Sunday, July 15, 2007

How to play cricket, for Americans

Cricket is a sissy foreign sport, but it can be very enjoyable for Americans who love to get drunk on beer after enduring a tedious cross-cultural experience. If you want to have a cricket game (or, "match," as they say in quaint foreign countries) of your own, here's what you need to do.

First, you and your friends will need to dress up all in white.

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A cricket team

The tradition of wearing white began in the 1890s, because cricket players who went to a pub after a "match" were naturally embarrassed about playing something so sissified. White clothing made grass stains show up more clearly, and this enabled cricket players to point to their grass stains and pretend to be rugby players when "down t' pub."

Second, go out and buy an oar. Cricket oars are usually only good for one "match" -- for reasons that will become obvious below -- so cheap ones are fine. I got these at Wal-Mart for $6.50 each. Good deal.

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Cricket oars

Next, you will need to find an umpire. I prefer female umpires, when available. (Hope that's not sexist.)

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A cricket umpire.

When playing sports informally, Americans are used to having the players umpire or referee their own games, but in cricket an outside umpire is essential. This is because the umpire is responsible for bringing the crickets. Four to five thousand crickets will be necessary for a typical cricket "match."

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Some cricket crickets

Any grass field will do as your cricket field. Once the umpire brings the crickets, you're ready to play a "match"!

First, the umpire releases the crickets and allows them to scatter around the field. Then the players take turns using the oar. The player using the oar is called the "oarsman." Each turn lasts one minute.

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A cricket oarsman

The oarsman's objective is to squash as many crickets as possible with his oar before his minute is up. The number of squashed crickets becomes the oarsman's score. A variety of techniques are used to squash the crickets. The oarsman shown below is using the leaping technique favored by advanced players. This is an effective but somewhat risky technique, because inexperienced players might land on a cricket. Stomping on a cricket is a foul and costs the oarsman the remainder of his turn.

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A leaping oarsman

After an oarsman has had his turn, the umpire uses a device called a "wicket" to scrape the squashed crickets off the oar and the ground and then counts them. Over the course of a match, the wicket becomes quite messy. (Hence the expression "a sticky wicket.")

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Various styles of cricket wickets

Only crickets count in the oarsman's score. Any other insects or small animals squashed by the oarsman are discarded by the umpire, who must say, "That's not cricket." (Hence the expression "That's not cricket.") Deliberately squashing other kinds of insects, such as flies, and trying to slip them into one's pile of squashed bugs is called a "fly slip" and is a foul.

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A cricket umpire preparing to penalize a player for a fly slip

When everyone has had a turn to be oarsman, the first inning is over. (Cricket borrows some terms from real sports like baseball.) By now, the oar is usually a disgusting mess. But that's all right if you bought a cheap one; just throw it away.

It's now time for the "tea interval." The tea interval is the break between the two innings of a cricket "match." Traditionally, tea and "scones" (a quaint foreign word for "rolls") are served, with the squashed crickets used as a spread on the scones. (I recommend that Americans substitute beer and potato chips. One need not go to extremes in seeking cross-cultural experiences.)

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Buttered "scones" with squashed crickets, a traditional "tea interval" favorite

After the "tea interval," the second and final inning begins. In the second inning, players take turns "bowling." A large round ball is used. The ball weighs up to 16 pounds and has holes in it for the player's thumb and two fingers.

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A cricket ball

Each player gets one turn to be the "bowler." Bowling consists of rolling the ball on the grass. The object is to squash as many crickets as possible with a single roll of the heavy ball. There are two main kinds of bowlers in cricket, "pace bowlers" and "spin bowlers." Pace bowlers pace nervously until it is their turn to bowl, while spin bowlers spin with excitement.

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A pace bowler

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An Australian spin bowler

Once each player has had a turn to be the "bowler," the "match" is over, or "overs" as cricket players inexplicably say. The player with the highest combined score of crickets squashed during his turns as oarsman and bowler is the winner. A score of 100 squashed crickets is called a "century" and is regarded as fine accomplishment in the sport of cricket.

Once the "match" is over, it's finally time to go "down t' pub" and get drunk. This, of course, is the highlight of any sport as tedious as cricket. American players should be sure to reward themselves for enduring the cricket experience by observing this tradition.

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