There’s Exactly One Redeeming Quality To Cricket

Seriously, we could all learn something from the game

Time To Read: 10 mins | August 15, 2017

I’ve worked in digital editorial for a long time, and after they’ve confirmed you read at an 8th grade level – the only requirement for employment, it seems – the first thing they drill into your skull is that an article’s headline is everything. Think about it: the most reliable measure of a story’s success is how many times people click into it, and the sales pitch, as it were, for an article is the headline. Put it to you this way: “Quarter 3 Tax Implications Of Malaysia’s Burgeoning Shoe String Market” is never going to perform as well as “Emily Blunt Runs Topless Down Street While Prius Explodes From Dragon Fire!”

So, understanding this basic principle, I expect this story to be read exactly three times. Two of which will be when I’m proofreading it, because nothing bores Americans like cricket.

There’s not a lot of sports on South African TV at noon on a weekday, so when you’re having your lunch beers and are sick of playing Angry Birds, the only thing to watch – the flirty daytime bartender notwithstanding – is cricket. A sport renowned the world over for being apocalyptically boring, and take it from me, it’s doubly so when you don’t understand what’s going on.

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22 men dressed for country club cocktails play an unbelievably slow game of bastardized baseball for 5 days straight. Every word of that is true.

Still though, it’s the second most watched sport in the world — no one ever said humans have taste. It got its start in the upper classes of 16th century Britain, and when they conquered the world they brought their favorite game with them. Hence its popularity in places like South Africa, India and Australia. Funny enough, the Old Empire put a lot of pressure on promoting the game in Canada in the late 1800s, but America’s hat thought it was boring and refused to take it up. Well done, boys.

Now, there being nothing else to do while I drank during an early weekday afternoon in a Cape Town bar, and given the sport’s surprising international popularity, I decided to educate myself. I’m genuinely glad I did; if not for the rules I’m about to explain terribly, then definitely for the treat I discovered at the end.

What I said about 5 days isn’t an exaggeration. A match seems to rarely go that long, but “test matches,” the traditional format of the game, typically last multiple days. The reason for this & most striking difference between cricket and American baseball is that, in cricket, you continue batting until you’re out. Imagine if Bryce Harper got to bat over and over and over again – intriguing, ya?

This rule does slow things down though. While players can and regularly are “dismissed” without scoring a single run, the world record for longest “at bat” (that’s not their term but you get it) is 16 hours and 10 minutes, held by a Pakistani player who scored 337 runs in the ‘50s. This is not a fast game.

If you find yourself in the unenviable position of watching a match, here’s the basics to understanding what is happening at the speed of snail: a pitcher (bowler) throws a one-bounce pitch (bowl) to a batter. If the batter hits it over the fence (a 3-inch tall boundary), that’s 6 runs. If it rolls into the boundary, that’s 4. If the ball doesn’t make it to the boundary, the batter and another batter (just accept it) run between two bases (creases) and get a run every time they switch spots. Although they don’t have to run at all if they don’t want to. So you can legit bunt (definitely not a cricket term) then stand perfectly still, and continue batting as soon as the ball’s brought back.

The batter is out if the ball is caught in the air (simple enough), or if his wicket is hit when he’s not on base (inside the crease). The wicket is three sticks (stumps) shoved in the ground with little pieces of wood (bails) sitting on top; once a bail falls, you’re out (dismissed).

Simple enough.

There’s obviously a thousand other details – there’s no such things as foul balls; to hit a bowl directly behind you is both common and strategic – but you’ve now got the gist of the sport. It’s just a really long, really slow, really confusing game of baseball.

Speaking of baseball, America on the whole has a love-hate with its national past time – in this case meaning a person either loves it or hates it. You’ll find die-hard fans of the game in every corner of the country, but ask that same fan’s next door neighbor and they’ll call it the most terrible waste of time since watching grandma’s two-hour slideshow from her Grand Canyon trip in the ‘80s.

You can understand both arguments. It’s widely loved, the third most popular sport in the U.S. by viewership, but you can’t possibly argue a game packs the same thrill on a minute-by-minute basis as football or hockey or boxing. It’s just, for lack of a better word, slow.

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But baseball’s pace of play can’t hold a candle to the plodding of cricket – for the best reason ever.

As mentioned above, the game started in the upper classes of Britain. This was not originally a sport for the common man, and when you’re a member of the bourgeois, you like to mix leisure in with your physical strain. So the traditional test match incorporates both lunch and tea breaks.

That’s actually what they’re called. Two hours after the game starts, everyone splits off for a bite to eat. The players return, knock about for another two hours, then take twenty minutes for tea. I imagine after this they have a chat about whether they should continue sweating like peasants, or put it off until tomorrow and go out for pints instead.

This may be my new favorite tradition in sport. Remember that line from Wedding Crashers, where they took a break from the football game for daiquiris? Remember how ridiculous that scene seemed to your sporting sensibilities? Well, they have that twice in every match of cricket, and I adore it.

These are professional athletes who require time-outs from an already obscenely slow game to nibble on what I imagine are crustless vegetarian sandwiches and sip fresh Earl Grey. And on that note, if you’re going to slow down an already hopelessly unexciting sport, why not go all out? Why not have nap time too? A social gathering before lunch and a happy hour mixer after tea?

But more importantly, why can’t we incorporate things like this into American sports? Sure, there’s breaks at halftime and in between quarters, but that’s nothing compared to tea time. Can we start beer breaks after touchdowns, with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones toasting in the endzone? Shit, you could sponsor it. Get me on the phone with Budweiser.

Jagerbomb breaks after particularly brutal hockey checks. Every NBA dunk is celebrated with a Bagel Bite. Eagles in golf require beer bongs.

I am going to revolutionize the sporting world, one glorious needless break at a time.

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photo: eze, france, a city that’s about half the size of a cricket pitch

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.

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