Cricket is not commonly watched or played in North America, one cannot dispute this. But it is there if you look. I actually played a bit as a kid; the rugby club I was a part of also fields a cricket team and would hold "Cricket Camp" over the summers. I remember hitting in the cages and doing tests on all of the strangely-named positions on the field (like "Gully," "Slips," "Fine Leg," "Square Leg," and so on). I also remember having to catch very hard red balls with my bare hands straight out of a dialed-up pitching machine. Then a coach I had happened to mention that the bones in one of his teammate's hands at one point looked like "the bottom of a box of Cornflakes" thanks to an improperly-caught ball. Safe to say my cricket career ended there.
I also played baseball at this time and continue to love it – both playing and watching. It really is North America's bat-and-ball equivalent and the reason why cricket never took off here; we just went ahead and developed our own adaptation. Otherwise you'd think that we North Americans, and Canadians in particular, would fit with the sport quite naturally. Canada is part of the Commonwealth and maintains its historical ties with Britain, and also has a large East Indian population, a group of people that certainly are mad for the game. Baseball had just enough growth north of the border to take hold permanently, stumping cricket. (Ha, my first cricket joke... you'll understand soon.)
The similarities between the two games are close enough that if you enjoy one you'll enjoy the other. The rules are different and the fields of play are different, but they are brethren in terms of pace and just all-around vibe. This is especially the case when the weather is fine. Sun streaming down, fans mill about in shorts watching players in sweat-stained caps. In addition, baseball and cricket are games that require patience, from both participant and fan. A game can seem to go on forever, in the best of ways. "Test" cricket really takes the cake with this as a single match can go on for multiple days. And people seem to have a problem with baseball needing three hours to play nine innings! As an English gent once said to me, "North Americans can't seem to appreciate a game that can last for five days and end in a draw." Indeed, sir, indeed.
Baseball and cricket also have more bite-sized similarities in terms of gameplay. There is a moment of waiting, a pitch, the crack of a bat, and then a moment of action. There is a duel of wits between the person throwing the ball and the person attempting to hit it. There are runs scored and outs made, including outs made by catching the ball mid-air before it touches the ground. In cricket a batter can also be called out when he swings and misses the ball, similar to a strike out. There are umpires on the field that must determine if these outs are, in fact, made. And both games are a bit hard to understand at first, and there is more than meets the eye when it comes to strategy.
There are also the basic differences. In baseball you run the bases, while in cricket you run with a teammate between the two "wickets." The wickets are three wooden "stumps" – get the joke now? – coming out of the ground with two tiny sticks resting horizontally on top, which are called "bails." Generally, if the wickets are struck the batter is out. In cricket there are no foul lines, any struck ball is in play, even behind the batter. A ball that rolls on the ground to the "boundary" (think a home run line on the ground) scores four automatic runs, while any ball that clears said boundary by air scores six automatically. The pitcher, in this case called a "bowler," "bowls" the ball using a windmill-like release and delivers so that the ball bounces once before reaching the batter. A cricket bat has a flat front and is also used to "defend" the wickets (in addition to being used to score runs). An at bat consists of the whole team batting until there are 10 outs made, at which point the two teams swap places. There, now you know the basics!
If you're a baseball enthusiast there's enough similarities to draw you in, but also enough differences to tickle your imagination. It's like being a city person in a different city than your own. Part of you feels at home, while the other half is excited to discover a whole new place. Still, you might be wondering what the reason for my cricket re-discovery was. Well, my father recently underwent surgery and required some real rest, and also a helping hand during this recovery process. I was there with him for four days with nothing much to do between meals. Much of my love of sports comes from my dad, so it was natural that we looked for some game to watch. The only real live event was a cricket Test series between England and the host West Indies. It ended up being the perfect thing – hours of beautiful, breezy cricket all day, every day.
Oh, that reminds me – there are different types of cricket. And by that I mean a cricket match can differ in length. The most traditional type is what I've been watching recently, Test cricket. A Test series consists of multiple games of undetermined length. Each team bats twice and fields twice, that is the only structure; you play as long as you have to to either score so many points that it would be impossible for the other team to come back, or to score just enough and then focus on getting all of the other team's batsmen out. A Test cricket match can last five days before it is decided, and that's just the one match; you have to win at least two games to take a series. It's quite the marathon. Test cricket is also unique in that all players wear white, on both sides, and the ball is red. These visual bits are also traditional.
Outside of test matches, there is "limited overs" cricket. An "over" is the term for the collection of bowls, usually six, that a bowler makes consecutively before he is swapped out for another. In Test cricket there are unlimited overs, the only rule being a single bowler cannot have back-to-back overs. Limited over matches are just what they sound like – there is a limit on how many bowls a batter can face, shortening the game drastically. Within this type of cricket there are two further distinctions: "ODI" (One Day International) and "Twenty20." The former usually restricts each team to 50 overs, while with the later the restriction is 20. ODIs typically last – you guessed it – one day, and Twenty20 cricket goes for about three hours. Each team bats once and fields once, no matter which is being played. The result is not only a shorter game, but also a more offensive one; batters can't waste overs defending the wickets, they must go for points. And there is that aesthetic difference: limited overs cricket features colourful uniforms and a white ball.
Purists will prefer Test cricket, the slow-moving and technically advanced, sun-bleached granddaddy. And there is something very pleasing about the vintage feel of the all-white outfits stained with red from brushes with the ball. You can see why we are moving away from it in the 21st century, where everything must happen quickly. This generation wants excitement! And colour! However, if you've got time to kill, or if you want to slow life down a bit, it doesn't get better than test cricket. Grab a cold drink, something to snack on, and get lost in the game. You'll find that once you've started watching there's enough detail that you won't get bored; you'll start to relish in the little details. I'm very grateful cricket was there for my dad and myself when we needed it, and it will be forever tied to his recovery in memory. Batter up!