On the theory that you can't understand a nation unless you understand the sports it plays, I have been watching the cricket matches on Australian television. They are on late at night because they are playing the World Cup matches in the Caribbean, which is on the other side of the world. It's great to tune in watch the yellow and green pulverize the competition. The Australian cricket team demolished New Zealand by 215 runs in their final first-round game. They play South Africa in the semifinals next in quest of their third straight title.
There's a wine tie-in here. Cricket was England's game, but the Aussies got so good at it that now they routinely embarrass the Brits. The same has happened with wine. Wine was Europe's game, but the Aussies are among the better New World challengers. It's a stretch, but this is a wine blog. So there you go.
Having watched a bit of cricket this past week, and being an avid baseball fan, I think I have the hang of it. It's almost like baseball. There's a bat to hit the ball and players have to catch it. There are a few differences, though. With apologies to Dave Barry, here's my take. It's all true, except for my surmises about the reasons for the rules.
In cricket, the batsman must wear hockey goalie padding and a helmet because it's legal, in fact preferable, to throw the ball right at him. The batsman holds the flat bat on the ground, probably because it's so damn heavy. You get six runs for hitting it over the fence, and four just for hitting it so it rolls to the boundary. Foul balls can count as hits, because it's a 360-degree field of play.
The different angles have various names, resulting in some hits being called "cover drives" and others "silly mid on." I'm not making that up.
Cricket is played on a pitch, not a field; the guy who throws the ball doesn't pitch, he bowls. He is called a bowler, because he wears a funny hat. The bowler does not toe a pitching rubber. Instead, he wanders about halfway across the pitch, runs up toward the batsman like a long jumper, and lets fly. His aim is to bounce the ball so the batsman must lift the bat to protect himself or lose his crown jewels. He tries to hit the ball where the fielders ain't, just like in baseball.
If the bowler's ball gets through and knocks over two pins balanced precariously on three sticks in back of him, called a wicket, the batsman is out. If the ball is hit on the ground, the batsman and the other batsman, standing across from him sort of like the on-deck hitter, must run to the other end of the "box," which has another wicket behind it. He must carry the bat because you never know when someone is going to throw a ball at you again, I think. But if a fielder throws the ball and knocks over the wicket before the batsman can cross the line, the batsman is out.
The batsman keeps batting until he is out. Really good batsmen can roll up the score big-time. You think a grand slam is something? The cricket equivalent is a century—100 runs.
There is a player called a wicket keeper, who looks like he might spend the rest of the year as the soccer goalie because he wears webbed gloves. He can catch the ball and then knock over the wicket in case the fielder's aim isn't as good as Roberto Clemente's.
If the ball is hit in the air and caught by any fielder, the batsman is also out. Why didn't baseball think of that?
Next I'll try to figure out Australian Rules Football, otherwise known as "beat him up if he has the ball, or even he doesn't, who cares?" It's a great Aussie game.