Revision history: 2018-09-03: improvements; fixes thanks for Yuriy Brun. 2018-09-03: initial version.
Many Web pages try to explain cricket for basball fans. They’re all bad. At their worst they go on about how the wicket is different from a wicket and how they’re both different from wickets (it’s true, they all are), and you’re horribly confused without being enlightened. I will avoid all that. Ready?
You don’t have to be a baseball fan, of course, to read this. But I do assume you know how baseball is played. And perhaps confusingly, many elements are the same: the green grass, the distance the pitch is thrown, the speed at which the pitch is delivered, the catches counting as outs, the hitting of seamed spherical balls with linear objects. So we have to focus on the differences.
Let me start by asking you a question you probably haven’t thought about before:
Is baseball pitcher-centric or batter-centric?
or, more accurately:
Is baseball defense-centric or offense-centric?
I’ve put this question to baseball fans. They tend to think it’s not
particularly biased one way or another—
Spend a moment thinking about this question:
How could we advantage batters more in baseball?
Why limit the batter to only 90°? Give them all 360°! (That is, fouls are actually fair—
not only for the defense to catch, but also for the offense to run.)
While expanding the field, let’s give the fielding team only two more people (11 instead of 9) despite having 270 more degrees to cover.
Every base is like first base. That is, the safe zone isn’t the size of a bag but a whole chunk of field, unless the batter chooses to leave it.
The batter can swing and miss and (if it avoids the “strike zone”) it won’t be called a strike.
The batter can make contact and not run.This caused me significant grief when I first played softball. I’d line a drive directly to an infielder. My whole team would shout at me to start running, but I would instead turn to them and argue, “But it went straight to a fielder!” You can scarcely imagine how my coach Mark Krentel felt.
Just because a batter scores, don’t force them to walk off the field: leave them in so they can score even more!
Cricket is, in short, the dual of baseball: a game built on the premise that pitchers must eke out outs rather than that batters must eke out runs.
If you’re the reflective sort, you may want to contemplate how many of these alterations were evident to you. I’ve found that when confronted with the extra 270°, many baseball fans are startled a little, because it requires so different a field configuration that they have never even considered such a thing. (Baseball fields are “diamonds”, cricket fields are “ovals”.)
As a result of these differences, from a batter’s perspective, in
baseball, failure is not only an option, it’s in fact the default;
much of the time, the batter departs having troubled the scorer only
to update the number of outs. In cricket, failure to “advance the
runners” has a name—
Instead of three strikes, we’ll give the batter only a single strike. (Strikes are rare.)
Baseball pitchers express their guile through the air. Cricket pitchers do too, but they also get to bounce the ball off the ground, which is prepared for the purpose, adding several more methods of deception.
The ball isn’t replaced every time someone looks at it or sneezes in its vicinity. Rather, it holds its wear and is used for hundreds of pitches.This means balls hit out of the ground have to be returned: no mementoes. This hurts some pitchers (a new ball has a glossy coat, which makes it slide more smoothly through the air; as it loses that coat, their pitches slow) but the accumulation of scuffing helps others. Indeed, certain kinds of pitchers take advantage of the differential air resistance between glossier sides and scruffier ones.
Fielders don’t get to wear mitts: only the catcher does. Given that a cricket ball is at least as hard as a baseball, yes, this is slightly insane.Ask me someday about my school team practices.
If the batter misses the ball and is struck on the leg in certain ways, that’s not a walk—
that’s an out.In an exception to cricket’s imaginative naming [The Names of Things], this method of getting out is called a “leg before wicket”, abbreviated to “LBW”.
But the details matter! So here’s a rough summary of the game.
Each team has eleven players. One is a catcher. There is no designated hitter. Everyone can bat and pitch, but usually there are specialist batters, specialist pitchers, and “all-rounders” (who can do some of both, often quite well).
The field has two bases. There’s always a batter at each base. The pitcher pitches (the throwing action is actually illegal; the arm must go all the way overhead; to generate speed, they run up to the base) from one base to the batter standing at the other. If the batters choose to run, they swap sides. They can keep swapping sides; each successful swap is a “run”.
Every six pitches, called an “over”, the sides swap. The batters stay where they are but pitching resumes from the opposite base. A pitcher cannot pitch two overs in a row.
Teams take turns: one team bats, then the other. A team bats until everyone is out. (They can also voluntarily stop early, or the format may force them to.) At most one batter can be out on a play; when they leave, another replaces them. Much like stranding runners on bases, when ten are out there’s nobody to replace the last one, so the one who is not out must also leave the field, and the (half-)inning ends.
There are several ways to be out, most similar to baseball. There are catches and “run outs” (roughly the same as a force-out). At each base there’s an arrangement of wooden pieces that must be knocked over for a strike-out. Umpires do not adjudicate strikes. There is no infield fly rule!
Baseball has long been a working-class game, but cricket was born with elite roots. Insouciance to time was therefore a feature. A Test Match is the much-caricatured version of cricket. Suppose we have two teams, A and B. In principle they bat in the order A-B-A-B, the scores are tallied, and the team with more runs wins. However, the game is required to end after five days, which—
combined with the advantages given to batters— means the full set of required batting may not have occurred. In that case, the game ends with no decision!Before the five-day limit was put in place, one game famously only ended because a ship was about to sail!
(Never mind that baseball also has its own potential for the indefinite—
using fouls— though in practice these tend to turn into full-counts, and few things are as exciting in baseball as a series of fouls on a full count.)
Cricket eventually introduced a “one-day” match, which turned the game into a bounded optimization problem: each team was, in effect, given a fixed number of pitches and had to score as many runs off them as possible. (Take too many risks and you may run out of batters; take too few and you won’t score enough runs.) The team with more runs wins, whether or not everybody is out.
More recently, cricket pushed the limited-over format further to create Twenty20, a format with even fewer pitches per team, so the game could finish in an evening.Readers will be startled to hear that the way to make the game vibrant and exciting was to make it more like...baseball.
Like baseball, cricket has many standard fielding positions [The Names of Things]. There are many more of them, with many points of refinement. Because the field is so much larger, most of them go unoccupied in a given game. A critical part of game strategy is deciding how to allocate sparse fielding resources across the large field.
Baseball has a “leftie shift”, but in cricket, a great deal more than the batter can matter: the pitcher (who changes every six pitches), the shape of the field, the slope of the ground, air conditions, and much more. The fielding positions in use can change between pitches. Indeed, the handedness of the batter and the relatively fewer number of available fielders means that a leftie-rightie batting combination can cause significant changes after every ball. (In contrast, baseball changes are relatively subtle: most of the time, an inebriated fan might never notice them.)
A broad issue that will shock most readers accustomed to the stereotype of stodginess: cricket loves innovation. Baseball is still arguing over the designated hitter rule, and in 2018 football/soccer wonders about the impact of replays. But replays are everywhere in cricket, and that’s only the least of it. Computer vision and modeling technology is used to ask counterfactuals (“Where would the ball have gone if the batter’s leg hadn’t been in the way?”), and important decisions are taken entirely on the say-so of some computer program. Some public school purist is huffing about this whilst dining in a jacket on roast beef, but the game has long since moved on.
Read Cricket for Baseball Fans but reversing polarity. That’s it.
I was tempted to stop with that, but I’ll provide one example. Baseball is defense-dominated, but it could be even more so. For instance, a foul is a strike…except it’s not a third strike, so a batter has a chance of staying alive for longer.
Of course, that doesn’t help with the details. You can look them up. Even better, go watch a game!
Baseball’s pitches are named straightforwardly, with a little
scientific variation (“two-finger”, “four-finger”). Many of
are (with some knowledge of the ball) straightforward (“seam”,
“swing”, “inswinger”, “outswinger”, “bouncer”, “slower
ball”), but after a while the merely descriptive makes room for the
distinctive (“yorker”, “doosra”, and the infamous
Likewise, baseball’s position names are easy enough for a child to have invented. Cricket’s positions start out rational, on a grid. Relative to the batter there are two sides (“leg” and “off”). A fielder can also be behind the batter, parallel to them (“square”), or face-to-face with them but afar (“long”), and close (“short”) or far (“deep”, not “long”…). So a position like “deep square leg” is simply a reading in a coordinate system. Then there are aliases (“on” is the same as “leg”, so “long on” is also just a coordinate reading). Then they grow tiers: “mid” is half-way to “long”. Then they enter the realm of poetry (after “first”, “second”, “third”, and “fourth slip”, what’s the next position? Not “fifth slip”, of course, but “gully”). Then they leave the rational plane entirely (which side is “midwicket” on, and where should “third man” be?). And finally they lapse into insanity (“silly mid on”), a position sufficiently dangerous that it proves to actually be a literal description.
One place where baseball’s terminology is slightly better: “pitcher” and “bowler” are comparable, but “batter” is definitely better for our modern age than “batsman” (and cricket should just adopt it).