Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cricket - a newbie's view

What is cricket? In the US, as children we learn that “crickets” are insects that walk on the ground and hop when you try to catch them. In other parts of the world if you ask, “What is cricket”, cricket is a team sport, a bat and ball game. It is a game in which the batter protects the wicket. It is also the national sport of England.

In an effort to expand our horizons, Floyd and I attended our first cricket match yesterday in Cape Town’s Newlands Stadium and we were privileged to see one of those special sporting events, almost as special as Mickey Mantle hitting his 300th home run, or a horse winning the Kentucky Derby.

It was a scorching day in Newlands Stadium, the 3rd day of the match-up between England and South Africa (the Protea). At game time the temperature was already in the mid-80’s as we and our much more-knowledgeable South African friends took our seats. They had prepared us ahead of time by explaining terms.

Some important ones are “wicket” (three sticks sticking up out of the ground in a row with another stick balanced on top, or an out), “overs” (the bowler (pitcher) changes and the offensive player standing in front of the opposite wicket becomes the active batsman – this happens every 6 balls), “bowler” (a person who on a bounce tries to hit the wicket behind the batter and make the batter out) and “batsman” (the person at bat who tries to hit the ball before it hits the wicket). Points are scored (from 1 to 6) based on where the ball is hit or how many “runs” a batter makes.

There are 9 ways to wicket, i.e., get a batter out. The most common ones are catching a hit ball on the fly, having the ball bounce into the wicket, or LBW, “leg before wicket”, which means the ball bounced by the bowler hits the player’s leg and would have hit the wicket – kind of an interference thing. The bowler usually bounces the ball at the player’s legs.

On this particular day the last three players on England’s team had to take their turn at bat, based on the results at the end of the previous day. England’s opening score was 241-7, 241 points with 7 men out of 10 wicketing (being out). The bowling team needs to get 10 out of the 11 players on a team to wicket to change sides or, after two innings (rounds), to finish a game.

South Africa had previously bowled and their team score was 291. By the time they were done, England had scored a total of 273-10, 18 less points than the South Africa team who had previously bowled, so SA was in the lead and about to extend it. The sides changed.

After scoring, the first South African player Ashwell Prince was out on a LBW (see, we learned a little something.) Prince’s partner for the stand, Hashim Alma, continued to play. The SA team captain, Graeme Smith, joined him. Records were broken. Together the partnership of Alma and Smith broke by 58 runs the record of 172 runs in a stand (one at bat) set in 1972 by Eddie Barlow and Tony Pithey. Alma and Smiths’ new total was 230. Or as the online press at puts it, “Smith and Amla (95 off 165 balls, 14 fours) raked in the runs in 54 overs together, a rollicking run-rate of more than four to the over as they tormented a tiring England attack.” By himself, Alma got 95 runs before being forced out.

Graeme Smith continued to score with a new partner. At the end of the day he had scored over 150 runs, and will continue to bat tomorrow when the test enters the fourth day. At the end of the day, says IOL online, “Smith advanced his score by 97 runs from 65 to 162 in the 34-over final session yesterday - scoring at a shade under three to the over on his own!” In more than 19 tests where Smith has gotten over 100 runs, SA has won.

Will Graeme Smith add to his run streak in the 4th test since he is still the batsman? Will the SA Protea continue to score runs at a run rate of four plus to an over? Will they be able to get 400 runs quickly before 10 players “wicket”? Will SA then be able to get all the men on England’s side to “wicket” before they score and beat them? If they don’t get all ten batters to “wicket”, the match ends in a draw, even if one team is leading. These are the issues SA cricket fans will be wrestling with during the 4th day.

Multiple times Floyd and I have watched cricket on television and found it hard to understand. I never understood that it was a game in which the batter defended the wicket. It was much more interesting in person. How else would you know that the teams take a lunch break for 45 minutes at 12:30 pm, the stands empty and the spectators come down onto the field and examine the wickets and the playing field? How else would you know that a break is taken for 20 minutes at tea time? And too, how else would you understand that it is the interaction between the batter, the bowler and ball, and the ever moving fielders that make this game interesting.

We will go again.

Love from us and our friends watching the test - Alan with flag, Floyd, Rae, Roy, Lionel and Vincent.


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