Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Sticky Wicket, Part 2

I pulled into the elementary school parking lot across from the field and was intrigued to note that there were lots of cars there already.

I’d tracked down the location of a sporting event which I judged to be rare enough in this country that this many people coming to watch it was a really exciting prospect.

Then I crossed the street, walked through the chain-link fence gate and realized that, no, all those cars belonged to the players.

I seemed to be the only spectator. (At least, the only one not related by blood or romance to any of the players.)

Well, I guess that made more sense.

Cricket is not a sport that has exactly made inroads in the United States. It’s played, but rarely enough that it makes soccer look like the king of the hill going away.

But, that day, at least twenty-two people (eleven per side) were making it their business to maintain a bit of cricket presence. And I got the impression that this was not a bunch of pretenders, a re-enactment crew who were trying out somebody else’s battlefield activities … this was a group of people who had brought their original home’s sport with them to America – as something of a link to their homelands; a brace against homesickness, perhaps.

I unpacked my collapsible lawn chair, applied my sunblock, sat down and set to work looking (and being) attentive. I was prepared for anywhere between two and six hours of continuing to try and grasp this sport. (I thought that if the heat continued to be its upper-80s self, two might be more likely. It was August in New England, and the sun was out.)

Actually my previous study of cricket video had helped me quite a bit. So when one of the uniformed players sauntered over and said hello, and began to explain how the game was played, I let him go on for a bit. I was hardly offended, even though I was hardly (by that point) cricket-illiterate. It made sense to me that most of the fellows in the track suits and shin pads were prepared to explain their sport to outside observers, in the same way that I’m prepared to talk about horns and drums and rifles and flags and such, in my corner of the world. “I know, it looks weird, but stay with me …”

At a convenient moment, I murmured that my father had been an Englishman, and I knew just enough about the sport that I wanted to see it live. The nice man looked a wee bit taken aback, but I quickly said something that implied I was always open to hearing about the sport from one of its purveyors, and could he talk a little bit about how they decide where to position their fielders, since after the bowler and the wicket keeper they only have nine guys to cover the whole soccer field and there’s no foul territory? He smiled at that.

Must not cause one’s hosts to be put out; especially when you’re the only guest at the party.

The match began.

One of the teams appeared to be comprised mainly of men of Caribbean descent, with one extremely Dropkick Murphys-looking exception. It probably helped that their uniforms were green-and-yellow enough to remind me of the Jamaican bobsledding team … although I recalled reading somewhere that cricket was a big deal in Barbados, so … anyway, the Green-and-Yellows took the field.

The batting team, decked out in navy blue and red, seemed to have come largely from the vicinity of India or Pakistan (although, I mused, possibly not both simultaneously – I paid attention in Social Studies class). That was the team that had sent an emissary to greet me. It was also the team that seemed most interested in holding the umpires to the rule book; or perhaps I should say they were very enthusiastic about taking issue with lots of calls.

This was a new one on me. All the video I’d seen online of cricket matches (such as England and Australia duking it out to see who would take home the Ashes that year) contained intense players who nonetheless followed up their appeals to the two on-field umpires with apparent smiles and jokes … as if to say, we’re serious about our craft, but we’re not going to kick dirt on ya. This local amateur match, though … lacking as it was in Ashes or other fabulous cash prizes to take home … at a number of points it sounded like a whole lot of middle-school boys whose voices had all descended into baritone at the same moment.

Umpy!!” cried the leader of the Red-and-Blues in the direction of one of the umpires, a stout, possibly-Indian fellow in a red polo shirt and slacks, who was probably in his late sixties. The Red-and-Blue leader shouted at the umpire quite often; and the umpire looked as if he didn’t care in the slightest, but was determined to be polite about it. There was even a moment – as a very, very heated argument broke out regarding whether the Red-and-Blue batsman should have been considered Leg-Before-Wicket and therefore Out – when I wondered whether I should run out there and try to separate a couple of the players. Or perhaps whether it might have been politic to clear my throat and retreat to my car until it all blew over. C’mon, kids, play nice … ?

I’m not prepared to say that the whole cloudburst blew over “just like that”. I am very prepared to suppose that some of the wives and girlfriends, sitting under the tents just outside the field’s boundary line, thirty yards to my left, must have said something persuasive (in a language other than English). Most likely, something that implied that if they all didn’t grow up right this moment, they were going to have to cook their own darn supper tonight.

Shame there was no video reply review available.

Meanwhile, a certain amount of sport actually was going on. There appeared to be one player on the fielding team whose two major responsibilities (aside from actually fielding) included [1] telling other fielders where to be on the playing field, the better to be prepared for wherever the batsman hit the ball; and [2] loudly critiquing them when they appeared to be dogging it. So, not unlike the goalkeeper in soccer.

It occurred to me, at one point, that cricket balls must be expensive, or hard to find in stores around here. The Red-and-Blue batsman took a mighty swing at a ball that was properly bounced off the dirt in front of him, and deposited it, on the fly, over the boundary line, over the aforementioned chain-link fence, across the street, and into the foliage beyond. An impressive six runs awarded to the batting team; and about six minutes spent by the fielding team looking through the weeds for the thing, till there was a cry of triumph at least as loud as the one that went up on the actual swing.

Some time afterward, as the match continued (and shortly after the bowler lost the handle on the ball and managed to hit the batsman square on the shoulder without even bouncing the ball off the dirt first – “hit-by-pitch” is relatively common in baseball, but a staggering rarity in cricket) … I glanced up from my dogged study of the sport in front of me, startled: one of the Red-and-Blues had come over in an impressively stealthy fashion. I was prepared to have to answer a question of some kind. It was hard to tell whether his expression was suspicious or friendly in that moment.

He held out a bottle of water. “For you,” he said. “It’s hot.”

Well! I finally found my voice and stammered something appreciative as he turned and shambled back under the tent. I wondered if that was the door prize for being the lone spectator. It was awfully kind of them, in any case. Keep the fan alive.

I had been trying gamely to keep track of how many runs the Red-and-Blues had been scoring, and how many overs had been bowled, so as to attempt to know how many runs the Green-and-Yellows would have to score when they came to bat. (And yes, this also was a point of contention. The Red-and-Blue leader was clutching a clipboard and swearing blind that he’d been keeping exact and proper track of the score. The Green-and-Yellow leader doubted that his team had given up quite that many runs. … Kids? That supper threat? And besides, that umpire has been scribbling madly in his notebook, and shouldn’t that be the standard? I’ll just be in my car…)

My estimate was far smaller than the number the teams eventually agreed upon. The players on the field were talking about a hundred and eighty-some, and I was hovering around a hundred forty, but by that point, water bottle or no, I decided it was time to access some shade that would be best found inside my house. I had seen nearly three hours’ worth of cricket, and the Red-and-Blues weren’t even done batting yet. This is a sport which can make extra-innings baseball look positively brief.

So I tucked my lawn chair into its carry-bag and headed toward my car, and then home. A couple of days later, I logged onto the state cricket league’s website, to see how it had all come out.

Red-and-Blues, batting first: 269 runs for 10 wickets, in 39 overs. Green-and-Yellows, trying to match that target number of runs: just 133 runs for 10 wickets, in 26 overs.

In other words, the Red-and-Blues didn’t run out of batsmen before scoring one hell of a lot of runs. The Green-and-Yellows kinda did. And if I’d hung around for only another two and a half hours or so, I’d have been able to see the match end.

Sounds odd to say that, well, I may have to work up more stamina in order to sit and watch a whole cricket match. It may take training, and practice. Hmm.

But I don’t think I have to build up more interest. It’s a sport that is just similar enough to a few other sports that one can get the idea … but just different enough that it still sometimes appears to be from another planet.*

Weirdly, in spite of the fact that it can look like the same thing happening 240 or so times in a row … and then the other team goes up to bat!! … as I mentioned previously in this space, one can get strangely hypnotized into liking it.

 

*Which may explain Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” theory of the origins of cricket, detailed here and here.

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September 11, 2015 - Posted by | sports | ,

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