Monday, June 24, 2024

Googlies, Ashes, diamond ducks and cucumber sandwiches — my essential guide to cricket for bemused Americans

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I never thought I’d see the day that big crowds would turn out to see cricket being played in New York.

But it’s happening now, as the Twenty20 World Cup tournament is being played at venues in both the USA and Caribbean.

And in fact, it’s not the first time.

(From right) Jerry Springer, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson and Piers Morgan ready for cricket.
Tens of thousands of spectators watched India defeat Pakistan on Long Island Sunday. AP

Incredibly, cricket used to be America’s most popular sport until the Civil War, when soldiers turned it into baseball — a simpler, more exclusively American game to play while they had downtime from fighting.

But it may be finally making a comeback.

In 1844, 5,000 people a day watched America host Canada in New York in the world’s first international cricket match.

And last week, 5,000 watched the USA beat Pakistan in New York, a thrillingly unexpected win that may just make the world’s second-most popular sport sexy again in the world’s biggest sports market. 

But I realize that for most Americans, when they think of cricket, they still think of a noisy insect. 

Piers Morgan delivers his 20 points on the rules of cricket. Piers Morgan

 So here’s my 20-point guide to the world’s greatest game:

  1. Cricket was invented during Saxon and Norman times by children in the southeast of England, where I myself was raised as a child. By the 17th century, it was our national sport. There are now three main forms of the game: Test match (five days), ODI (one day) and T20 (three hours).
  2. We deliberately made it incomprehensibly complicated so it would deter Americans from ever wanting to play it, knowing that if you did, you would do what you’ve done with every other sport and declare yourselves as world champions even if you only play against other Americans in America. Think of it as baseball for people with high IQs, a bit like the difference between checkers and chess.
  3. The biggest-selling tea towel in English history is titled “Cricket: As explained to a foreigner” and was aimed at Americans who think we all speak like Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins.” It reads: “You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When both sides have been in and out, including the not outs, that is the end of the game!” Got it?
  4. Just in case any American did manage to understand cricket, we made it interminably long and boring as a final deterrence. A Test series, between international teams, can involve five matches, each one lasting five days, with six hours of play per day. And after the five Tests, and 150 hours of play, the final score can be 0-0 despite 6,000 runs being scored. Still wanna be a cricket fan?
  5. The object is simply to get as many runs as possible. This is not a reference to loose bowel movements, although in some cricketing countries, it can be both. 
  6. The pitcher is called a “bowler” and delivers the ball — usually bouncing it first — toward the “wicket” (three pieces of wood in front of which the batsman stands) in a variety of exotically named ways that sound more like adult film maneuvers, including a Googly, Doosra, Leggy, Slider, Yorker and Inswinger. These can be especially hard to defend against when it rains and the pitch (field) becomes what’s known as a “sticky wicket.”
  7. Horribly bad bowling is known as “buffet bowling” because the batsman can help himself to easy runs.
  8. Cricket balls are made of hard, tightly woven cork with a stitched leather cover, and are 50% heavier than baseballs. The worst thing that can happen to you as a batsman is getting a fast full toss (a ball that doesn’t bounce) direct onto your lower abdominal region, causing a few more balls to bounce. Trust me, it’s agony.
  9. Fast bowlers can propel the ball at over 100 mph, and many take pride in deliberately aiming at, and hurting, batsmen. The fastest ever was an Australian speedster named Jeff Thomson, who cracked skulls and broke bones throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, and once admitted: “I enjoy hitting a batsman more than getting him out. I like to see blood on the pitch.”
  10. Cricket fielders, with one exception — the “wicket keeper” — don’t wear gloves, because, like our rugby players, who don’t wear padding or helmets like your delicate little NFL flowers, we Brits are real men.
  11. If a fielder spills an easy catch, it’s known as a “dolly drop” and the miscreant is likely to be subjected to cries of “Jolene” by the opposition when it’s his turn to bat.
  12. If a batsman is out without scoring, it’s called a “duck.” If he’s out first ball, it’s called a “golden duck”; if he’s out without even facing a ball, it’s called a “diamond duck”; and if he’s out first ball in both innings of a Test match, it’s called a “king pair duck.” So if you’re a truly terrible batsman, your career record can end up reading like a high-end Chinese restaurant menu on the Upper East Side.
  13. A brilliant unplayable bowl is known as a “jaffa,” which is also the name of my favorite baked good, the jaffa cake. They bring me equal pleasure.
  14. Cricket’s GOAT is greater than any US sporting GOAT. Australian batting legend Sir Donald Bradman made Babe Ruth look like a scoreless whiffer by comparison, averaging 99.94 every time he batted in a Test match. The next-highest average is currently 62.15, so Bradman was 60% better than any other batsman who’s ever lived, a bigger gap between Nos.1 and 2 than in any other sport.
  15. Given how long cricket can last, and how dull extended passages of play can be, drinking vast amounts of alcohol as a spectator is not only recommended but essential. I often take six bottles of fine Bordeaux and a vast cheese plate into a Test match, and only very reluctantly share any of it.
  16. If you don’t eat cucumber sandwiches at some stage of a cricket match, English people will assume you have a serious medical condition.
  17. Verbal mockery, or “sledging,” is an essential part of any cricketer’s armory. My favorite exchange was between Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath, who taunted portly Zimbabwe batsman Eddo Brandes with regular cries of “Why are you so fat?” until Brandes retorted: “Because every time I make love to your wife, she gives me another cookie.”
  18. The longest rivalry in Test cricket is between England and Australia and called The Ashes. It got its name after Australia defeated England in 1882 in London and a spoof obituary placed in the Times newspaper reported that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated, and the ashes taken to Australia.” After the next series in Australia, a group of women in Melbourne presented an urn with burned wicket to the English team, and The Ashes was born.
  19. The greatest batsman of modern times was West Indian maestro Brian Lara, and I once got him out for a duck with a slow, dipping ripper. Neither of us has ever gotten over it, for very different reasons.
  20. The late, great Robin Williams once summed it up perfectly: “Cricket is basically baseball on Valium.”

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