“Wait…. You’re an American … and you’re a girl … and you’re interested in cricket?”
Thus began my first ever experience with the game that would become one of my three greatest loves in life. The Gentlemen’s Sport. Cricket.
I came to cricket in a wild, round-about way. Back in the fall of 2009 I was directing a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that I had set in India. When I went online to look for music to play during scenes I stumbled across the soundtrack to a Bollywood film, Salaam-e-Ishq. I fell in love with the song and after the show had wrapped I got the film from Netflix. I fell in love with Bollywood, and through that with Shah Rukh Khan. Shah Rukh owns a cricket team, the Kolkata Knight Riders. Of course I had to be a fan, but I knew nothing at all about cricket. So I went online, typed “Philadelphia” and “Cricket” into Google, and was directed to the website for the Philadelphia Cricket League. A friend and I went to watch a match at what we thought was the closest pitch to where I lived. And that’s where I met BOCC, British Officers Cricket Club.
Aside from being startled that an American girl like me would be interested in cricket, the guys were super happy to have a supporter. During that very first match, in the second innings, they encouraged me to score for them. I didn’t know anything about scoring, but Tahir, who is my “cricket uncle” taught me the basics. I enjoyed it so much that I kept coming back again and again and again.
Almost three years later here I am, a card-carrying member of the club, studying to be an internationally certified scorer. I’ve traveled to England with the club and every year we go to Toronto for a tour. I also help out with the Philadelphia International Cricket Festival (in just three weeks!) and have been known to score for Merion Cricket Club and Staten Island Cricket Club.
And most Americans probably have no concept of what I’m talking about here. Well, that’s because Americans just don’t know what they’re missing. So let me tell you about cricket….
Here is my favorite explanation of cricket:
“You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.”
Believe it or not, that makes sense when you know what you’re talking about. But if you’re American and you’re confused, let me simplify it….
You have two teams of eleven guys. One team begins by fielding and one team by batting. Sound familiar? In the center of the pitch is a long rectangle called the wicket. At either end of the wicket you have… wickets. I’ve always been a little confused on the terminology here, so someone might have to correct me. Anyhow, the wickets are made up of three stumps with two bails laid across the top. Each of the two batsmen who are “in” stand in front of these wickets wearing what looks like battle armor made out of mini mattresses. Why all the coverage?
Because the bowler (think pitcher if you’re American) comes running full speed towards the pitch and hurls a small, rock-hard ball (usually red, sometimes white) overhand at the batsman in an attempt to smash the wicket to pieces. The ball bounces several feet in front of the batsman, who is protecting the wicket. At least it’s supposed to.
The batsman’s job is to protect the wicket. As long as it remains intact he can stay in. But points are scored when the batsman “on strike” hits that ball and the two batsmen run back and forth between the wickets. There are large boxes drawn around the wickets in chalk and the batsmen just have to get part of themselves, which includes their bat, inside of that box in order to turn around and run back for another run. If the batsman hits the ball and it rolls on the ground over the boundary (usually a large oval marking the far edges of the pitch) then he automatically gets 4 points without having to run. If he hits the ball and it goes airborne over the boundary he automatically gets 6 points.
Batsmen get out by having their wicket broken, either by the bowler when he bowls, by the wicket-keeper (think catcher) who can knock the bails off of the stumps if the batsman steps outside of the box but doesn’t make a full run, by a fielder who hits the wicket with the ball before the batsman runs into the box, by having the ball caught after he hits it (just like baseball), or by this nutty thing called LBW or Leg Before Wicket which I don’t entirely understand but has to do with the batsman blocking the ball from hitting the wicket with his body or leg pads instead of the bat. Oh, or if he steps back and knocks his own wicket over, which I have never seen happen but have been learning about in my scorers course.
Unlike baseball, each batsman stays in as long as he can, scoring as many runs as he can, until he’s out. Once he’s out the next guy on the team goes in to replace him. In most cricket one side goes in and scores as many runs as they can, then in the second innings the other team bats and tries to beat the score of the first team in the first innings.
Which brings me to innings. There are two of them (unless you’re playing test cricket, which is still a bit of a mystery to me). Innings are made up of Overs. An over is made up of six deliveries of the ball. Meaning the bowler bowls six times. Unless there are “Extras” (think Balls in baseball). An inning is made up of a pre-established number of overs. We generally play 40 over innings, but there is a new form of cricket growing in popularity called Twenty20 that is only 20 overs per inning. Cricket purists scoff at the very notion as an offense to all things good and holy in cricket.
Well, if I haven’t confused you enough, there are two other VITAL parts of the cricket match that make the whole thing the most wonderful experience ever. After the first inning but before the second innings is something called “Tea”. Tea is lunch. When BOCC hosts matches we usually provide a stellar spread of home-cooked food. Because we have a lot of Indian members of our club, sometimes Tea is a full-on curry. After the match is over it’s time for the Pub. We don’t always go out to the pub afterwards, but it’s just not quite the same when you don’t. Because cricket is a social game.
So there you have it. Americans, this is the sport that most of the rest of the English-speaking world eats, sleeps, and breathes! It is here in America, but you have to hunt to find it. Look in communities with a strong ex-patriot population. It really is a lot of fun.