As we note in Right Off the Bat, cricket buffs and baseball fans share a love of statistics, and both games are replete in a range of stats. As we also note in the book, the fans of either sport can too easily get caught up in trying to understand the arcana of the other game and miss the deeper rhythms and commonalities between both games. In Right Off the Bat, therefore, we steered clear of trying to explain all the fielding positions or the mysteries of the scoreboard in cricket and didn’t mention such ticklish endeavors as the 1-6-4-3 double play (The batted ball has caromed off some part of the pitcher’s body to the shortstop, who feeds the ball to the second baseman who, in one motion, steps on second base and slings the ball to the first baseman, whose foot is on that base for the second force: all runners out!) or niceties of the adjusted pitching runs in baseball. We’ll leave that for this website, we said, and we will now be true to our word—at least about cricket.
Our friend Ron Kaplan sent us a number of still shots from a cricket game and asked us to decipher the numbers at the bottom of the screen. Over the course of the next five blogs, we’ll endeavor to go as deep as we can into this material without causing you to run out of oxygen and drown. So, slide one please.
Three important rules to remember about cricket, baseball fans:
1. You don’t have to run if you hit the ball.
2. When you score you stay on the field and continue to bat until you are out.
3. You only get one or two chances to bat—in the whole match—depending on the type of cricket game being played. Thus, it’s easy to score lots of runs in cricket if you bat; but if you’re out, you play no part in any more hitting. Yeah, it’s tough.
This is a One-Day International (ODI) game between India (in the blue) and Australia (in the yellow), staged in India in 2011 as part of the 2011 World Cup. The umpire is in red. As you can see the bowler is running toward a brown piece of dirt, which is called the pitch. One Australian batsman is standing, waiting to receive the ball, in front of what’s called the wicket, which consists of three upright pieces of wood, or stumps, on which are two smaller pieces of wood, called bails. The batsman’s aim is to defend his wicket, and the bowler’s aim is to break the stumps or have the ball caught on the fly from the batsman’s bat, among other ways of getting the batsman out. Anyway, as you can see, there are two batsmen in the frame. When the batsman facing the bowler hits the ball and decides (remember, in cricket you don’t have to run if you hit the ball) to run, both batsmen set off—each running to the other’s end. That’s a run. If they think they can get cross over and get to the crease (that is the white marking—like the batter’s box—at either end of the pitch) before the ball is fielded and the stumps at either end broken by the throw, that’s another run.
Now, a word about the game that’s being played. An ODI is the international form of what is also called a one-day game, which, as the name suggests, lasts one day, or about seven or eight hours. Each side gets 300 legal balls in which to score as many runs as possible. In cricket, a member of the fielding team is chosen to bowl the ball (the equivalent of pitching). You can’t bring on a specially designated bowler (or batsman for that matter). They must all be part of the team. The bowler delivers six balls from one end of the pitch, which constitutes what’s called an over. Then another member of the team delivers six balls from the other end. In one-day cricket, no member of the team can bowl more than 10 overs (or 60 balls) each, which means that each team must contain at least five bowlers (out of eleven players, one of whom is the wicketkeeper—or catcher. You can see the wicketkeeper crouched behind the wicket.).
So, what’s happening in this shot? Well, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin (who’s facing—you can tell by the asterisk next to his name) have scored between them 26 runs. It’s early in the Australian innings—in one-day cricket you only ever get one chance at bat, or innings—and no wickets have fallen (the “0” following the 26). This is the fourth ball of the seventh over (6.3 overs have been bowled) out of 50, and the Australians have made a relatively slow start. The run rate (4.0 per over) is determined by the number of runs divided by the number of legal balls delivered. Watson has scored 18 runs in 23 balls and Haddin has scored 7 in 16 balls.
Now, what’s that “P1” all about? Well, this is where it gets a little tricky. Some years ago, the world cricketing authorities, who are always mucking about with the game, decided that too many one-day games had boring sessions where the batsmen were just pushing the ball around and scoring runs here and there and there wasn’t much excitement. I liken it to those parts of a basketball game where each team scores two points and you go back and forth up and down the court, until the final stages when you’re trying to score against the clock. Well, in cricket, it was as if everyone in the crowd was waiting for the final two or three overs when, in a mad dash to score runs (or to beat the other team’s runs), batsmen would hit big shots and wickets would fall. So, how to make the 46 overs before the final four overs of each innings exciting?
The authorities came up with what they call “Powerplays.” These are when fielding restrictions are put in place, which means that the fielding team (which normally can put fielders wherever it wants) can only place a certain number of players in the outfield to stop the batsmen hitting big shots. It’s as if in baseball, for the first three innings, you could only have the center fielder in the outfield and your left- and right- fielder had to join the others in the infield. It would encourage batters to swing for the fences, right? Well, that’s the idea here. This is Powerplay 1, which takes place over the first 10 overs of each innings. The number of fielders in the outfield has been restricted to four, which means that Haddin and Watson should be trying to lift the ball over the infield. Judging by the paucity of runs, they’re not doing a very good job.
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Thanks, guys, this is an excellent primer. I have to say I’m not a fan of the Powerplay or other “artificial” means of spiking up the game.