On Wickets and Overs

March 26, 2015
I have never cared for the game of cricket.
Partially, this is my American bias coming through: we didn’t sink tea in Boston Harbor just to turn around and adopt a sport that has specific rules in place for tea breaks. We even took out the extra ‘u’ that British people put in the word ‘harbor’. What the hell is a harbour anyway? Who invented this dmb langage?
I have been generally dismissive of cricket because it seems like a lesser version of our national game. Here’s a partial list of things that baseball does better than cricket:
1.       Baseball is shorter. If you think that watching a four-hour game is interminable, know that cricket matches are sometimes a week long. Even the cricket matches in the current World Cup….matches that give each side a paltry 50 overs….take six to eight hours to play.
2.       Baseball allows more back-and-forth on offense. This is the one brilliant ‘fix’ that the inventors of baseball made to cricket. In a cricket match, one team bats, and then the other team tries to ‘chase’ the first team’s tally. It’s a two-act play….two long acts. Baseball, using the same analogy, is an 18-act play which can sometimes stretch to 24 or 36 acts. I have the attention span of a hummingbird: I prefer shorter scenes.
3.       Baseball fans aren’t as annoyingly exclusive as cricket fans. I’ve met a few of cricket fans over here. Almost all of them, within three minutes of me asking about cricket, will tell me that I will never understand the game, and that I’d be better off not trying to understand it. This is, in my opinion, the single biggest reason why the median age of a cricket fan in New Zealand is seventy-eight years old: it’s because the people who are cricket fans have no interest in letting anyone else join their ranks.
4.       Cricket is absurdly reliant on gentlemanly propriety, instead of rules. I won’t bore you with the details because I mostly don’t understand them, but there’s a lot of aspects of cricket that rely on the competitors to be, well, non-competitive. A batting team is allowed a limited number of pitches: there seems to be little consequence if a pitcher (or bowler, as they’re calling) just throws a bunch of unhittable balls. The only force keeping them honest is a) looking ungentlemanly, and b) ___. It is a game ripe for cheating. Speaking of which…
5.       There’s a lot of cheating in cricket. Right…in case you didn’t know this, cricket is obscenely corrupt. Not as corrupt as FIFA or the Olympics…it’s not ‘murdering slaves to build stadiums’ corrupt. It’s more like mid-1910’s baseball….there’s a lot of match-fixing that goes on.
6.       There are no souvenirs in cricket. You have to throw the ball back.If you get concussed trying to catch a six, the ball is going back into the game. No memento for you, slow hands!
7.       There’s no value in speed. Cricket is basically baseball as it was played in the 1950’s: homers and singles. There’s very little reason to run fast: if you hit the ball to an infielder, you’re not getting a run. If you hit it to an outfielder, you’re getting exactly one run. If it rolls to the fence it’s an automatic four. If you crush it out, it’s a six. There ain’t no triples in cricket.  
8.       The names of the dramatic hits are boring. In baseball, a long fly ball that leaves the field is called a home run, a homer, a dinger, a long-ball, a jack, or a Giancarlo Stanton. In cricket it’s a six. Meh.
9.       The fielding is better in baseball. In an average baseball game, you will see players make a play you couldn’t make roughly three dozen times a game without making a big deal about it. In cricket, a player will catch a high pop-up like he was saving the last baby eagle on earth, and then react to catching it like he had also cured polio. It’s….disorienting.
10.   The stats are meaningless, and everywhere. Baseball is more stat-mad than cricket (thanks a lot, Bill), but you can still watch a baseball game without paying any attention to anything but the game. Watching a cricket game on television is like watching the stock-market channel: there’s a bunch of numbers flickering up and down the screen, next to acronyms I can’t understand. Ugh.
So to hell with cricket.
*             *             *
Or at least that’s what I thought, before I watched yesterday’s semi-final match that saw New Zealand take on South Africa. I got lucky: this was the first game I watched, and as luck would have it, it turned out to be The Greatest Cricket Game Ever.
And, really, I watched half of the game. South Africa won the coin-flip and elected to bat first. I say ‘coin-flip’, but I don’t actually know how they decide these things. It’s just as likely that the referees call the Queen of England and ask her who she’d like to see bat first, and just go from there. I’m sure the rules on how to conduct the coin toss are one hundred pages long. I’m sure they include a tea break between the calling of heads and tail and the actual flip. 
So I mostly ignored the first half, because the game started at 2:00 pm locally and I have thing to do.From what I gather, South Africa:
-Batted terribly in the first part of the game.
-Batted very well in the middle, and,
-Batted very, very well in the end.
This was part of the strategy….New Zealand played their best bowlers (pitchers) early, and they performed very well. But they didn’t manage to retire many of the good batters for South Africa, so South Africa teed off on New Zealand’s middle-relievers.
South Africa was meant to have 50 overs. An over is 6 pitches, or ‘balls’ or ‘bowls’, so South Africa’s batters were meant to see 300 pitches from the New Zealand bowlers. A rainstorm interrupted South Africa’s batting, so the refs decided that each team would have only 43 overs for the day.
At the end of their 43 overs, South Africa had scored 281 runs.
A rational sort of person, hearing this, would assume that New Zealand, to win the contest, would have to score 282 runs to win.  
But cricket, alas, is not a sport for rational people: it is a sport where sabermetricians (or whatever the British equivalent for ‘guys-who-live-in-their-mom’s-basement’ is) have not only gained a position in the game, but have used that position to make insanely stupid changes.
Hence the Ducksworth-Lewis Method, a complex formula that is used to calculate how many runs New Zealand actually had to score to beat South Africa.
The Ducksworth-Lewis Method was introduced in 1996: I can only assume that during the seven billion years cricket was played before this metric was introduced, matches were determined by the far stupider measure of who scored the most runs. But huzzah for progress, I guess.  
Those of us with statistical bents can only dream of American sports following suit. It’d be great to see the Super Bowl decided by which quarterback has the higher QB rating. And I’m looking forward to watching the Nationals claim this year’s World Series title by having a better xFIP than the Blue Jays.
Anyway, this bizarre system decided that that New Zealand, down 281 runs, needed to score 298 runs to win the match. It was therefore possible for New Zealand to a) score more runs than South Africa, and b) lose the match.
Except even that 298 number wasn’t right….New Zealand actually had to score 297 runs. Because NZ had done better than South Africa in the early rounds of the tournament, they had the tie-breaker. The target was put at 298, but New Zealand would advance by scoring 297 runs. In that eventuality, the tie score, if you can wrap your mind around this, would be New Zealand 297, South Africa 281.
What was especially irksome about this is that for the entire second half, the numbers ticking backwards on the runs New Zealand was chasing were the wrong numbers: the numbers kept saying New Zealand needed 98 or 63 runs, when New Zealand actually needed 97 or 62 runs.
Are you bored? I’m bored. We haven’t even gotten to the playing….we’re just dealing with counting. Cricket manages to mess that up.  
*             *             *
So New Zealand is chasing 298, or 297 if we’re being really accurate. This is a tough score….it’s not impossible, but tough. Let’s get to the part of the game I watched.
The first batter for New Zealand is the team captain Brendon McCullum.
Did you ever watch that show "Home Run Derby"? Not the thing they do at the All-Star game….that old show from the 1960’s, where Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, or Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron would compete to see who could hit the most balls out of an empty, winter-frozen stadium?
That’s what Brendon McCullum does: he hits dingers. Or….sixes. He hits sixes and fours. A four is a ball that reached the boundary, either rolling or bouncing. McCullum is a monster batter. Here’s one seven pitch (bowl sequence):
4, 6, Wild Pitch, 4, 6, 4, 4
In baseball terms, this would be like David Ortiz hitting a double, a homer, a double, a homer, and two more doubles. On consecutive pitches.
Which is one way that cricket is compelling: you get to see a masterful batter hitting for a long length of time. This isn’t true for baseball: you can easily catch a game in which David Ortiz goes 0-for-4 with a walk, and you come away less than impressed. With cricket, it’s rare for elite batsmen to not impress, at least for a little while. Cricket showcases their star hitters better than baseball does.
And the batting itself is fascinating: a cricket pitch is a large oval (or circle in some places), so there’s no foul territory. This means that not only can a batter hit the ball anywhere, they are actually incentivized to do so. McCullum’s hits, overlaid on the field, went in every direction. He hit sixes – the cricket equivalent to a homer - to his pull field, the opposite field, and dead center.
Another compelling detail about the batting is the higher stakes: if a batter makes an out, they’re done for the day. There is a monumental pressure to this, especially for the big hitters like McCullum, who go for longer shots. Just miss the ball, and end up hitting a pop-up? Not only are you out, but your team’s chances have plummeted. Swing a little late on a fast ball and it hits the wicket? Enjoy the showers…you’re done. 
To someone raised on baseball, the heightened stakes of each cricket at-bat is fascinating. If Mike Trout strikes out in his first at-bat, I can rest assured that he’ll have other chances. In cricket there’s no second turn at-bat: if you mess up there’s no redeeming yourself.
Anyway, McCullum batted brilliantly: he scored 59 runs on just 26 balls before hitting a liner directly at one of the South African defenders. This is (apparently) exactly what he was supposed to do: rack up as many runs as possible, as quickly as possible. He succeeded brilliantly: his average per over was a blistering 13.7. To put that in context, if all of the New Zealand team had maintained that pace, they would have scored 589 runs. Or, actually, New Zealand would have scored enough runs to win by the 22nd over.  
Another aspect to cricket that is extremely enjoyable, especially in contrast to baseball, is that pitchers rotate through the game: the pitchers (or bowlers) change during every over…every six balls. This opens up a great deal of strategy that isn’t available in baseball: you can adjust your pitching order as the game progresses, to accommodate to how the hitters are doing. If your opponent’s best hitter is cracking 4’s and 6’s against your faster bowler, you can try to bring in a ‘spin’ bowler to see if that helps throw the batter off his timing.
This is, in a sense, what baseball does in the later innings of games, with the primary difference being that pitchers cannot return to the game. Baseball is moving, gradually, towards some version of the cricket model: really brief appearances by the pitcher. But cricket is smart in that it has a ‘check’ on relentlessly subbing in pitchers: a pitcher (a bowler) is not allowed to come in and throw one ball: they have to complete their over.
Things were looking up for New Zealand after McCullum was retired in the 7th over: though their best hitter was out, they still had two talented hitters taking turns, and they were well ahead of South Africa’s pace. 
In the 9th over, the second batter, Kane Williamson tried to go for a long ball and fouled it off the wicket. That’s baseball lingo, ‘foul’…there's no fouls in cricket. But it was a foul tip that hit the little horizontal bar off the three taller vertical bars. This was a big blow to New Zealand’s chances: in the course of ten balls, two of their best hitters were out of the game.  
They still had Martin Guptill batting. If McCullum is New Zealand’s best player, Guptill is the team’s Jose Abreu: their most fearsome batsman. In the World Cup match that preceding this one, Guptill scored 237 runs against the West Indies. That’s 237…almost the entire South African total….all by himself. It was the most runs any New Zealand cricket player has notched in a World Cup match. The guy who had the previous record? Martin Guptill, with 189.
I happened to be in Wellington, just a-walkin' along the waterfront, when Guptill went off. The stadium is at one end of the harbor, and the sound from the stadium echoed throughout the city.
This is something baseball doesn’t have, at least from a hitting standpoint. We’ve all heard stories about hitters getting on hot streaks, but those streaks play out over a long space of time. In cricket, a batter on a hot streak just goes: he can hit shot after shot for hours or days, until he makes a mistake, or until the natural life of the game has ended.
Anyway, New Zealand still had Guptill, who was four days removed from the greatest batting performance any New Zealand has had in a World Cup match. They had a batter who could single-handedly knock in enough runs to beat South Africa.
And Guptill was run out.
In cricket, two batters are on the field, one at each wicket. Runs are scored when the batters switch wickets…when they run from one to the other. If the batter who is being pitched to runs, the other guy has to follow suit.
In the 18th over, the batter opposite Guptill, a player named Ross Taylor, hit a grounder directly at one of the fielders. Taylor, for reasons known only by him and God, decided to run. Guptill, noticing this terrible decision, tried to get to the opposite wicket, but didn’t come close to beating the throw. New Zealand wasn’t halfway through their overs, nor were they halfway to their goal of 298, and their two star batters were out of the game.
The nearest equivalent to Guptill getting run out, in baseball, was Babe Ruth getting caught stealing to end the 1926 World Series. Except in this case, Babe Ruth was a) caught stealing because he was forced to run by a teammate’s bad decision, and b) on deck to bat.
So, yeah….horrible.
*             *             *
I should say here that New Zealand’s national cricket team is in many ways the polar opposite of New Zealand’s national rugby team. The rugby team, the famous All Blacks, are the most successful international rugby team in the world. Since they started playing in international competitions in 1903, the All Blacks have posted a winning record against every country they’ve competed against. That doesn’t do it justice: only five countries have ever beaten them in an official game. The All Blacks are the rugby version of the Yankees: they expect to win every game, every year, and they usually do.
The New Zealand cricket team - the Black Caps – are very different. International cricket has traditionally been dominated by five or six countries: India, Australia, England, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and maybe South Africa and the West Indies. Of those, the strongest teams are India and Australia and England. India won the last World Cup; Australia won the three World Cups before that.  
New Zealand has never been a big player in international cricket. They are certainly strong - especially for a country of 4.5 million people - but they’re firmly in the second-tier when it comes to international competition.
Anyway, when New Zealand’s electric batter Guptill was run out, it looked like New Zealand’s run was coming to an end. My cricket-obsessed friend likes to say that the Black Caps have an alarming habit of  snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: Guptill getting run out because his teammate wanted to score a useless run was exactly that: defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
This left New Zealand with two batters: twenty-five year old Corey Anderson, a slap-hitting left-hander, and thirty-six year old veteran Grant Elliott.
In the 38th over, Anderson was retired: he put up an impressive 58 runs. Elliott, the old guy, was still playing, but he’s being paired with the bottom part of the New Zealand batting order. Elliott was the last decent bat standing in the way of South Africa and the final.
Just an aside: one other way in which cricket is more compelling than baseball is that it is has two forces working against an offense. Your chances to score runs will end after the 50th over (or, in the case of this match the 43rd over). This is exactly like baseball’s 27 outs…once you get through those outs, you’re out of chances.
But cricket has a second force that puts pressure on an offense: you can run out of batters. If ten batters get out, your offense is finished, whether or not you’ve used up all of your outs (pitchers/bowls) or overs (innings).
I think this is great, frankly: it gives the game a second dimension. If you’re the trailing team and you’ve had seven batters retired, you have to think a little bit more about how you want your remaining batters to approach the game. What’s the right balance between trying for extra runs, and making sure that you don’t lose all of your batters? It’s fascinating...it opens up a range of tactical tensions that baseball simply doesn’t have.
I’ve been trying to think of a ‘second check’ that baseball could apply to their offense to give it an equivalent. We have twenty-seven outs....just thinking out loud here, but baseball could adopt a rule in which every five strikeouts by an offense would lose that team an additional out. If your batters whiff five times, the ninth inning is a two-out affair. If your batters strike out another five times, it’s one out. Strike out fifteen times in the first eight innings, and winning or losing, you don’t get to bat in the 9th.
I have no idea how that would play out, but it’d be an interesting solution to the strikeout problem.
Anyway…back to cricket. Near the end of the 41st over, South Africa had a chance to retire Grant Elliott. The catcher (that’s not the real term for his position, but he gets to wear gloves) fielded a throw towards the wicket, but he missed the ball: he knocked the wicket off but didn’t actually have the ball, so Elliott was still batting.
At the end of the 41st over, New Zealand has 275 runs. They need 297 to advance, so they’re 22 short. They have 12 pitches left. Let’s go ball-by-ball:
Over 42 (out of 43)
Ball 1 – 1 run
Ball 2 – 2 runs
Ball 3 – 1 run
Ball 4 – 1 run
Ball 5 – 4 runs
Ball 6 – 2 runs
This does nothing to communicate the intensity of this round. One of those runs was a high pop fly which magically landed in the infield. Somehow the defenders all completely misjudged it, or lost it in the lights: the ball hung in the air forever and then just landed. That’s not supposed to happen in cricket: if the ball is hit high, someone usually catches it.
So that was a break for New Zealand. Instead of a) their best batter being out, and b) them not getting any runs on the ball, the Black Caps got a lucky run, and Elliott was still batting.
Then came the sixth ball. Here Elliott went for a six and ended up hitting just under the ball, sending what we’d call ‘a lazy fly ball’ to what we’d call ‘the outfield.’ This was the end for Elliott, and the end for New Zealand’s chances.
Except….the two outfielders collidedinto each other, and the ball landed between them. Instead of zero runs and Elliott out of the game, New Zealand had two extra runs, and Elliott was still swinging.
New Zealand had scored 11 runs in the over…three of those runs gifted by the South African defense utterly falling apart at the worst possible moment. They was at 286 now….they need exactly 11 runs to get to 297, tie the game, and advance to the final.
South Africa was playing, in those last overs, with what we’d call a ‘no doubles’ defense: all of the outfielders were crowded at the edge of the pitch, trying to make sure that anything on the ground wouldn’t get over the boundary. In cricket terms, it was a ‘no-4’s’ defense.
Six balls left, eleven runs needed.
Over 43:
Ball 1 – Over throw. The pitcher threw a wild pitch. The batters, knowing this was a possibility, decided to run on the pitch. They scored a run. Five balls left, 10 runs needed.
Ball 2 – One run. A slasher to the deep outfield. Four balls left, 9 runs needed.
Ball 3- Four! A great shot over the boundary. Three balls left, 5 runs needed.
Ball 4 – Another wild pitch. Another run for New Zealand. Two balls left, 4 runs needed.
At this point, the New Zealand batters need to get a 4 or a 6 on one of the next two balls. Two clean hits wouldn't do it: they need to reach the boundary. And because the outfielders are playing a very conservative defense, a four was going to be tough to get.
At this point, of course, the pitcher could've thrown two more wild pitches. He would concede two runs (maybe), but he’d likely win the game. I think that the danger of throwing wild pitches is that a) they’re easier to hit, because the batter doesn’t have to worry about protecting the wicket, and b) a wild pitch past the catcher might reach the boundary fence, for a four. But I'm not sure about this. 
While I’m on the subject, I don’t know what the odds are of a cricket match coming down to the last two pitches, but I imagine the chances are pretty slim, even in a one-day match. After 8 hours and 514 pitches, the game still hung in the balance, right to the end.
So we have Grant Elliott is batting against South Africa, needing to hit a boundary shot to put New Zealand into the World Cup final.
Did I mention that Grant Elliott is from South Africa? He is. He was born and raised in South Africa. He moved to New Zealand in 2001 because there’s less competition to play high-level cricket in New Zealand than South Africa. We can presume that he knows most of the guys on the South African team, because he used to play for them.
Anyway, Elliott has two shots to reach the boundary, and send his team to the World Cup final.
Ball 5 – Six.
You knew that was coming, right? On the second-to-last pitch of the game, Grant Elliott crushed a game-winning six. It was an impressive shot, a deep fly that landed into the frenzied crowd. The game was over. New Zealand had pulled it out.
*             *             *
I said earlier that cricket is a game of two acts. I mentioned this as one of the flaws of the game.
A cricket game is essentially one action (Team A tries to score as many runs as possible), and one reaction (Team B tries to beat the score of Team A). While these two parts take place over a considerable length of time, there’s no getting away that cricket is just two events.
Every other sports interchanges offense and defense regularly. Baseball changes from offense to defense eighteen times in a regulation game. In American football it’s probably about the same….15-20 changes in a regulation game. A professional basketball game must change 40-50 times in a game. I have no idea how many changes take place in a game of ice hockey or soccer, but it’s a lot. It’s more than two. Hell…even sports like darts and bowling take turns on offense. You don’t have one guy bowl a game, and then see if the other guy can keep up.
In a way, this makes cricket perhaps the purest of sports. In every other sport you get second chances….but cricket gives you one chance. It gives each batter one chance: if you make an out on the first pitch, your day is done. If your team has a lousy at-bat, they’re done…they can’t hope that they’ll do better in the second inning, or on the next possession.
This structure is objectively compelling, but played out on the field, the drama of the game is more subtle than it is in other sports. For most of yesterday’s game I was convinced that New Zealand was losing…not marginally, but badly. I thought they had made too many mistakes to pull it out.
I don’t think this is actually correct: New Zealand did make costly mistakes, but at least statistically they were always in the game. I was surprised when they won, but it’s possible that I simply didn’t understand what I was seeing. In retrospect, the game might’ve been closer than it felt, the comeback less dramatic than it seemed.
But that last moment was glorious: it was certainly one of the most exciting sporting moments I’ve seen on television. I say that and acknowledge my considerable ignorance about what I saw: I assume that it’s tough to hit a 6 with two balls left, but I have no idea how hard it is. I have no idea whether the degree of difficulty is Dave Roberts hard (steal a base off a catcher who knows you’re running) or Kirk Gibson hard (homer off peak Dennis Eckersley). I suspect it’s somewhere between the two.
It has me hooked, though. The second semi-final starts in a few hours. The two titans of the sport, Australia and India, will be battling to see who plays New Zealand in the final. I’ll be watching it, for most of the eight or ten hours it takes to play. I don’t have that much to do.
Dave Fleming is a writer living in New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming 1986@yahoo.com.

COMMENTS (31 Comments, most recent shown first)

A very entertaining pice Dave. The difficulty in bowling an unplayable delivery is that the line between that and a wide is very small, and as another contributor pointed out a wide requires a do-over. Better to try a yorker, i.e. right at the batsman's toes to prevent scoring.

There have been 36 ODIs which were won on the last ball, from a little over 3600 played, so about a 1% chance - it would be a little higher then for the second-to-last ball (cricinfo doesn't list those specifically, and my current whiskey intake precludes me from working out how to do that on statsguru).

Riceman (like you I'm a traditionalist and prefer the long form of the game), there is a book you may be aware of by Ed Smith (Playing Hard Ball, I think) in which he tried out for the Mets. For those who don't know, Smith was an England Test (international) player.

The 5-day game lends itself to even more scope for drama, twists and strategy - if you can spare 5 days; some early Tests were what they called "timeless", one of which went on for 12 days, with no result - yes, that's also a possibility in the long form - only being stopped because the visiting team, England, playing in South Africa, had to catch a boat home.
11:37 PM Mar 30th
Thanks, Riceman.
7:39 PM Mar 30th

You are correct sir. A very boring game, unfortunately. New Zealand collapsed quickly. They needed 250+ to make it a game. Oh well.

Regarding cricketers as ballplayers, the Red Sox seriously considered asking Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist to tryout for the team. Gilly was a "slogger", a batsman who whose job is to score quickly and protect "the tail" (batsmen 8 thru 11, whom 99% of the time are the team's bowlers. Like in baseball, most bowlers can't bat). Gilchrist specially in hitting sixes, I believe he still holds the career record for sixes in the test format (100). He was so good the Red Sox were interested in using him as a DH in case Ortiz got too old too fast. He was quite fun to watch, my favorite player.
12:26 PM Mar 30th
The final has ended now with Australia besting New Zealand--condolences, Dave.

I'm writing to see if I understand correctly the final score, per ESPN:
NZ 183/10 (45 ov)
AU 186/3 (33.1 ov)

New Zealand batted first and scored 183 "runs" (?), using up all 10 of their "outs" (?) in just 45 of their 50 allotted overs, or 6x45 pitches (bowls?) = 270 pitches.

Then Australia batted and scored prolifically. Only 3 batters made out, and they passed NZ's score with 186 runs during the 4th batter's turn in just 6x33.1, or 199, pitches. At which point the game was decided and Australia didn't need its remaining 16.5 (in base-6 notation) overs allotment, as though the winning run had scored with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

Am I on the right track?
11:48 AM Mar 29th
Brock Hanke
Dave - I've actually seen a cricket bowler (a test team bowler from India who was in medical school at Washington University in St. Louis), try to pitch softball. He found out that the school had an intramural softball league, and decided to find someone who was on a team. He found someone on my team (I was the catcher). He had two problems. First, he had never thrown underhand in his life, and second, he had never dealt with the concept of a strike zone. It took him a month to figure out how to throw underhand, which, if he was trying baseball, would not be a problem, and another month to figure out how to throw to a catcher's mitt in a strike zone. But the odd thing was that he did NOT throw hard, even in this little tacky college kids league. Even overhand, he was not faster than the fastest softball pitchers in our league. I have no idea why speed might not be as important to cricket as it is to baseball, but he was a test team player from a strong country, and he just did not throw hard, even by amateur standards.
12:18 AM Mar 29th
Well...first, the point of the article is to detail my observations as an unknowing observer. It was inevitable that I'd get something wrong. If I knew what I was talking about, there's be no reason to read this.

That said: I wasn't talking about 'wide' balls specifically.

In the last over of the game discussed, there were two pitches (bowls) that the batter couldn't hit...two pitches that bounced high and missed the wickets and missed the bat. The batters ran on these pitches, scoring a run each time without making contact with the ball. They ran very hard: it didn't look like they were being gifted their runs. The pitches (again, bowls) counted in the over: New Zealand had six balls, and then they had five.

Maybe I'm missing something, but it seemed like the bowler threw two crummy pitches that the batter couldn't do anything with, and there was no consequence, except the single runs that scored.

I wondered why he didn't KEEP doing this....why he decided to throw a pitch towards the wicket that the batter could hit for a six.
2:12 PM Mar 28th
"A batting team is allowed a limited number of pitches: there seems to be little consequence if a pitcher (or bowler, as they’re calling) just throws a bunch of unhittable balls. The only force keeping them honest is a) looking ungentlemanly, and b) ___." I don't know much about cricket, but it seems to me from a little reading of the rules that this is completely wrong. A "wide" (ball bowled wide) is not counted toward an over, so it's more accurate to say that the batting team is entitled to something like a limited number of strikes (to use baseball terminology) than a limited number of pitches--six per over, or 300 per game for a "limited overs" match. In addition, the batting team gets one run per wide, so the penalty for wide bowling is quite immediate and direct, much more than for throwing balls in baseball. (Details of the rules of cricket like these are readily available on Wikipedia.) What you wrote would be like someone saying that it's only "looking ungentlemanly" that makes baseball pitchers give batters anything to hit, since there's little consequence of throwing unhittable balls. Really, would you take someone seriously who wrote an article about baseball with such a lack of understanding of the basic rules?
7:18 AM Mar 28th
A quick addendum to the Ducksworth-Lewis Method, because someone explained it to me today: it only comes into play during rain-shortened matches, like the NZ/South Africa match.

South Africa, batting first, utilized strategies under the assumption that they had 50 overs to play with: in cricket players play conservatively early in the contest, and then try for longer shots later in the contest. Because the refs decided that there would be only 43 overs, South Africa was disadvantaged: they didn't start 'swinging for the fences' quite early enough.

New Zealand, knowing that they had 43 overs to work with, had the advantage of being able to plan when they wanted their hitters going for longer shots.

It's a good improvement, and I shouldn't have slighted it so much. One of the pluses is that it's helped lessen the amount of matches that end in ties.

Go Black Caps.
3:56 AM Mar 28th
There is an interesting question about how outstanding cricketers would do if they played baseball. The obvious question is about how well Don Bradman would have done. The great Australian, who played Test cricket (as it is called) between 1932 and 1948- he was thus a contemporary of say Hank Greenberg or Jimmie Foxx- compiled an average of 99.40 runs (in cricket) which is roughly like a batter retiring with a lifetime BA of .399 and a lifetime Slugging Average of .699. How would he do if his ancestors had gone to America, not Australia, and he played baseball? Another interesting observation is that in Test matches (international cricket matches) the teams are nation-based- there is an English team, a South African team, a Pakistani team, and son on, and their players really do come from these countries. In these matches, the population of the country appears to have no obvious connection with how well the team does- a country with a tiny population, like the West Indies, can beat a country with a huge population, like India. If baseball teams could only recruit players from one or two states, how would they do?
1:39 AM Mar 28th
Dave: the answer to your question is somewhat straightforward.

A team that played one-inning 27-outs would still have an OBP of around .333. Guessing about 24 batting outs, that would mean 12 times on base. Three of them would be out on base, 1 or 2 left on base, meaning you have 7.5 runs scored.

If it was 25 batting outs, that would give you 12.5 runners on base, of which 2 would be out on base, and still 1.5 left on base, for a total of 9 runs scored.

So, somewhere in that vicinity.
8:29 PM Mar 27th
I think it IS a cultural thing, and it's partially due to cricket being a 'second' sport here in New Zealand. If you ask a Kiwi to explain rugby, they'll be happy to tell you the differences between league and union rugby. But cricket fandom is a smaller society, and they're happy with that.

I've travelled to India a few times...I remember asking a guy who was selling me a train ticket about cricket: not only did he spent ten minutes explaining the relevant rules, but he drew a diagram of a cricket pitch on a piece of butcher's paper, labeling each of the positions.
3:49 PM Mar 27th
Dave - I found this quite enjoyable, thanks.

You said, "the people who are cricket fans have no interest in letting anyone else join their ranks". That could be a cultural thing. Our daughter's Trinidadian nanny was enthusiastic to share her knowledge of cricket with me. And, by the way, she became a huge baseball fan.

"The names of the dramatic hits are boring. In baseball, a long fly ball that leaves the field is called a home run, a homer, a dinger, a long-ball, a jack, or a Giancarlo Stanton. In cricket it’s a six." I always felt this was a problem with the Expos' popularity among French speaking Montrealers who were given relatively bland translations for baseball terms. A home run was "le coup de circuit", a hit was "le coup sûr", and a strike is "la prise" - which translates to "decision".

2:33 PM Mar 27th
World Cup Cricket is One Day Cricket, or as they say, One Day International (ODI). It's 50 overs a side, as Dave explained. Traditional cricket fans, like myself, dislike this version of the game, Some say it should only be played during the World Cup Some say it should be erased from existence forever (i.e., no World Cup).

There are vastly different rules between the long version and 1-day game. Too many to get into. When I learned the game from a South African friend, I initially started watching only the 1-day games, because I found it ludicrous that it takes 5 days and 30 plus hours to play a game that could easily end in a draw. On a whim I decided to watch a 5-day match...and I fell in love with it. The tension was unbearable. The endless strategic decisions (what stroke to play? who should bowl now? over the wicket or round the wicket bowling?, and field placements, field placements, field placements!!!) And then, we enter the 5th day with the game still up for grabs, where everything can turn on a single ball, a dropped catch, a mistimed edge, anything. A sold out crowd watches the game between their fingers as they can't bear to look at times, all the while drinking continuously since 10 AM. You can feel the weight of a nation on the players' shoulders, knowing their performance will bathed in honor or dishonor for all eternity.

When cricket is at it's best, it's the most thrilling, suspenseful sport I've ever witnessed.

10:58 AM Mar 27th
That was a wonderful article. I've long been fascinated with cricket, interested in the fact it had a huge influence over early baseball development. But having only maybe half the knowledge and a tiny fraction of the exposure to the game to really know what it's all about. This added a bit to my knowledge.
8:17 AM Mar 27th
I wonder how many runs a baseball team would put up if they got all their 27 outs at once. One team bats until they are retired 27 times, and then another team bats until they either a) outscore the first team, or b) use up their 27 outs.

Last year the average AL team scored 4.18 runs per game. We'll take an average game and run the numbers:

The Rangers beat Oakland on April 21st, 4-3. How would that score look if each team had played to 27 outs?

Texas batted first...they would have scored about nine runs if they had all their outs in a row. That's approximate, of course.

Oakland was chasing nine runs: by my counting they would've scored their tenth run with just 22 outs recorded, so they would've won the game if we played baseball cricket-style.
9:11 PM Mar 26th
That's right. I play fast-pitch softball: when I bat I'm mostly concerned with just making contact, and a little concerns about where the pitch is coming and where I want to send it...

In cricket, because it's a little easier to make contact, and because the field is wider, and because there's no room for error, there's a lot more thinking that goes into each swing.

This is simultaneously a virtue and a flaw. Cricket is MOSTLY about batting and pitching. They worry about defense and practice it, but a one-day match might have six or seven outs recorded by someone in the field. A game might have one remarkable defensive play, but most of the defense involves routine plays: stop a grounder, catch a pop up, relay to the infield.

In baseball, defense can change a game. So can speed. There's nothing like Billy Hamilton in cricket: there's no player who unsettles the batter-pitcher dynamic by stealing bases.

It's NZ and Australia in the final. I think it's on Saturday night/Sunday morning in the States, if there's any interest. ESPN8 should be showing it.
8:56 PM Mar 26th

Great article, both for your openness to experience (and appreciate) cricket, as well as explaining it. I'm an American who lived abroad for a few years and wound up playing cricket myself.

A former England player Ed Smith was once rehabbing from a broken wrist, and he was invited to work out with the New York Mets in spring training. Afterwards he wrote a book "Playing Hard Ball" in which he attempts to compare the two sports from an English view. If you get a chance, give it a read.

When I attempted to explain to my friends, I suggested it was a mix between baseball and chess. For me, the amount of focus while batting was greater than ANYTHING I experienced playing baseball - after all, if you take a strike in baseball, no big deal. In cricket, one mistake - and your day is over batting.

And pitching (bowling)? Once I gave up a towering six on the first ball of an over...and the captain couldn't take me out. I had five more balls to bowl against a much better player than I. In baseball, I would've been relieved in a heartbeat.

Glad you're following it, and here's to hoping the underdog Kiwis can win the final!
6:50 PM Mar 26th
I don't know, it just seems more exciting to have the offense decide when to give up on an inning in progress. Also, it puts some pressure on the defense because they're always wondering how long the inning is going to be. You got your slow #7 batter leading off an inning with a single. When your #8 guy strikes out, do you let the pitcher bat to clear the decks for the next inning? Do you gamble that your pitcher can get a hit? Is having a slow guy on first base a genuine rally worth gambling on? is it a good strategy to keep hitting any time you have a man on base?
5:15 PM Mar 26th
I teach grade 6, and a lot of my students are either Indian or Pakistani. So many of them follow cricket--they'll come in the day after an important match and excitedly tell me who won. I don't follow cricket; whenever I come across it on TV, it makes no sense whatsoever to me (I'm sure Dave's piece explains the basis). So my standard joke is to tell the students I can't understand the game because you're allowed to run every which way whenever you want, and sometimes the scores go into the hundreds because get to make up the rules as you go along.
4:32 PM Mar 26th
337: Cap Anson would hit third unless the first two batters made out, and then he'd hit later. Lineups weren't set prior to the game.

So, in your scenario, would the offense have to declare ahead-of-time, or as the inning progressed? And why does the offense declare--why not the defense, or the home team, or the team with the worst won-loss record, or the team which hasn't made the playoffs most recently?
4:17 PM Mar 26th
Another model would be the offense gets to decide how many outs there are in a particular inning, but are restricted by the need to have nine of them. That sounds exciting to me.
4:10 PM Mar 26th
Great article. I am a huge cricket fan, but I actually prefer the 5-day game. I realize I am a minority, but I love it. Imagine 5 days of agonizing tension with your nations reputation at stake. Anyway, I hope New Zealand destroys Australia.
3:31 PM Mar 26th
Plus, it would finally end sacrifice bunting!
2:22 PM Mar 26th
27 one-out innings would yield almost exclusively 1, 2, or 3-run games. Sequential offense would nearly disappear.
12:45 PM Mar 26th
My interest in watching a cricket match is about on the same level as watching crickets play with matches, but I do like wondering what certain innovations would do to baseball, such as Team A batting through its 27 outs, followed team B doing the same, or the opposite: 27 alternating one-out innings. At a guess, what do you guess the typical score of each extreme model would be? And what changes if any would be required of strategies? The DP would be a casualty, for sure, if we went to 27 one-out innings: no need.
12:20 PM Mar 26th
Now if you could explain lbw and a googly. My daughter plays county cricket in the UK, and I've been forced to learn more than I ever wanted to. It can be, at times, a compelling game.

I would say the best thing about it is, in many places, since spectators sit on the hillside and not the bleachers, you can bring a picnic basket and your own booze.

A 12-pack definitely makes the game more enjoyable.
10:43 AM Mar 26th
1. I can't believe I read the entire article. Your account was compellingly written, so that although previously I had zero knowledge of cricket, I now think I sort of understand. At least now when I see cricket scores I'll have some clue what they're communicating.

2. I'll stick to baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, golf, track and field, and automobile and motorcycle racing. And Olympic curling. And the horse racing Triple Crown. And the chess world championship. And my grandson's flag football games.
9:14 AM Mar 26th
The Duckworth-Lewis method is, in all seriousness, a thing of beauty. Yes, it looks absurd that to beat 281 you need 297. But it's a perfectly logical conclusion from the fact that, as you say, there are two limits on a batting team: 10 outs, or 300 pitches. South Africa used 43 overs and 5 outs to score 281. New Zealand were given 43 overs and 10 outs, so their target was a little higher.
8:44 AM Mar 26th

Hey Dave, I think this is your first article that I didn't read all the way through. I only got about a third of the way done before I gave up. Not that your writing was bad; it was the topic. Why I'm writing is that exactly at the point I got bored, my brain literally went


8:11 AM Mar 26th
Having never lived in a cricket-loving nation, it's tough to follow now that I'm no longer at an English language paper, where I had to edit cricket stories. That being said, I've enjoyed all I've learned about and you did a wonderful job bringing it to life without too many asides or overly snarky comments.

Even in Japan, people play cricket, however. I'll never forget heading to Seibu Dome to cover a Pacific League game and seeing a boy carrying his cricket bat at Tokorozawa Station. My English coworker who has written about cricket in Japan, was thrilled.

4:14 AM Mar 26th
I love listening to the cricket scores on the BBC. I have no idea what they're talking about, but they sure are EXCITED!
1:51 AM Mar 26th
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