Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cricket for Dummies (or for Americans)

Look at the picture on the left. Do you know this man? If you are an American, you probably don't. If you live in any country that was ever part of the British Empire (besides America and perhaps Canada), then you likely recognize his face and the event that is pictured. His name is Virender Sehwag, and in the wee hours of the morning, while you and I were still asleep here in the U.S.A., he made history. Virender Sehwag is a cricketer on the Indian Cricket Team (winners of the 2011 World Cup), and in a match against West Indies on December 8, 2011, he knocked 219 runs off of 149 balls. In the better part of the world, this athletic feat will be long remembered as one of the most amazing sporting spectacles in history. Americans, meanwhile, won't even know it happened, or what it means.

I'm a fan of obscure sports. Correction, I'm a fan of sports [period]. One of the things I love about traveling and meeting people from all over the world is learning about the games people play in other places. When I was in India and Nepal earlier this year, I fell in love with cricket. It's hard being a cricket fan in America. For one thing, it is never on television, so I have to find feeds on the internet (some of which may be, shall we say, broadcast without express written consent). The games are on in the wee hours of the morning or the graveyard shift at night. During the World Cup, I was going on 3 or 4 hours of sleep (and that thing lasted like 3 months!). And there's no one to talk to about it, except for friends who live overseas and happen to be on Twitter or Facebook at those times of day and night. But I believe that cricket is a great game, it is "the gentlemen's game," and that if more Americans understood it, it could be a popular sport in the USA.

Now, the first thing you have to do in order to understand cricket is to stop thinking that it is anything like baseball. People often say, "Oh, cricket, yeah, it's just like baseball." No, it's nothing like baseball except for the fact that there is a ball and a bat, outs and runs. Just pretend that it has nothing in common with baseball and you will catch on faster. The second thing one can do to understand the game is to sit down and watch one with someone who really understands it. I did this in Nepal with some people I had just met from the UK and Australia. They explained it to me as best they could, and though there is still much I don't understand about the game, I learned enough to thoroughly enjoy it, and I can share a few basics about the game.

1. Each team only bats one time. While a team is at bat, this is called that team's "innings." In that case, a cricket match only has two innings. One team bats until ten of their eleven batsmen are out, or the end of their "overs" (which I will explain below), and then the other team bats. The team that bats second is "on the chase," meaning that all they have to do is score one more run than the first batting team to win.

2. An "over" is six balls. Cricket matches will have different numbers of overs, depending on what kind of match it is. In "Twenty-20" Cricket, there are 20 overs, while in ODI (One-Day International) matches, there are 50. In "Test Cricket" there is no limit on the number of overs.

3. There are two batsmen on the field at all times. Only the one who hits the ball scores the runs. A run is scored as the batsman makes it to the opposite wicket. If a batsman hits the ball past the boundary in the air, six runs are awarded. If the ball rolls or bounces past the boundary, four runs are awarded.

4. There are ten (!) ways a batsman can get out. See the Wikipedia article on cricket for a full list and explanation of them. Four are most common: (1) The ball is caught in the air by a fielder; (2) The bowler (think "pitcher") hits the wickets with his pitch; (3) fielders hit the wickets before the runner reaches the line; (4) LBW ("leg-before-wicket"), meaning that a pitch that would have hit the wickets hit the batsman's leg first.

5. Each batsman stays in the game until he is out. He might get out on the first ball, or (like Sehwag's feat) he might face hundreds of balls. It is considered a great accomplishment for a batsman to attain a "century" (100-runs). To attain 200 in a match is a bizarre oddity (hence the hullabaloo about Sehwag's 219).

Now, there are dozens (at least) more rules and intricacies of cricket that I won't get into here, but these will help you get started. Some of it can be figured out while you watch, and some of it, I think just has to be bred in one's DNA to be understood. But, even without figuring out all the finer points, such as the strategies for using powerplays or the different kinds of bowling styles, one can still enjoy the game thoroughly with a grasp of these essentials.

As a reward for enduring this post, here's a special treat. Watch Sehwag's 200th through 208th run from earlier today in this video. Remember that he went on to score 11 more runs after this!:

And, also, I feel obliged to indicate that as you watch this, and see this stadium filled with people rejoicing, that most of those present in that stadium live amongst people groups that are virtually untouched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Would you pray that the good news of Jesus Christ would reach them and give them cause for true rejoicing!

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