I have long been confounded by cricket. Completely foreign to America, cricket seemed like just the type of game Americans would shun: confusing, far-fetched, tedious.
Cricket is a bit like baseball, but the scores are high like basketball, there is no foul ground and there are wickets. Games last days, and if a significant percentage of Americans still don’t find enough action in 90 minutes of soccer, cricket will never catch on.
When in London, I hoped to go to a game, but after watching numerous highlight videos and reading the Wikipedia entry for cricket, I was more confused than before. So I bailed on that goal.
As part of this year’s I-Fair, cricket historian Tom Melville visited Knox to hold an informational workshop on the game. I strode into the gymnasium a minute or two past six last Friday night. I was anxious to learn, but some of that schoolboy gym class anxiety seeped up from some dark place in my soul. We started with a bit of batting practice.
Melville showed us how to hit and the basic rules: no foul ground, hit the ball in any direction, do not step too far in front of the wicket, a caught ball is an out, etc. After a few flies in the field, I stepped to the plate. Being a baseball fanatic, my views on the game affected my cricket batting. Sabermetrically inclined, I favor players who take a lot of pitches and get on base via walks. So when Melville bowled a pitch to me that was pretty far wide of the wicket, I kept my bat on my shoulder and took a pitch.
“Go for it!” Melville snapped. “This isn’t baseball! No taking pitches.”
Melville threw me five more, and I smacked them to all fields. After everyone had an opportunity to hit, and more and more people wandered into the gym, Melville decided a scrimmage was in order.
I should describe Melville: the man was very short and very kind, but from time to time he shouted instructions that not only confused but intimidated. Melville is from Wisconsin, and while I originally thought that learning cricket from an American was like learning the art of Vietnamese cuisine from Rachel Ray, he made for a great teacher.
Though some international students who seemed well versed in cricket showed up, I was selected in the second round of picks. Knowing that such a selection created great expectations, I knew I had to bowl.
Melville — the opposition’s captain — decided that he should be the first to bat. Now, as the rules state, Melville stood at the wickets on one side and I at the opposite; to my left was a runner, who, should Melville make contact and decide to run, would run to swap places with him; a run would be counted for each time they could switch places; to record an out, one of the fielders would have to either catch the ball or knock one of the bails (two cylinders that rested on the wickets) off.
“Throw it underhand!” Melville shouted to me. “You can throw overhand in cricket but no need to be too flashy.” I nodded and threw a pitch. He lined it away and a run or two scored.
What happened on the fifth pitch made my day. I bowled a low bouncer to Melville’s right, and he lined a screamer to my left. I snatched the ball on a line with my left hand. Oh, what a feeling. I dropped the ball and let someone else bowl.
The rest of the game didn’t follow the precedent I’d established with that catch. I booted a ground ball, muffed a fly, and missed the wicket every time I tried to throw. I also swung and missed on a bowl, only for the ball to strike the wickets and knock down the bail. I was out. That night I sought knowledge, and now I know how to play. Will I ever play again? Probably not. For at least the next two weeks I will possess a cursory understanding of cricket, and that’s not something I thought I could ever say.