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harvey steiman at large

Understanding Australia: Cricket

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 22, 2007 8:19am ET

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.

Bobby Chandra
London —  April 23, 2007 10:16am ET
Just a quick clarification of your surmise about why the batsmen carry their bats when they run. If the ball is hit only far enough for one run, which is actually achieved by the two batsmen crossing each other and making it across the line safely, then the other, or on-deck batter, will be batting. This would also happen if they get three runs. They also switch the sides the bowler bowls on after every 6 bowls, which is called an over.
Bobby Chandra
London —  April 23, 2007 10:22am ET
Sorry Harvey, just thought of another reason they carry their bats. When crossing the line to be safe, any part of their person including their bat needs to cross the line.
Eric Arnold
NY, NY —  April 23, 2007 11:52am ET
Harvey,


Having joined cricket madness a few years ago myself (as a fan of NZ...so I wasn't happy about that loss...at all), I hope you do stick with it. Because if you like baseball, it's very easy to learn to appreciate cricket (and vice versa). The best part about cricket, though, and the reason why Australians like it so much, is that it's a great excuse to spend all day drinking beer (or wine, since they sell that at matches, too). Whereas baseball only lasts 3 or 4 hours, one-day cricket lasts 7-8 hours if it's a competitive match.

The only thing I and other longtime cricket fans would kindly ask of you is this: Don't become a fan of Australia. That's like becoming a fan of Manchester United after watching one soccer game, or a fan of the Yankees after one baseball game. Sure, they're the best, but the great joy of watching the Australians play cricket is seeing them lose. Not seeing them play badly, but seeing other teams raise their game so much that it even surprises the Aussies...

...Which could very well happen in the final next weekend, when NZ will probably play Australia again. ;)
Jo Cooke
Tuscany —  April 23, 2007 12:37pm ET
Harvey, glad to see you've caught the cricket bug! More silly cricket names - maybe you also saw a "googly" (aka "bosie"), where the bowler spins the ball so you think it's going one way, but it goes the other. Wine often does that too, no? How about this for a tasting note: " Starts fine and fruity, but delivers a googly on the palate." All the best, Jo (Wine Spectator Tasting Coordinator & Official Umpire for the Italian Cricket Federation (honest!))
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  April 23, 2007 5:40pm ET
Thank you, Jo, for providing another wine reference.

As the batsmen try to beat the throw they can touch the "safe" area with their bats ahead of their actual feet. This would be like a batter in baseball running out a bunt and tagging first base with his bat. There would be a lot more infield hits if that were the case.

Finally, I have always heard it referred to a a "wicked googly."
Colin Murray
May 24, 2007 10:37am ET
ah, the googly, then there is the infamous Dosra as perfected by the Sri Lankans, which is a googly that you think is going the wrong way but goes the right way, and that's not even starting on the chinaman, which is the wrong...what the hell, drink more it will start to make sense........

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