Indian Premier League cricket draws millions of viewers via YouTube. Thousands pack out every game in Mumbai.
The United States of America supports wars abroad and professional sports at home. Both of these things are expensive and a testament to an economy that, even while limping, seems to manage grand slam sized feats. Football, baseball, and basketball obviously rule. College athletics collectively hold court alongside the big three. Hockey takes its place behind NCAA and the big three. Soccer, golf, and tennis round out the sports year. But do Americans play the second most popular game in the world? Does America play cricket? We do actually. We just don’t play it very well.
The U.S. will one day have a professional cricket league. It will be some time (way longer than those pushing for it think), however, before MLC (Major League Cricket) is entrenched as an American establishment by way of locking itself out. Before that inevitable lockout we’ll discover that cricket is a gripping sport and we’ll watch it. My friends will watch the Kansas City Sparrows bowl out the Phoenix Banditos, 115 for 4, just because two guys on their fantasy team are set to earn centuries in the titanic Tuesday Night Match-Up. Jerry Jones will try to out bid Sheiks and Russian oil magnates for Sri Lankan all-rounders. Drake and LeBron will sit pitch-side to watch the next Ricky Ponting carve out boundaries all morning in Brooklyn.
Some Australian cricketers looking, by our standards, extremely not cool. I’ll have to convince you that these dudes are for real athletes.
There is space for cricket. It’s there in the mounting westernization of south asia. It’s in the inherent drama of cricket. It’s just still kind of far away. The distance most likely is due to how much you don’t know about the game and how difficult it is to know something about the game. Mostly, though, it’s cause you don’t think cricket is cool. Which, from your perspective, it’s not. Some things need to be taught and translated.
Here, in part one of three, I’ll translate and explain some basics. I’ll show you these things by way of my personal journey. I played one year of cricket for my uni (college) as a bowler (pitcher) for the first XI (first eleven = varsity). I plan to be the the first American-born member of the the United States Cricket Team. Seriously, we have a national team and we’ve yet to have an American born cricketer suit up in white slacks and a sweater vest. Here, I’ll unveil stories that teach the game – how it’s played and why it’s such a cool game. There are, in this autobiography, ups and downs, successes and failures but mostly failures along with heaping doses of hilarity. This is my story: laugh at it, make fun of it, but also, learn from it.
Then, in part two, I’ll show you how those basics are being exploited in India. Many are making millions off of it within an economic model that piques the interest of American investors. I’ll also get you up-to-date on the goings-on of the cricket world–stars and drama, etc.
Lastly, I’ll lay out how I think cricket should be marketed and pushed onto an already saturated sports culture like America. Comparing English club cricket to Indian T-20 cricket will serve as a launching point. Cricket in England is freaking boring. It’s freaking awesome in India. Ultimately, this essay will serve to debut an ongoing attempt to bring you, my friends, into the world of cricket. We’ll be ahead of the
curve spinner (a curve ball is called a spinner in cricket).
After reading I’ll invite you over to watch cricket via firstrowsports.eu on my computer. In between ads for Indian bath products you’ll begin to recognize why it’s second in popularity behind that other sport you don’t really watch unless you accidentally wake early on a Saturday in the winter. Despite your current opinions or knowledge of cricket, if America is not to be left behind in the coming generations, my admonition is that you recognize where it is that the rest of the world is focusing attention–renewable energy, math/science, and cricket.
Terms and Rules
As we get into the nuts and bolts it will help to have a beginner’s vocabulary. There are several terms that have a baseball equivalent. We’ll start with those. Inserted are short stories relaying my learning of the terms by way of immersion.
Bowler = Pitcher
Dude showing off an admirable crow-hop. Bowling.
I went out for a spot on the side (side = team) as a bowler. I had little say in this. I was forced to abide on the first day. Abiding would become my modus operandi. I’d pitched in high school. As a JV pitcher I threw side arm and had a Rob Dibble leg kick. I mean, why not? It was JV. In varsity I wasn’t allowed to throw side arm and the varsity coaches didn’t think my leg kick was funny. In cricket the leg kick is morphed into a run-up. Every pitch is delivered as a crow-hop from center field. This is really freaking fun. I mean, how many crow-hops did you do as a kid? I mean, right? Cricket doesn’t only afford one opportunities to crow-hop on every pitch, it calls for you to do so! And! And! Not only do you get to crow-hop, you get to run at the batter for as far of a distance as you desire before you crow-hop. Imagine starting just behind second base, running as fast as you can, getting to the mound and crow hopping your pitch to home plate.
Bowling is really fun. It’s great. However, and this is a big however, you can’t bend your arm at the elbow. This is the biggest buzz kill of cricket. “Oh, you can throw hard? Oh you want to be Rob Dibble with a crow-hop?! Welp, we’re not going to let you throw hard. We’re going to put your arm in a cast and then have you pitch.” This is the hardest part of cricket, not bending your elbow. It’s also the hardest thing for me to get over. One that bends their elbow is penalized one run for what’s called, ‘slinging’. In one season, it’s purported, that I was penalized for slinging over a dozen times. Whatever. Dibble was awesome. The cricket equivalent to Dibble, Lasith ‘Slinga’ Malinga is featured in this video. He’s called slinga because of his side-arm action. He’s a stud.
Batsman = Batter
Batsman are gentlemen, in the first place. One is to be patient, refined, strong (both mentally and physically) and dignified. A good batsman may be ‘at the plate’ for more than a few hours. It’s like giving a presentation to your boss. You need to have a plan, a good introduction, a solid conclusion, and you need to anticipate your boss’ questions. I did none of these things. My JV baseball career encouraged me to swing for the fences–the opposite mindset of an upstanding batsman. The ‘proper’ cricket swing is a short stroke, controlled and crafted to keep the ball on the ground. My swing is long, out-of-control, and built to hit the ball as high and as far as possible. I was not a good batsman.
A batsman wears ridiculous amounts of gear. Think hockey goalie. Hence, one looks bad ass in batting attire. There are leg pads, hip pads, gloves that look like hockey gloves, elbow and arm guards, a helmet with face guard, and a cup. Baseball batters have gloves and wrist bands, ankle guards, elbow guards, and eye black. Or at least I had all of these things. JV baseball is an opportunity to wear as much gear as possible, though you’ll hardly need any of it. You actually need your gear in cricket as a batsman gets hit by the ball regularly–it’s part of the game.
India’s beloved Sachin Tendulkar exhibiting proper batting technique.
A batsman should only swing strategically at worthy balls. The less you swing, and more you block, the longer you last. I would swing at everything in JV baseball. I swung at every ball I saw in cricket–I was a terrible batsman.
Over = Six Pitches and Delivery = a pitch
Overs are to cricket as innings are to baseball–they provide structure. After six pitches the ball switches to the opposite end of the field and a new pitcher/bowler is brought in to face the same batsmen (there are two ‘mounds’ and two ‘plates’). It’s a time for captains to make some switches in the positioning of his players. Mostly, from my perspective, it was a time to run to the center of the field and give pounds and high fives and butt slaps to my teammates–much like basketball players do after each foul shot. Those that were deep in the outfield would rarely make the jog in like I did. I found that to be selfish, on their part. I mean if you’re going to be in the field for several hours why not relish the opportunities to actually hang out with your teammates. Hanging in the dug out, spitting sun flower seeds is all that I remember from JV baseball. I remember the time in between overs fondly. I taught the team a basic/urban handshake. Some got it and liked it. Others seemed disinterested with my overly-touchy approach to time between overs. I’d love to see what the 2011 Brewers team could do with the time between overs.
Dismissed = Out
England national team, shown here, are not on the playground playing patty-cake. They are, in fact, celebrating the recent dismissal of the opposing team.
About 10 minutes in to my first cricket game I caught a foul tip. It was the first catch of the season and I’d learn later that lapses between outs could be hours. I made our first out in the first ten minutes of the first game. I was like any kid that has grown up watching professional baseball players barely react to catching fly balls. I could hear my varsity coach in my ear, “Act like you’ve been there before.” My reaction was to be as cool as possible. I could not have been more off. I insulted my team and the game. In cricket, because outs are so rare, (imagine playing for seven hours and only seeing 18 outs as opposed to the 54 in one 2.5 hour baseball game) when you make one, the proper reaction is to throw the ball, under hand, as high as you can. Don’t watch where the ball lands. Put your hands in the air. Yell as loud as you can. Sprint to the center of the field and embrace your teammates in awkward hugs.
Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs being cooler than you.
Americans, thanks to African American professional athletes in the 80s and 90s, have perfected athletic celebrations and hand shakes.
The rest of the world has not yet mastered this. It’s something cricketers are going to have to work on if cricket is to find a foothold in the U.S. Take this photo of Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs for instance. That’s a whole lot of cool to have to live up to. I’m not sure the more worldly cricketers have the gumption or swag yet. We’ll leave it at something to work on, swag, that is. I still feel badly about how off-putting and lax my reaction was to our first out of the season. I’m sure many on the team still resent me for my perceived apathy. It’s supposed to look something like this.
Ways to ‘Get Out’
1) In baseball you are out when the opposing team catches the ball before it hits the ground. This is the same in cricket. Only, cricketers do not wear gloves or mitts. The lack of leather sets cricket apart. In short, catching line drives isn’t easy without a glove. Granted, true line drives, as we would define a line drive, do not happen that often. Lazy fly balls are the most common catch. It would be hard for me to relay how much cricketers and fans of cricket love catches. I suppose the equivalent would be an over the shoulder diving catch. In MLB there are what, ten per week during the season? We get pretty jacked about them but still, cricketers go nuts for catches, even the simple ones.
In practice one day I was standing behind the bowlers. This was early on in my career (second or third practice). A guy batting at the far end hit a line drive my way. I raised my right hand and caught the ball. I flipped it to the guy that bowled it and went on my way. The cheers of my teammates startled me. I thought they were yelling at an intruder or something. Turns out my casual snag brought the house down. Later that night, I was sitting in a pub close to the practice center and two guys came up behind me. Two loud hand slaps against my back, the one guy yalked to the other, “Mate! You shoulda seen this lad’s catch tonight in the nets! Top form, mate! He’s a natural.” I was baffled but soaked up the accolades. If it was this easy to rile up cricketers and cricket fans then what could Dez Bryant or Larry Fitzgerald or Josh Hamilton get out of them, I thought. This is a true story.
2) In baseball a batter is out if the ball arrives at the base before the batter. This is similar in cricket. However, there are no bases. There is a crease. It’s the batter’s box, first base, home plate, and the pitcher’s mound all in one. Pretty resourceful, really. The set-up is conducive for playing in the street–much like basketball and soccer–hence the popularity of the game. Here’s how it works: the bowler bowls the ball towards the batsman who is standing in front of the wicket or stumps (the three stakes in the ground). The bowler is trying to hit the stumps (kind of) and the batsman is trying to protect the stumps (kind of). The batsman will sometimes just block the ball, other times he will hit it. If he hits it, let’s say a medium paced ground ball up the middle, one that won’t reach the fence but the center fielder will still need to concentrate on fielding it. In this case, the two batsman that are on the pitch will run back and forth between the wickets as many times as they can. If the ball is relayed in and thrown or pushed into the wickets before the batsmen are safely beyond the crease then that batsman is out. This is called a run-out. It’s a humiliating and rare way to get out. I was run-out twice. It looks something like this. Notably, this video hints at the current sentiments strangling cricket–more on this later.
The game was not close. I was at the bottom of the line up. We were swinging for the fences to try and get back in the game. It was my debut. Coach told me, tongue-in-cheek, to knock some out of the park. First ball, I golfed one into the cheap seats. I was that rookie you see on SportsCenter. The one towards the end of an episode. The one whose first hit in the big leagues was a home run. I was beaming. I hit for six runs on the first ball I saw. Next pitch. I slapped one through the right side of the infield. I caught it on the sweet spot. I was now gloating over my wrongly perceived natural prowess as a batsman. A guy in the outfield was picking up the ball as I noticed our bench screaming for me to run. Lumbering through the pads I arrived at the other crease just in time to see their keeper swipe our wickets. I had been run-out on my second pitch. Bummer.
3) There are two other common ways to get out in cricket. I was able to accomplish one of them. The second I somehow avoided. The first is by jumping out of the crease. It’s kind of like being run-out but even more humiliating. It was on the third pitch in my third game. The bowler threw one full, right at my ankles. (Full means he shorthopped me.) What a prick, I thought. While I was staring him down the other team was celebrating. The ball had been tossed in the air and they were playing patty cake quite near to me. I wanted to drop the gloves and start swinging but I was already sensing the humiliation. I had jumped out of the crease. The wicket keeper (catcher) had swiped my wickets while I was out of the crease contemplating charging the mound. I was out. Again.
4) Leg Before Wicket, known as LBW is yet another way to be dismissed. This is interesting and makes for some good fun. In my first game, I was bowling my first over, it might have been my third or fourth pitch ever delivered. Coach told me to go inside on the batter. I’m all for brushing dudes back. I hit him square in the leg pad after he swung and missed. A strike and hit batter? Best case scenario, right? Things got even better. My teammates sprinted towards the umpire in unison all yelling as loud as they could. Again, I jumped. It would not be the last time their yells would startle me. They were doing what’s called appealing. In unison, as a chorus, arms raised and sprinting, they screamed, “Hoooowwwzzzzzaaaaahhht?!?!” The umpire, completely motionless except for a slowly raising forearm and index finger, called the batsman out by sternly pointing towards the sky. I was baffled. Again. What the eff just happened? I didn’t have time to ask anyone. I was on my team’s shoulders, literally. One not to turn down an opportunity to party, I joined in my Rudy moment and belatedly screamed, “Hoooowwwzzzaaah!”
So what did happen? The ball struck the batsman’s leg before it struck the wicket without clipping his bat. Leg Before Wicket. Because this is not an exact science, some bowlers throw in the 90s and a batsman’s legs are a few feet from the wickets, it takes a trained professional, an umpire, to determine, if in fact, the ball would have struck the stumps had the batter not been impeding the ball’s flight. In this case, if you are fielding or bowling and you believe that the ball would have struck the stumps then you ‘appeal’ to the umpire with all your might with hopes of swaying him to your side, just in case he isn’t quite sure. The proper form for appealing centers on the phrase, “How is that?” As in, how was that pitch? Do you think it would have struck the wickets, Mr. Umpire? However, as it’s delivered on the field, it’s better to interpret “How is that?” as “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me? How could you not see that that was going to smash the wickets you blind, idiot umpire?” Like I said, appeals became one of my favorite parts of the game.
Notably, too many appeals and your team might be sanctioned by the phrase, “That’s not cricket.” It’s like one saying, “That’s not in the spirit of the game.” Men that say this sit in the expensive seats and wear sport jackets and are huge tools. I’m ok with appeals. The louder and the more the better. It’s good fun. Almost as fun as smashing the stumps and watching the batsman, all depressed, stroll back to their bench.
A Six = A home run
There is not a fence. There is a rope or a line encircling the playing surface. It’s aptly named–the boundary. To earn six runs on one ball the ball must be hit and clear the boundary on the fly. One of my favorite cricketers, Chris Gayle, the Prince Fielder of cricket, demonstrates how to hit for six:
On most cricket fields there is a ‘batter’s eye’. In major league baseball parks, in center field, there must be some sort of background that aids the batter in picking up the ball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. The batter’s eye in cricket is a big piece of wood on wheels. Depending on where the bowler is and where the batsman is, the big piece of wood is rolled into line of sight. My goal, still to this day, is to hit one over the batter’s eye for six. I promised my team, that if it happened, I would make a home run trot around the infield. Were this to happen it would not be the first or last time I offend pure blood cricketers.
A Four or Boundary = A home run
It’s kind of like a ground rule double but one scores four runs for this. The ball must strike the boundary. It’s difficult to hit for a boundary. Only good batsmen earn boundaries. It’s the sign of a good batsman. I hit for very few boundaries (maybe none?). I was not a good batsman.
A Run = A Run
When you see two batsman running back and forth between the stumps they are earning runs, one at a time. If a batsman hits the equivalent of a double into the gap then the batsmen run back and forth as many times as possible before the ball is thrown in. As previously mentioned, if one pushes too hard then one risks being run-out. “Don’t ever get run-out.” That’s my coach after I was run-out.
Types of Games – There is more than one
The overall goal of the game is to score more runs than your opponent. Pretty simple really. And if you take a step back from all the logistics of how one teams goes about that, then you see that it’s just some dudes trying to hit a ball more times than the other team without hitting it poorly. The other team is trying to make it difficult for one team to hit the ball, they want them to hit the ball poorly. In this way, cricket is as basic as sport can get. However, when it comes to scoring, things get a bit more complicated but not really. No more difficult to understand than football or tennis. One needs to understand the structure of a particular game and one needs to understand that there is more than one type of cricket game. Think of playing seven innings in little league versus nine innings in the big leagues.
Test Match Cricket
I’m not sure when this originated but the era in which it did has to be influential in its creation. As in, folks must have been bored and wealthy. Test Match Cricket lasts for five days. Five full days of cricket between two teams. I suppose it’s similar to playing a seven game series in the playoffs but these matches aren’t part of a season. Two countries decide they need to find out who is better at cricket so they schedule a full week of it. They meet and then go at it, all day for five days.
I have to admit, this appeals to me, both as a viewer and a future cricket star. Just as golf and major tournament tennis requires as much mental strength as physical, so too does test match cricket. It requires athletes to be in the moment for hours and days. I respect that. You should too. Give it a chance.
One Day Cricket – 50 Overs
The most common form of cricket, one day matches last from four to six hours. Again, that’s a long time and I doubt that this form of cricket could ever catch on in the U.S. Special event tournaments, like major tennis, could find a niche, but it’s still a long ass time. If the goal of these lengthy matches is to truly determine the better side, then cricket achieves this goal. It’s rare to claim that the winning team lucked-out like a soccer team or baseball team might. In the end, one day cricket should find its way onto college campuses. Imagine preppy frat guys organizing all day drinking parties along the boundary of the cricket pitch. Their reason for being after all, is to embody all that british exceptionalism founded, just in a more rowdy fashion. Their party pamphlet hanging in the student center might read:
Sigma Nu and Chi O invite you to the 24th annual ‘Mixer By The Pitch(er)’ – $5 pitchers all night plus cover. Bring your sweater vests – it will be ironic.
Twenty20 Cricket – 20 Overs
It’s basically the home run derby of cricket. The format has completely changed a game that hasn’t changed for over a century. It’s taking british tea and dumping it in Boston harbor. It’s taking the stuffiness of colonialism and smearing it with hip-hop artists that make CEO incomes. It’s a blast to watch.
India Premier League Cheerleaders.
The idea is that instead of each team bowling 50 overs, they only bowl 20. In normal cricket, a team can afford to block the ball in order to sustain a steady pace of scoring runs throughout the really long match. In normal cricket, a batsman might only take a big ol’ cut once an over. Normal cricket necessitates patience and allows for strategy. Twenty20 cricket requires batsmen to swing for the fences. Teams aren’t afforded as many balls to block. They need to score as many runs as quickly as possible. As a result, the Josh Hamilton’s and Big Papi’s are signing huge contracts for just a few weeks of service in India.
Formerly, these future steroid stars were relegated to county cricket in their hometown or they ended up in the Bahama’s smashing balls out of tiny stadiums in front of a few hundred people. Now, they are center stage soaking up the curried limelight. Making big bucks smashing ‘sixes’ has ignited a craze in much of the cricket watching world. This form of cricket, to use a sports fan cliche, has changed the game. It’s left pipe smoking, brandy sippin, British Lords reaching for their feathered quils. It’s begging for them to write vitriolic letters-to-the-editor sanctioning their former colonies into a landing place that’s more appropriate than the balls now falling in the cheap seats. Cricket on steroids has finally arrived. India and many already wealthy business owners are cashing in. America will too. They even have cheerleaders. We’ll cover Twenty20 extensively in part two and part three.
Positions (assuming right handed batsman)
Cricket position replete with old-brit names.
I played an entire season of cricket and never really mastered or memorized the positions. My first game the captain resorted to saying things like, “Kyle, go stand over there by Amar but not too close to him… yeah… come in a bit… back two steps… yeah right there.” I was that unathletic kid that you hoped wouldn’t show up in your neighborhood wiffle-ball game cause you’d have to tell him where to stand and where to throw the ball. This lasted for several overs until he just put me in the slips, a position that requires very little moving about. I liked it there. I had to look up the positions on wikipedia in order to write this essay.
Long Off = Right Fielder
Long On = Left Fielder
Straight On = Center Fielder
Notably, there is no foul territory in cricket. There are fielders positioned behind the batsman. There are arbitrary names for these positions, as well.
Third Man = Left Fielder (behind)
Long Stop = Center Fielder (behind)
Fine Leg = Right Fielder (behind)
Wicket Keeper = Catcher
Slips (positioned just behind the batsman to catch foul tips) = This would be like having up to three catchers
Point = If you were to place a second baseman on the on deck circle, first base line
Cover = close to where a first baseman would be
Mid Off = second baseman
Mid On = Short Stop
Midwicket = Third Baseman
Square Leg = On the on deck circle on the third base line
Fine Leg = Those foul tips that go through a batter’s legs are fielded by this guy, I’m out of examples, this guy would have good seats on the third base line if he were a patron, I guess.
It’s worth pointing out that positions are changed by the captain/manager or the bowler before every pitch. And yes, it gets really annoying to have to run around the field all day. However, by the end of the day you look forward to the jog from Square Leg to Mid On, it keeps your head in the game. And for a game that can last for days at a time, keeping your head in the game is monumental. Of equal importance, are the more sustained breaks. Commonly known as, tea.
Yes, tea break. Seriously, there’s a tea break. I’m not joking. The teams retreat into a dining room above the locker rooms. They sit down at long Harry Potter tables and eat triangle sandwiches and drink tea–together. I swear this happens. I’m not kidding. You have a tea break in the midst of manly, athletic competition. Sometimes the teams even converse. You share snacks and tea with your competitors. Sandwiches and tea and even cookies and stuff. This is real and this happens. I’m still trying to convince myself that it does. Tea and all that. Geez. I experienced it. Tea break. I saw it. Promise. It’s baffling.
Tea. Baffling. But pleasant, nonetheless.
Other Basic Terms
Spinner = A junk pitcher
Fast Bowler = A pitcher that throws only heat, can be used in closer situations or throughout the game
Medium Bowler = A starting pitcher, most often
Captain = captain/manager
Nets = Batting cage
The Boundary = The Homerun Fence
Help = cutoff
Cricket is going to have to get cool if it’s going to make waves in the U.S. I’m sure much of the cool of Indian Premier League cricket is lost in translation. As it is, the first step will be deciphering what it is that is being muzzled and kept from American interests. This means finding the stars and relaying the drama in a vernacular we can relate to. It’s then going to be about marketing. These we’ll address in the next two installments of Cricket in America. Hang with me. I promise, cricket is worth it. Who doesn’t want to see Ken Griffey Jr. come out of retirement to smash sixes while Indian patrons go ballistic? I know I do.