should do is accept the fact that a great deal of what his countrymen have written about cricket is true. In this way he can subdue his mirth early and concentrate on technique.
So there really is something called a googly and a position known as silly mid-off and another called forward short leg. The game does appear sometimes to be played in slow motion, and medical research has indeed established that a cricket fielder expends more energy driving to his match than he does once he gets there. Players and fans alike suspend all activity abruptly at 4:15 p.m. to take tea; when a spectator misses tea, it is usually because he is taking a nap instead. No one argues with the umpires although occasionally a fan will get so excited that he claps. And because the game is inevitably bound up with strategy, it can go on for hours and days and, as in the case of a test series, for weeks without arriving at any definite conclusion. This is all part of cricket. Those who wish to see back-to-back home runs by Mantle and Maris, or Willie Mays sliding across home plate on the seat of his pants, should go elsewhere.
But if they do, they will miss some remarkable performances. For example, a good fast cricket bowler can deliver the ball, which is slightly smaller and harder than a baseball, and is painted red—probably so the blood won't show—at 90 miles an hour, as fast as Don Drysdale, and he can make it do strange and wondrous things by bouncing it off the ground. The deliveries of a spin bowler, both for accuracy and the gyrations produced, would earn the envy of Sal Maglie. The batsman, in order to stay alive, let alone score 100 runs in one time at bat, must possess the courage of a water buffalo, something of a water buffalo's hide and the reactions of a cat. Even the fielders, despite their sedentary appearance, sometimes make catches, barehanded, that would amaze Maury Wills. And, the oft maligned strategy can be fascinating, too, as soon as one learns where to look.