Cricket for Americans – a primer


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Many years back, the Bell Labs location where I worked had a fair number of scholars and specialists working temporarily from the UK, and a bunch of recreational slow-pitch softball leagues. The Brits always put together a team for the bottom league (unofficial slogan: “Softball is an excellent reason to go out for beer and pizza”). It always took a couple of games for the newcomers to learn things like base running (“You can overrun first and home, but not second and third?”), but man, they could hammer that big slow-moving ball right from the beginning.Report

  2. Avatar Maribou says:

    Everything I know about cricket I learned from reading Paddington books. And from watching it aerially from my room on the 7th floor of one of McGill’s residence halls.

    Thank you for the primer! It fills in a lot of gaps for me.Report

  3. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    The front page picture got cropped awkwardly. Points to anyone who can identify either gentleman.Report

  4. This is very helpful – thanks for this, Richard. Here’s a question that’s often the biggest obstacle to me understanding cricket: what do cricket scores mean, and how can I tell if, after the first day of a test match, a team is doing well or poorly? For instance, how do I interpret a score of, say 287/6 – 125/3?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      This is a hard call, because so much depends on so much. You wouldn’t see “287/6 – 125/3.” The “287/6” format only applies while one side’s inning is ongoing: they have scored 287 runs so far, for six wickets (i.e. six outs, of the total ten, keeping in mind that you put your better batters in early). Once that side’s inning is complete, you are given just the number of runs scored. The thing is, I didn’t get into strategy and scoring rate, or playing for a draw and declaring one’s inning closed. Briefly, a test match lasts five days. This is not necessarily five days of actual play. If, for example, it rains all day the first day, that is still the first day. Actual play will take place the remaining four. Similarly, if it rains the last day, then that is that. If the two innings have not been completed at the end of the fifth day, the match is a draw, which is not the same thing as a tie but has the same effect of neither side winning. So if you don’t think you can win, you can play for a draw. And if you are the batting side and do think you can win but you need to hurry things up a bit, you can declare your inning closed, i.e. end it peremptorily, giving you more time to get the other side out and finish the job. But you better be pretty sure you have enough runs to come out ahead. So it gets complicated. Read the commentary, keeping in mind that cricket commentary is as prone to bloviation as in any other sport.Report

      • Thanks – this makes much more sense now. So a proper score after an inning and a half would be something like 287-125/3, which, if I’m understanding you correctly, would pretty much mean that the team that’s batting is almost guaranteed to lose because they would need their three worst batters to score 163 runs. Right?Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          125/3 means there are three outs, not that there are three more chances. So it is far from disastrous. And depending, of course, on which inning we are talking about and how many days are left, and the weather forecast.Report

    • Avatar T in reply to Mark Thompson says:

      First you need to learn to read the pitch surface and the weather. Cracked, dusty, or lush (with grass) surfaces are difficult to score on, because they turn and/or bounce the ball more or unpredictably. Overcast, humid, or breezy weather makes it difficult to score due to increased swing of the ball; stadium lights have a similar effect at times. A damp outfield makes Fours less likely; however dew on the field (happens under stadium lights) makes fielding and bowling (less grip on the ball, and one half of the ball can’t be kept dry) difficult.

      My best advice is to look at recent first day totals for that team, and recent first day totals for that ground. Then using that, and your knowledge of the surface and weather, arrive at probable total and compare the current score against that.Report

  5. (There really is something called a “googly,” roughly analogous to a screwball.)

    Which make it very amusing that Google calls someone who embodies its corporate values “Googley”.Report

  6. One thing that puzzles me about cricket, which I know mostly from Wodehouse and other British novels, is that batters and bowlers are often singled out for praise, but no one ever talks about fielding. Or base running, for that matter. Surely both are important skills.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      There is very little equivalent to baseball’s base running. You don’t have anything like stolen bases. Think of how in baseball the batter hits the ball and you think “single” or “double” but a fast runner might stretch that single into a double or that double into a triple. Cricket is sort of like that, but less so. In baseball runs are far more valuable than outs. This is why teams will sacrifice an out just to increase the likelihood of subsequently scoring a run. Cricket is the opposite. outs are far more valuable than runs, so you rarely risk being “run out” (thrown out running). As a first approximation, any cricketer who is run out made a mistake by running in the first place (or his partner did, or there was a communication screw up between them). So in baseball when we talk about someone being a great runner, we mostly mean that he is good at base stealing, and secondarily that he can make an extra base than could a slow runner. Cricket completely lacks the former, and mostly lacks the latter.

      Fielding is harder to explain. One might expect that with outs being so hard to get, there would be a lot of emphasis on fielding. Partly the explanation seems to be that any individual fielder will only rarely be given the opportunity to make a catch. There are, in a two-inning game, at most twenty outs. Only a fraction of these will be on fly catches, and these will be divided among nine fielders (eleven players minus the bowler and the wicketkeeper). Compare this with how often the shortstop touches the ball. So there isn’t a lot of opportunity to display your mad fielding skillz, should you be possessed of them. The way this seems to play out is with lower expectations. When two professional baseball clubs toured England in 1874, playing both baseball and cricket, they were met with a lot of polite noises, plus what seem to be to be sincere praise for their fielding. I think this was due to a combination of the Americans being more practiced in the art and their pursuing it more aggressively.

      As a historical note, the early professional cricketers tended to be bowlers. Batting was the more fun activity that the dues-paying club members wanted to do. So in part the reason to pay professionals was to take the less-fun but necessary task of bowling, both in practice and by extension in matches.Report

    • Avatar T in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      The standard of fielding in Baseball is far superior. Especially in throwing. That said, everybody loves a good catch at Point, or Slip, or on the boundary (see YouTube). Often the best fieldsman is sent to field at Point. When I was a kid, Jonty Rhodes of South Africa was everybody’s fielding hero.

      Bad running is criticized; especially if the batting partner is sacrificed due to poor decision making, slow running, or messy ‘creasing’ (completing a run). Occasionally good decision making in taking a run is praised. ‘Keeping the scoreboard ticking over’ is generally a good thing to do if both batsman are competent, as it denies the bower a consistent target. If one of the batsmen is incompetent (their strength is in bowling, not batting), then the better batsman is expected to not expose the other to the bowler – which may mean refusing to take a run.Report