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Howzat: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Cricket

March 25, 2014 - Eric Benac
When I first started as a sports writer here at the Alpena News, I wrote a lengthy column introducing myself and confessing to the fact that there were certain lapses in my knowledge of the sporting world. Thankfully, after nearly two years at the paper I have learned more than enough to stay ahead and contribute great stories.

However, there's one knowledge lapse that has been bugging me ever since I wrote that column: cricket.

I made several jokes in that column (and several others) that I just didn't understand cricket. I wasn't sure I was even interested: I had tried when I was a very young man and I couldn't follow the rules. I knew that they hit a ball with a bat and ran around a lot, but it seemed like the rules involved in cricket were nearly impossible to follow.

Well, I had some downtime today and I decided I would take a few minutes to read through the basic rules of cricket. I read a lengthy Wikipedia article as well as a website called "Cricket Rules" that broke down the different aspect of the game in a linear fashion. I read the rules. I re-read them. I took a break, walked around the office, came back to the desk and re-read them. I opened up a website listing obscure British slang. I memorized it. I read the article again, shaking my head and feeling a tight, tight pain growing right in the middle of my forehead that spread throughout my whole brain and made it feel like my head was on fire.

Okay, it wasn't that bad. But, it sure was complicated.

The basic format of the game is simple: a guy throws a ball at another guy. The guy hits it and runs to the other end of the hitting field. He exchanges places with another batter. If they successfully pull it off, they score a run.

Simple, right? Hardly: the different ways that teams can score and get out is baffling. A batter is out if the ball hits the "wicket" behind the batter and knocks down at least one two "bails."

The wicket is three sticks stuck into the ground: the bails are balanced between these sticks. There are two wickets on each end of the hitting field. A larger field surrounds the hitting field, with nine fielders in various locations. There is a wicket guarder, who operates like something of a "catcher," preventing the ball from rolling past him.

Again, seemingly simple. But, imagine a game where a ball hitting a player could be a successful hit in one instance, but an automatic "out" in another. Or a game where a player gets six runs for hitting the ball "out of the park" without the ball touching the ground. However, it gets four runs if it simply "rolls out" of the field.

Runners can get out if a fielder catches the ball before it hits the ground. They can also get a runner out if they hit the wicket he's close to, but only if he's running and not in his "safe" box. He can also get "stumped" if he's outside of his box and the wicket keeper hits the wicket.

Confused yet?

There's more. Imagine a baseball game where an inning isn't three players getting out, but 10. Doesn't sound so bad? Well, a batter doesn't have to swing at the ball if he doesn't like the pitch. This is especially true if the bowler (cricket's "pitcher") throws the ball too wide for him to hit.

That's called a "wide." Its an automatic run for the team. But, not the player.

Oh, and by the way, the bowler is changed every six "bowls." This is called an "over." A new bowler is chosen from the field and the batters switch roles: the non-hitting batter is now hitting. With batters not worrying about strikes or balls, they often wait a long time before swinging. And remember, 10 batters have to get out before an inning can end. However, the team captain can also simply "declare" an inning, meaning that they believe they've earned enough runs and that the next team can bat! Can you imagine?

Also, an inning is not an "inning." It's an "innings." Regardless of whether its singular or plural.

I apologize if this entry is a little more rambling than usual. That's the effect that cricket rules have on my mind: it jumps from one topic to the next, stupefied that such complex and strange rules could exist in any sport. It almost seems like a joke. I haven't even touched on half of it and I probably haven't even explained it that well.

One thing that stuck out to me was the "how's that" or "howzat" tradition. No matter what play a fielder makes, even if its an obvious out, he will shout "how's that" to the ref. The ref will then make the call. This is due to the strong "sportsmanship" tradition in cricket. Fielders will often signal a "home run" (that's not the name, but I can't remember it now) if the ball goes out of the field, even if it appeared like they just made an amazing diving catch. In fact, a common phrase in England is "that's not cricket" i.e. a very unfair situation.

That spirit of good sportsmanship and the game's complexity pull me toward it in an unavoidable fashion. It drives me to learn as much as I can and figure out a game where team can win by a score of "177-120." It inspires me to learn as much as I can, watch some matches on television and become something of an expert on cricket.

I want to know cricket strategy. I want to know the different bowls and the greatest teams in the world. I want to attend a real live game in England and see it unfold in real time, in front of a real cricket audience. I might even want to play the game at some point.

Until then, I have a lot of reading to do.


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