Just Not Cricket!

Bill Bryson wrote my favorite quote about cricket: “It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting. That. was merely an unintended side effect”1.

Had he met him, Bill would have enjoyed the company of another of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams. Doug put his dim view of cricket rather more succinctly; it is, he said, “an incomprehensibly dull and pointless game”2.

They are great writers both, yet on this subject they are very, very wrong. I shall explain why in this article, but first, for those who are unfamiliar with the noble pursuit of cricket, here is the briefest of summaries.

What Is Cricket?

Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport not unlike baseball, played between two teams of eleven players each. The teams play on an oval grass field, in the centre of which is a hard, rectangular strip called a pitch, where most of the action takes place. Cricket scores are very high–in the many hundreds–and the game can run on for hours, days, even weeks. It is an old game, originating in the 16th century, and colonialists went on to export it throughout the British Empire.

Back to Bill and Doug. If bright, sports-watching fellows such as these have disliked cricket, then we should not be surprised that the game failed to take here, in the melting pot of American sport. Baseball holds some of the legacy of cricket, to an extent, but much of what makes cricket cricket did not survive.

For my money, that is America’s loss. As other former British colonies discovered–countries like Australia, India and South Africa–and indeed as I have discovered as I have grown older, cricket is a most fascinating activity. It is a game difficult to summarize, but to me, cricket combines the athleticism of a sport, the intellectualism of a game,- and the silliness of Monty Python.

The Language Of Cricket

How can one not love a game that employs such ridiculous terminology? Take for instance the start of the match–only in cricket do we call the beginning an over. What follows from there is a simple pursuit, based around one player bowling a ball to another, who in turn tries to hit the ball to score points. Yet out of this simple scenario the following, and bewildering, vernacular may occur:

In cricket-speak: The bowler chucks a googly to the batsman who slog-sweeps the ball to his square leg, trying to drive his team to a double Nelson. He fails, and instead he is caught at silly midwicket. The batsman is out for a duck and the bowler celebrates with a maiden under his belt.

Translation: The thrower pitches the ball to the hitter who hits it away and off to the left, in the hope of increasing his team’s score. He fails, and instead the ball is caught not far from where he stands. The hitter is dismissed, having failed to score, and the pitcher celebrates his opponent’s lack of points.

The wonderful absurdity of cricket lies in this strange verbal landscape–and to think I did not mention the bosies, the bunnies, the quack-tric, the cherries, the flat-track bully, the pie chucker and the Chinaman. There are so many more, it deserves a book.

Cricket And The Weather

Some say they dislike cricket because of its maddening relationship with the weather. A cricket pitch is hard and flat; a brief outbreak of rain, barely enough to wet the lips of a mayfly, is enough to ruin it. Yet England–a country in which the locals know summer has arrived because the rain gets warmer—invented cricket. It is crazy–the detractors have argued–to invent such a fragile pastime in Britain.

Because of the meteorological predicament in which cricket finds itself, precipitation is a friend to non-believers. One British Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas Home, stated, “Oh God, if there be cricket in heaven, let there also be rain”. Indeed, it is a wonder so many cricketers are overweight, given how often they scamper from the pitch, soaked to the skin.

What makes matters worse is that even the possibility of rain is enough to end a cricket match. A batsman in cricket is at a disadvantage if the light is somewhat dull; he cannot see the ball properly, so the game’s inventors decided. Sadly, in England, the light is often dull–in fact, that is why the painter Turner vamoosed to Venice. So could Bill and Doug be right after all?

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