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January 2018
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My First Cricket Game

First, a plug: If you know baseball, but not cricket, I have yet to find a better site for explaining the basics than (dmmaus) David Morgan-Mar's cricket site, <http://www.dangermouse.net/cricket>. If you do know cricket, give the site a look anyway, so that you know the knowledge base that I'm operating from. David, I was actually able to explain some of the key aspects of the game to some of the stadium and concessionaire staff because of your site; I also handed out that URI liberally (and will continue to do so). Several people who started out totally confused about the game began to understand it from my explanations based on what I had learned from your site.

Second, a disclaimer: I'm not a long-time cricket fan. I don't know the nuances, I don't know the names, I'm only semi-familiar with the terminology, and I'm looking at the game with an eye that's acclimated to baseball. Forgive me if I miss the stuff that you cricket types think is important, and focus on the unimportant.

Third, what is probably the least important part of this report: The New Jersey Fire won; final score was 137 to 112. This was 20-overs limited (or Twenty-twenty as the announcer said it was called in Britain); the line summary was NJ Fire, 137/8 in the full 20 overs; NY Storm 112 all out during the 19th over, total time of match, just short of three hours, not counting the 20-minute TV "halftime break" requested by AmericanDesi to plug themselves to both the fans at the stadium (on the DiamondVision board, which was repeating what the fans watching on PPV were seeing) and the fans watching at home. (AmericanDesi seems to be the network that the league has the TV contract with.)

The game start was scheduled for 7PM (19:00); having nothing better to do, I had a late lunch in mid-Manhattan and sat in Bryant Park for a while, before heading for the field. The Olympic Torch was running through town yesterday as well, so I got to see it come up Sixth Avenue just before I ducked into the subway to head for the Staten Island Ferry. After a 20-minute subway ride downtown and an absolutely wonderful 25-minute boat ride across New York Bay*, I walked from the boat to the Richmond County Bank Ballpark and attempted to purchase a ticket to the game. As it was just past 17:30, they hadn't started selling tickets yet ("We start game-day sales an hour before game time"), so I hung around at the gate, watching through it while the various league and television people were going over the ground, making sure that all was right for the game. There were also a few people, not in team uniforms, and even including some children, practicing bowling, batting, and fielding moves. There wasn't a lot of concern about crowd control; what crowd there was - at that point, mostly league officials, television crew, players, and players' families - was clearly well-behaved and not prone to causing any trouble.

At just past 18:15 (I didn't check at 18:00, as I was paying attention to what was going on on the field and asking questions of people who turned out to know even less than I did), the league people who were to sell the tickets arrived; apparently, the tickets themselves had never been shipped to the stadium for sale at the box office, and that's really why the box office hadn't started selling them. There was also apparently a decision made to comp the game for all fans, so I saved a whopping $4.95. It would have been $4.95 well-spent, as I thoroughly enjoyed the game. With luck, scheduling will work so that I can attend another game later in the season.

I obtained my ticket, and went in, and got a good look at how a baseball stadium had been converted into a cricket field. First, the pitcher's mound had been cut off flat and flush with the field. Both it and the baseball infield had been smoothed (like they would be for a baseball game) and then watered enough to keep the dust down, but without making it messy enough to be an issue for play. Then, an artificial pitch was laid down, just into the baseball outfield, running crosswise (i.e., left-to-right, rather than home-to-center). I couldn't tell from the stands what the pitch was made of - it quite honestly looked like corrugated cardboard, but I found out later that it was some sort of fabric matting, and the ball bounced on it like there were hard inserts of some sort. It also seemed to have 'tags' every yard or so along its long edges; I presume these were to spike it down to the field. The pitch was a nondescript grayish color; one could call it 'dirt' color, but the infield dirt - even watered - was practically yellow in color by comparison. The crease areas at both ends were white, with the actual crease lines marked in black. There were one or two league officials who were able to answer questions before the game; the boundary was set to be the inside wall of the playing field.

The layout of the pitch and crease areas was slightly different from that documented at David's site; the wickets were set up at the very ends of the pitch, where the grass began. The markings within the crease, however, looked as though the intent was to set up the wickets within the crease areas as David's site shows. Batters would treat the marked bowling crease as the popping crease throughout the game; the marked popping crease appeared to be ignored. Balls bowled appeared to be valid if the ball was released while the bowler was behind the marked bowling crease (which was also actually being used as the popping crease).


At around 18:30, I started seeing the players - at least, I (correctly) assumed they were, as they were wearing either all-red uniforms with the New Jersey Fire logo on the front, or the blue pants and blue, yellow, and orange shirts of the New York Storm - come out onto the field and warm up and practice, much as I had seen apparently random people doing earlier. Some of those random people continued their recreational practice for a few more minutes, before exiting the field into the stands, leaving the field to the players, officials, and TV crews.

I'd forgotten what David's web pages had said about the best place to watch being in line with the pitch, so I started out at field level behind home plate - 90 degrees off the best line. At 19:00, as scheduled, the coin was tossed, and NJ elected to bat first. However, the game did not actually get under way until 19:30 or thereabouts, and no apparent reason was given for the delay. It didn't take long to decide that I was missing something, so I retreated to the promenade deck of the stadium, which gave me a better view, although I was still 90 degrees off the best line. Still later I switched around toward the third base side, ending up with approximately a three-quarter angle on the pitch, and this seemed eminently satisfactory - but next time, I think I'll follow David's advice and get as close to in line with the pitch as possible.

Someone had remarked on sjgames.chatter.sports that the limited-overs format was probably going to result in less strategic depth than a normal game; while this was almost certainly true, I could see that it wasn't entirely absent; several times, the fielding team captain commanded changes in the positions of the fielders during an over when it became clear that the batsmen had strong tendencies to hit into certain areas of the field. Perhaps this should more be considered 'tactical' adjustments, much like when a baseball coach moves the infield in against the possibility of a batter attempting to bunt.

One very important difference between baseball and cricket: Because of the short innings in baseball, one can see very rapidly whether one team is tactically or strategically dominant. You don't have this view of the game in cricket; all you can really say is that the batting team is accumulating runs at such-and-such a rate per wicket or per over. It's not until the second team is well into its innings that you have enough information to judge the relative strengths of the teams.


Impression: Baseball is not necessarily a more exciting game than cricket. Cricket does present an impression of being more placid, but I believe that part of that is because there *isn't* the *continual* tension of anticipating "OK, he's on base; can the team bring him home for a run?". Instead, the tension occurs during some of the fielding, and during some of the batting, when there is a distinct possibility of a fielder breaking the wicket (to get the batsman out) or the striker hitting for a four or six. But watching the batsmen get that extra run out of a ball can be just as tense and exciting as watching the baserunner squeeze an extra base out of a hit; watching the ball head out to the boundary and wondering whether it will cross for a four or a six can be just as exciting as watching the ball heading for the left-field stands and wondering whether it will go fair or foul. The tension is less of a *continuous* thing in cricket than in baseball, rather than there necessarily being *less* of it.


Impression: Cricket is more *fluid* than baseball - the game doesn't move in fits and starts, and fielding is less "set-piece" than the typical play in baseball. Unlike in baseball, where you have frequent breaks - between each team's half of an inning, between batters, whenever the pitcher needs to settle down, etc. - the cricket game keeps moving. Even when an over is complete, and bowling commences from the opposite end, the players move into their new positions with a minimum of wasted time (though without seeming rushed), and bowling commences as soon as reasonably possible.


Cricket may or may not have the concept of the 'Most Valuable Player'; if the concept does exist, then the honor for this game inarguably goes to New Jersey's Ajay Jadeja, who I later learned was a former captain of the Indian national side. Jadeja was clearly the dominant striker in the game, hitting three sixes and two fours, in under ten minutes. He also did some bowling for New Jersey during New York's innings, bowling out two New York batsmen in a single over.

New York took a wicket on the very first ball; the New Jersey striker hit it solidly, but almost right to a New York fielder, who made a play that would have done any baseball shortstop proud - he one-handed the ball on the run with his throwing arm, and without slowing was able to turn and throw the ball across his own body and break the wicket before the run that was attempted could actually be completed - and to my baseball eye, it wasn't a near thing; the wicket was broken with at least a yard between the striking batsman and the white crease area. The throw was solid enough that two of the three stumps were actually knocked out of the ground.

Over the next ninety minutes or so, New Jersey steadily accumulated runs, mostly in pairs, with the occasional single, six, or four - and the incredible striking performance by Jadeja. When New Jersey's twenty overs were done, they'd accumulated 137 runs, losing only eight wickets. I'm told that this is a little low for twenty overs; most of the fans expected that NJ should have been able to achieve 150 or 160. Had this been a regular game, where they kept batting until all out, they would probably have ended up with 170 or so for the innings, assuming that they maintained the same runs-per-wicket rate. Runs per over was just short of seven.

Next was the halftime break; AmericanDesi seems to be a new TV network getting started with the intent of bringing Indian culture to Americans, American culture to Indians, and creating a fusion of both, without damaging either.

Play resumed at about 21:30, with New York taking their innings at bat. From the start of their innings, it seemed that NY wasn't scoring as aggressively as NJ had been, although the actual numbers said otherwise - NY was taking more runs per wicket than NJ had during their innings. The problem turned out to be that they were taking fewer runs per *over* - and when NJ took three wickets in quick succession (dropping NY's runs-per-wicket below NJ's rate), it became clear that NY was maintaining their scoring rate by hitting more often, but not running as aggressively as had NJ - and they never really adjusted to the sudden loss of those three wickets, which meant that the later it got during their innings, the higher their runs-per-over rate would need to go for the remainder of the game in order to come up with the 138 runs they'd need to finish with for the win. At the end of the 15th over, they needed to average 11 runs-per-over to get the win; at the end of the 16th over, they needed 13 rpo; at the end of the 17th over, 16 rpo. Most people thought at the end of 15, it was still possible for NY to pull out the win; by the end of 17, most had concluded that a NY win was unlikely (but still not impossible). The final wicket fell in the 19th over, ending the game with NY still 25 runs down.

I quite thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would not hesitate to recommend to baseball fans that they take in a cricket game. I had thought from reading David's website that there was a possibility that some players could cross over between baseball and cricket; after having actually seen a game, I no longer see this as a real possibility - although I'm not entirely convinced that players of either have *nothing* to learn from players of the other.

Other notes: I wasn't competent to keep any sort of play-by-play record, so there's no sequencing to this stuff. Although most of the crowd was undoubtedly fans long familiar with the rules, the stadium announcer did remind the crowd that if the ball was hit into the stands, it was to be returned to the field for continued play. I queried a league official about this, and was told that the ball *had* to be returned, but that eventually they'd give the lucky audience member a token which could be redeemed after the game for an autographed souvenir ball. This game, though, they had no provisions for that, largely because they didn't realize that there might be fans who didn't understand that this was part of the rules of the game. I explained that I *did* understand this, but that it might become a very real issue if they intended to develop a following outside the "cricket country community", which in the US consisted mostly of Indians, Pakistanis, and West-Indians - and which I suggested to them would be a real necessity for the long-term survival or prosperity of the league. Nevertheless, the ball did have to be replaced once, as one of the sixes hit went over the center-field fence and into New York Bay.


Two NJ strikers were out LBW; one NY striker. As indicated above, NY scored a few extra runs on byes; the NY wicketkeeper never let a ball past him, so NJ never even got the opportunity. There were a total of about ten fours and six sixes over the entire game, illustrating just how dominant a striker Jadeja was. Runs not scored by fours or sixes were scored as singles or pairs; there were no scores of three. The most common way of getting a batsman out was to run him out, although four strikers - two each NY and NJ - were bowled out, and three LBW (as noted above). I don't believe that more than two strikers were out caught.


Some quick BOTE math says that most hits in cricket would be infield flies or infield grounders in baseball, and this seems to show one major *cultural* difference between the two sports - the fielding in cricket was definitely NOT as aggressive as it would have been in baseball. Most of the time, the fielders appeared to be content to chase the ball, rather than moving aggressively to intercept it before it got past them, and of the few non-boundary hits that a baseball fielder would have been able to catch on the fly (full), even fewer led to any attempt by a fielder to try to put the striker out caught. The batting also didn't seem to be as forceful as hitting in baseball would be; many balls rolled to a stop well short of the boundary, rather than skipping along the ground as they would have in baseball.


One NY striker took a couple of swings that looked quite unusual - rather than the normal vertical swing, he very nearly dropped to his knees on the crease and swung the bat horizontally - almost baseball style. Both swings missed the ball, but had they connected, they'd likely have been solid fours (or, in baseball, line drives past the infield).



* The Staten Island Ferry is absolutely free. If you visit New York City during the late spring through early fall, and want to spend a relaxing hour, you would be hard-pressed to find a better way to do it than to ride the Staten Island Ferry out and back. Ride outside the passenger cabin, on the forward deck. Not when the weather is unpleasant, though.

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