‘I don’t get how you can watch a game lasts for what, five days?’
‘It’s so boring! Nothing happens.’
Those are some very typical responses I’ve had when discussing my beloved game of cricket with the wonderful citizens of the United States of America I often meet on my travels.
Americans and cricket.
I love talking about the differences between cultures and places with people I meet on the road.
Swapping idioms, swear words and stories helps foster an understanding of where you have come and the place you have come to learn about.
Americans always laugh when I tell them in Australia the word ‘root’ is used to describe having sex rather than supporting a sports team. ‘Who do you root for?’ takes on a whole new meaning for them.
In turn I learn things about the USA like putting bacon on top of pancakes and coating the lot in maple syrup sounds gross but is actually amazing.
But cricket seems to be one thing the Yanks just won’t believe or embrace.
Cricket in America.
There is a tiny following for the game in America and historically the very first international game of cricket was played in New York between the USA and Canada. In fact, the game’s administrators in the USA are pushing to the get the game back into the spotlight.
But these days if it’s not baseball, American football, ice hockey or basketball it seems the good people of America tune out when cricket is mentioned.
Don’t get me wrong – I like watching those games. Baseball is tense and skillful, NFL is like modern gladiators and ice hockey, and basketballers are fast and furious.
But I prefer the more sedate excitement of cricket.
Explaining that to dubious Americans is a challenge but it’s fun.
Everyone I’ve met in the USA says they want to visit Australia – and I am convinced that a cricket match should be high on their list of things to see when they do.
Explaining cricket to Americans.
Yes, cricket can last five days. Yes, there are long periods where it seems absolutely nothing is happening. Yes, it can be boring.
But understanding and appreciating cricket is, in my opinion, a crucial step in understanding and appreciating the culture and history of the nations that play it.
It’s often said there are two important people in Australia, the Prime Minister and the Captain of the Cricket Test team. Why is it so important?
Well, England invented the game and exported it across its colonies as a civilising force. The West Indies played for blood in the ’70s and ’80s as a way of culturally getting back at the Brits for a few centuries of exploitation.
India and Pakistan have elevated the bat and ball to mythic levels and a match between those nations can be magnified on par with an armed conflict.
Australia versus England is one of the world’s oldest and fiercest rivalries, the posh colonial power versus the bushmen with rough manners.
South Africa has a world class team that was denied the opportunity to play internationally to protest the cruel policies of apartheid and its emergence as a world power of the game mirrors its emergence from those terrible years.
The game is deeply entrenched into the culture and politics of every nation it’s popular in and appreciating its role in those societies will give a better insight than a Lonely Planet guidebook ever could.
How to play cricket.
So how does one play cricket? It’s complicated, but here are the basics for a Test match, that game that can go for five days.
There are two teams of eleven players.
One team bats two at a time while the other side bowls and fields. The bowlers try to get the batters out, and the batters try to stay in and keep the bowling side out. The bowler bowls the ball to the batsman who can hit it for runs or leave it. The batter gets out if he is caught, bowled or run out while attempting a run. The bowlers either bowl the batting side out or the batting side stays out long enough to declare and make the bowling side bat.
The process repeats until both sides have batted and bowled twice, or an advantage is pressed so one team denies the other the chance.
The match can, and often does end in a draw and can be called off because of rain or poor light.
All understood? Great!
A team can go out to bat and absolutely smash the opposition, bashing the ball all over the ground and being thoroughly entertaining. Or they can block the ball and score so slowly you can measure the grass growing and count the empty seats.
How to enjoy cricket.
Regardless of the pace, the main idea of watching a game of cricket is the refreshments.
A few years back I was living in England when the poms (British people in Aussie parlance) went to Australia to play a series of five test matches called ‘The Ashes.’
Because of the time difference the match started at around 11pm London time. We cracked our first tin of beer at the coin toss and finished the last of them at the close of play at around 5am in the morning.
Nothing stops the refreshments.
Players actually take breaks for tea and lunch.
In the old days an urn of hot water was wheeled out onto the ground and they each had a china cup of tea to sip. Lunch is served in the club rooms and is often a spread of sandwiches, salads, curries and pasta dishes.
At club level an afternoon tea of cakes and biscuits can be served up, and after the game the players go to the local pub and, er, rehydrate themselves.
It’s all quite civilised.
Cricket can be fast and furious too.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a game for pussies. The bowlers can hurl the ball at over 60mph down the pitch and batters wear helmets and pads to protect themselves.
The ball is made from hard leather and if you get hit it hurts like hell.
The West Indies once had a fast bowling unit that was so fast and feared that players started to wear helmets to protect themselves from broken jaws, fractured skulls and chipped teeth.
One bowler’s nickname was ‘Whispering Death’ and the team was so dominant they were considered unbeatable for a decade.
So if you’re planning a trip to a cricket loving country give the game a go.
It’s got the same slow paced tension as baseball, the tactical and strategic depth of NFL, the chance for blood like ice hockey and the grace and skill of basketball.
Plus there’s beer and food, always.
A traveller who understands cricket will be welcomed with the widest of open arms in countries that celebrate the game. It’s a shared culture that transcends language and politics.
Oh, and it’s a much better game than soccer.