Some people say that life’s a game,
well if this is so I’d like to know
the rules on which this game of life is based.
I know of no game more fitting than the age old game of cricket;
It has honour, it has character and it’s British. — Cricket, The Kinks
We live in a United States dominated by the English. Doubters should look up who inherited the Larry King Live show, who MC’d the Golden Globes, how many of our top 100 pop songs come from Britain on any given day, and the nationality of the actor who plays Dr. House (perhaps the most authentic American ever seen on televison).
Since the English are everywhere—ostensibly to entertain us, though there are reasons to suspect other motivations—it is important for the vigilant American to come armed, at the very least, with knowledge about these clever invaders. This is especially true at a time when they are considering a divorce (or at least separation) with their long-term partner, the EU.
Anyone trying to get to know the English are spoiled for options—its history is long, its authors and poets deep in rank. But since professors and teachers bore into these sources of knowledge already, it is left to this beleagured scribe to touch upon a subject near and dear to many true Englishmen’s hearts—the game of Cricket.
Robin Williams once called cricket “baseball on valium”—but it is very unlikely that Robin Williams ever faced a Yorker (cricket’s fast ball). It is much closer to the truth to say that Baseball is only 90 degrees of Cricket—that is to say, the angle of play from foul line to foul line. Stepping out onto a cricket pitch is to step out onto a circular universe. The ball can go off the bat in any direction to be in play, the aim being to knock it beyond the white-roped boundary. A bouncing ball out counts as four runs, a flying ball out counts as six.
The other shift in mind necessary to understand Cricket is the relationship between the batter and the bowler (pitcher). In Baseball, the batters challenge the pitcher, who attempts to strike them out. In Cricket, the bowlers challenge the batter, and are given six tries (called an over) to do so. The varying lengths of a Cricket match are determined by the number of overs played, generally 20, 50, or a test (unlimited).
What this change in perspective does psychologically should be well understood. Every player will eventually bat once. Battles between bowler and batter often become long and nuanced. Since a vanquished batter has no hope of returning to bat again, his every action has weight and import; his figurative death is on the line. Surrounded by eleven players quietly intent on this outcome is enough to make every good cricketer (and by extension every good Englishman) adept, patient, and devious. Americans, who in their sporting endeavors always seem to get another chance, should beware.
Here endeth the first lesson.