As I (Martin) watched Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants plying his trade against the Los Angeles Dodgers the other night, one thought kept running through my mind: baseball is such a simple game. A ball, a bat, and some fielders: all in the same positions, give or take a little shimmy to the left or right depending on which way the batter holds his ash-spear. Yet, even as I recognized baseball’s simplicity, I had a concurrent thought: which doesn’t mean that it’s easy. To land a ball in or around home plate—or to convince the batter to swing at a ball—takes years of countless errors and misfires to make it look simple; to reach the stage where you can at least hit a ball coming at you at 90 m.p.h. (or more) one time out of four takes an equally long time of failure and flailing.
The annual cricketing slogfest that is the Indian Premier League has just begun. As I watched Dale Steyn of the Sunrisers Hyderabad dismantle the lower order of the Pune Warriors, I was struck by the same thought (albeit in reverse): cricket is such a complicated game. Sure, there was a ball, a bat, and some fielders: yet they were in all sorts of positions, and there were two batsmen, and then stumps, and a complicated scoreboard, and . . . yikes.
Yet, even as I recognized cricket’s complexity, I had a concurrent thought: which doesn’t mean that it’s not simple as well. After all, the same amount of time practicing with bat and ball obtains as in baseball, with similar rates of failure and misfires. But what unites cricket and baseball is how much patience is required for the guy holding the piece of wood to wait . . . and wait . . . and wait to choose the right ball to hit. So much depends, in both games—by instinct, with skill and training, or through experience—on not doing what you so want to do: which is hit the hide off the ball without getting out.
It’s that via negativa—what T. S. Eliot called “the way of dispossession”—that make both baseball and cricket so fascinating—and why to call them “simple” or “complex” games is only to point to the very opposite inherent in either game that makes the simplicity or complexity possible.