The philosophy department staff, along with other departments in our building, have been playing in an intramural cricket tournament.  They’ve been quite successful, and there was finally a match (in the semifinals) that didn’t conflict with my schedule.  It was fun to watch, and I think I’m finally starting to figure out the rules of the game.

I would’ve surely dominated if it weren’t for my back problems.

Cricket, as I’ve discussed in previous posts is THE sport in India.  Soccer is popular.  Kabbadi is up-and-coming.  But no other game has the popularity of cricket here.  Kids with cricket bats are ubiquitous and everyone seems to know how to play.  It totally dominates the sports pages – even when no matches are being played by India’s team.

You might remember my theory that knowing the rules of baseball actually makes it harder to understand cricket.  I’ve always found myself looking for similarities that don’t exist, while missing the ones that do.  Also, since baseball is not much watched in India, it’s  hard to find someone who knows the rules of both games and can translate from one to the other.  My brothers-in-law have given me a good foundation, and at yesterday’s game a philosophy graduate student named Sukrut finally helped me get to the next level:

You talkin’ to me?

My explanation is below, but first some pics of the team and its fans:

Cricket for Dummies (Who Know the Rules of Baseball)

OK, so here’s my explanation of cricket in terms of baseball.  First, get rid of 1st and 3rd base.  There’s only home and second base.  And they’re closer together than in baseball.  And instead of a diamond, you’ve got a circle, with the home-to-second-base corridor in the center:

Also, instead of one batter, there are two.  One stands at home and the other stands on second.  Both holding bats.  The one at home is the one who is actually “up” and gets pitched to.  There’s a catcher behind him.  The fielders (there are 9 of them in addition to the pitcher and catcher) are spread around the circle – some in the infield and some in the outfield.

At home and at second, instead of bases (or a home plate), there are vertical sticks jutting out of the ground (the wicket) with plates/sticks balanced on top.  They serve many of the functions that the bases serve in baseball.

OK, so the pitcher pitches the ball and the batter tries to hit it.  If the batter gets a hit, both batters run.  The guy at home runs to second, and the guy at second runs home.  Much like baseball, they can then keep running as long as they can get away with running.  But if they get caught between the two bases, then they can get thrown out.  But instead of tagging the runner or the base as in baseball, the cricket fielders “tag” or knock down one of the wickets with the ball.  If the wicket is knocked down while the runners are between the bases, then it’s an out.  The batter whose wicket was knocked down is done and a new batter comes up.

So in a very basic sense, it’s quite like baseball.  The defense tries to get the batter out, while the batter tries to get hits and score runs by running the bases.  Outs are gained by catching the runner between bases, but also in other ways similar to baseball – for example, if the batter hits a fly ball that’s caught in the air, he’s out.

But there are also some key differences that tend to make the game so confusing for those who know baseball.  For example, outs don’t really matter in cricket the way they do in baseball.  In baseball, three outs ends the inning.  Not so in cricket (at least not in the type of match I was watching – there are variations).  Instead, the inning has a set number of pitches – and so the inning continues no matter how many outs are scored.  In cricket, then, the outs merely lead to a change of batter, but they don’t determine the length of innings/games.  The only exception is that if all of the team’s players (all 11 of them) get out before the set number of pitches has been thrown, then the inning is over.

Another big difference:  hits don’t end the batters turn at bat.  If the batter gets a hit that allows him to run to second and then back home again (i.e. a double), then he bats again (if he only makes it to second, bringing the other batter home, then the other batter is now “up”).  So potentially, a batter can be “up” for a long time.  As long as he keeps  hitting safely.   Imagine what this would do to RBI statistics!

Furthermore, the batter doesn’t even have to run.  If he hits the ball but can’t make it to the other base without getting caught, he can just stay at home (and the other batter stays at second).

Another difference:  Pitches generally bounce before getting to the batter.  There’s no strike zone, as in baseball – though the ball can’t go too wide of the batter or else it won’t count as one of the fixed number of pitches in that inning.  The reason it bounces is because the pitcher is really trying to knock down the wicket behind the batter, rather than trying to strike the batter out (and the batter, of course, is trying to prevent the ball from hitting that wicket).  Also the pitcher runs up to the pitcher’s mound (which isn’t a raised mound in cricket) before throwing the ball.  Here’s a video:

There is a “home run” in cricket if the batter hits a fly ball that goes all the way out of the circle.  It’s worth 6 runs.  If the ball goes out of the circle on the ground, it’s worth an automatic 4 runs.  Anything else has to be run out.

The game I watched had 8 “overs” – an over is 6 pitches – per team.  So each team basically got to swing at 48 pitches.  In the baseball sense, then, there was only one inning (that is, each side got one turn in the field, and one turn at bat).  The pitcher (called a “bowler” in cricket) usually changed with every over, though the same bowler could throw more than one over.

And, unfortunately, I think I was a jinx.  All my questions led, perhaps, to less cheering (and, also, I’m a Red Sox fan, which couldn’t have helped) – so our team lost by about 10 runs (which is a much closer margin than it would be in baseball).

Just wait ’til next year.