Explaining Cricket to Americans

I recently got to visit Perth, Australia. While I’ve been to Australia before, this was my first time in Western Australia, and it turns out that Perth has a brand new cricket stadium. I wasn’t able to get tickets, but my host Chris was kind enough to spend the afternoon with me in a bar watching a match between England and Australia. I thought, as a public service, I would share what I learned about the game of cricket. Where possible I’ll make comparisons to baseball.

[Note: I plan to use the masculine pronoun in this story because I saw a men’s match, but it is in no way meant to imply women can’t play the sport].

First, watching cricket seems to involve a lot of beer. I think that can be said for most Australian activities, but cricket in particular. I spent part of the afternoon working my way through all of the draft beers with the word “cricket” in them.

List of Draft Beers

Cricket is played on an oval field. In the middle of this field is a rectangle of dirt known as the “pitch”. Most of the action occurs here. Think of it as if the baseline in baseball only extended from the pitcher’s mound to home plate.

On each end of the pitch are three upright pieces of wood called the “stickies”. Placed on them are two blocks called the “toppers”. They used to be made of wood but now they have sensors in them that light up if disturbed.

At this point I need to mention that I was watching one day cricket. In the beginning of the sport they envisioned it to be “the eternal game” so it never ended. New players were actually conceived during breaks in the action and raised to continue the tradition. Over time they decided to shorten the game to five days, known as “test” cricket, as a test of the patience of the spectators.

In 1979 a media mogul named Kerry Packer popularized “one day cricket”. Instead of lasting five days, it was designed to be played in one. To make a comparison to baseball, this is a game with one inning with ten outs per team, with the added restriction of a maximum of 300 pitches.

But getting back to the basics. So, we have the pitch, the stickies and the toppers. It is the job of the fielding team to try and knock the toppers off the stickies. The other team attempts to prevent this from happening by the use of paddles. The “paddlers” stand in front of the stickies on each end. From one end of the pitch a “flinger” runs up and then flings a ball toward one of the paddlers. I say “flings” because it isn’t a throw, per se, as the flinger’s arm must stay straight (unlike a pitch in American baseball).

The ball bounces in front of the paddler and toward the stickies, and the paddler tries to hit it. At this point three things can happen: he can hit the ball with the paddle, he can hit the ball with his body, or he can miss.

Cricket Diagram

If he hits the ball, he has the option to run, which means heading toward the other side of the pitch while the other paddler changes sides. They can do this as many times as they want, and each exchange scores a “run”. A run is scored when the paddler or part of the paddle crosses a white line in front of the stickies. Depending on where the paddlers end up, they may paddle again or it may switch to the other one (the flinger only throws in one direction).

If, however, the fielding team can catch the ball in the air, the paddler is out. Also, if they can throw the ball and knock off the toppers before the paddler crosses the white line, he is also out. It is rare that the ball is hit and more than one or two runs are scored.

Around the edge of the field is a marked area, probably about three meters from the wall. If the paddler hits the ball and it lands in this area, or hits the wall, or goes over the wall into the stands, that scores six runs and is known as a “six”. If the ball managed to hit the ground outside of this area but rolls into it, that scores four runs and is known as, you guessed it, a “four”.

Now the player can also hit the ball with his body. This is not good. Unlike baseball, the ball bounces at least once in front of the player, so there is no “hit by pitch” rule. The paddlers wear leg protection and helmets, but I saw one player get hit in the chest with the ball and it didn’t look fun (the balls go around 100kph/62mph). Outside of the addition considerable pain, it doesn’t affect the game much unless he hits it with his leg. If it is determined that the ball would have struck the stickies had he not blocked it, the paddler is out.

The final option is that the paddler misses the ball. If it hits the stickies hard enough to drop the toppers, he’s out. Behind the set of stickies near the active paddler is the “stickler”, kind of like the catcher in baseball. If the stickler can grab the ball and hit the toppers off while the paddler is over the line, he’s out. In order to get a better strike on the ball, many paddlers will step towards the fling, but this adds the risk of getting out if they miss.

If the ball just goes out into the field, usually nothing happens. Depending on how far out, the paddlers may choose to run. The signal to run is usually done by the paddler not actively paddling as they can keep an eye on what is going on in the rest of the field.

And those are the basics. There are eleven players on each team, and since you have to have two paddlers the inning ends when ten are out. Then the fielding and paddling teams switch and the process starts all over. The flingers change after every six flings, called an “over” (as in “thank God that’s over”), and in one day cricket there are usually 50 overs for each team. In the match I saw neither team lasted all 300 possible flings as the paddlers were out before that point.

Then you just add up the runs and the team with the most runs wins.

I am not really covering all of the strategy and subtleties of the game. One thing became clear is that most teams start with their best paddlers. In the match I watched, England paddled first and when Australia took over it looked like they were going to run away (get it?) with it, but after some unfortunate outs it became obvious England was going to win.

I also learned that if you get out without scoring a run, that is called a “duck”, and if you are out at your first attempt to paddle that is a “golden duck”. Not sure why we have all of the avian terms in sports but we do.

I really enjoyed watching the game and found myself cheering when Oz scored a four or six, or got someone out. I don’t think I’m up for test cricket, but they have something called a twenty20, which apparently involves force feeding the players methamphetamine and motivating them with explosive fireworks.

Streaker at Cricket Match

Oh, cricket apparently involves streaking, too. The wonderful security officials escort you off the field and there is a large fine.

Beer and Cricket on TV

Good times.

Review: Super Bowl XLIX

Even though I would not consider myself to be an NFL fanatic, I have a certain affinity for the Super Bowl.

I was born in Pittsburgh the year before the first one, and although we moved to North Carolina soon after that I’ve always been a fan of Pittsburgh teams (note that I do root for the Panthers as well, but when I was growing up there were no national sports teams in North Carolina).

Pittsburgh won Super Bowl IX on my ninth birthday, and continued on to win four of the first fourteen titles. Pittsburgh is the only team to have won six Super Bowls and is tied with Dallas and now New England at eight appearances.

When neither Pittsburgh nor Carolina are in the big game, I usually pull for the underdog, but I also tend to base my choice on who is in a better position to compete with Pittsburgh’s legacy. This year I wasn’t emotionally invested in either team, but since New England had the stronger Super Bowl record, I was pulling for Seattle.

Actually, all I was really hoping for was a good game, and this year’s title match didn’t disappoint.

Toward the end of the half it was 14 to 7, New England, but the score really didn’t reflect the game. New England was having a much better time of it on the field, and it was only an interception that kept the Patriots from having an even greater lead. But in a gutsy move, the Seahawks went for the touchdown instead of a field goal with minutes left and managed to tie it up at the half.

The halftime show was headlined by Katy Perry, and it was a nice change to see someone not eligible for AARP perform. Ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” the NFL has leaned toward, say we say, “mature” acts. Even Prince was 50 when he did the halftime show. They also mentioned Lenny Kravitz, but while I think he is a very talented performer, I have no idea what he was doing there. Perhaps they wanted some adult supervision. Speaking of adults, I was happy to see Missy Elliot make a surprise appearance and add some life to the show. Perhaps it was because she’s been around as long as Tom Brady – I saw in the EW’s “Chart Flashback” that her song “Hot Boyz” was number seven on the Hot 100 back in 2000.

Speaking of entertainment, if my teams aren’t in it I watch the game for the commercials. My favorite was the Doritos airplane one

followed closely by the one from Loctite.

After the break it was all Seattle, and they increased their lead to ten. When the Patriots went three and out late in the third quarter, one might have thought the game was over.

It wasn’t. The fourth quarter was all New England, and with two minutes left in the game they were leading 28 to 24.

I find it amusing that when I watch football, if my team is up in a situation like this I am certain that the other team will rally and win, and if my team is down I think there is no way they will possibly score enough to win.

While this was a great game, one of the best Super Bowl games ever was the Giants vs. Patriots in Super Bowl XLII when the Giants put an end to the Patriots’ perfect season with an insane catch by David Tyree toward the end of the game. It seemed like history would repeat when Jermaine Kearse bobbled a pass deflected by Malcolm Butler but managed the completion. This left the Seahawks on the Patriot’s five yard line with over a minute on the clock and a strong running game.

Of course, in one of the worst calls in championship history, Seattle decided to throw it and Butler redeemed himself with a game winning interception.

Even then it wasn’t over. With Brady back in the end zone, he couldn’t just take a knee, but an unfortunate penalty gave them the five yards they needed to seal the outcome.

But what really disappointed me, and made me happy that New England had won, was the brawl that happened after the play. There was an actual fight, lead by Seahawk Bruce Irwin, that resulted in his ejection from the game – the first time in Super Bowl history and the first one I’d ever seen in 40 years of watching NFL games.

Combine that with the trash talk, the “poopdown” and not only did New England outplay Seattle, they outclassed them, and I just wanted to congratulate the winning team.