Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My first cricket game

Yesterday I played in my first cricket game, something I've wanted to do for almost 15 years. I fell in love with the game when I visited the U.K. back in 1997 and watched some games on the BBC. When I was visiting the City of Bath in England, I saw some kids playing on a school field and something about the sport just clicked with me. The sound the ball makes off a bat made of willow is somehow very appealing to me. I bought a couple balls, a set of wickets and a bat from a store in Bath and brought them home, along with a book on how to play the game.

My 15-year-old cricket bat has survived two fires and I had to replace the grip in 2006 after the first fire melted the original grip off. This was the first time it has had any opportunity to be used in a real game, so I brought it along on the bus ride into the city.


I went in early to have lunch with Polina at a barbecue place in Times Square before taking the subway out to Flushing Meadows Park in Queens. This is the location of the USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open, which starts in a couple months. It's also nearby Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets.

The group consisted of six young men of Indian descent and myself. The guy who was supposed to bring the wickets (a set of three wooden stakes in the ground with two small bails perched on top of them, each about the size of a Mars candy bar) couldn't get away from work, so we improvised by dragging a 55-gallon trash can barrel to one end of the pitch, a strip of hard-packed dirt where the ball is bowled to the batter. This made the game easier for the bowlers, because the wicket target became a lot larger. We each took turns at bat, and each player bowled six overs (analogous to pitches thrown for strikes in baseball) to the batsman.

We scored the game as follows - if the batter makes contact with the ball and hits it far enough, he scores runs by running the length of the pitch as many times as it takes for the fielders to return the ball, each length counting as a run. If the ball went past the field boundary before it is touched by a fielder, it's an automatic four runs; if it leaves the field on the fly, it's an automatic six runs.

There are also several ways for the batter to make an out, which results in a deduction of five runs. First, if the bowler manages to get the ball past the batsman and hit the wicket (which in our case resulted in a loud "BONG" when the steel barrel was hit) that's an out. If a fly ball is caught by a fielder (who don't wear gloves, by the way) that's an out. Or if the fielders return the ball to one end of the pitch before the batsman gets there, then the batter is "run out." Any of those events causes a loss of five runs.

Even though I've never bowled an over in my life, I acquitted myself quite well, bowling three or four outs by striking the wicket. Unlike baseball pitching, the bowler is allowed to run up to the line where he (or she) releases the ball, and the elbow must be straight once the ball is brought higher than the shoulders. I usually keep a cricket ball around my desk and practice my grip and toss in my idle moments at my computer. Everyone was most impressed with my technique, especially when I told them I learned from a book, and it was my first game ever. Most of the guys I was playing with have been playing cricket since early childhood, so that was pretty high praise.

On the batting side, I came in last in scoring with a +1 run result, but the next best guy was only +2, so I wasn't too far back. The best guy scored more than 50 runs. I wanted to use my own bat, even though it was heavier than the other bats. Next time I'll use a lighter bat. In the field I had one decent play stopping a fast ground ball, but let a couple of fly balls drop because I misjudged the flight of the ball, or I got nervous about catching a hard-hit ball with my bare hands. The cricket ball is harder and heavier than a baseball, so this is definitely not a game for the faint of heart! I had one ball jump up and smack me on the forearm, but luckily did not leave a bruise.

We played until the light got so low I was having trouble seeing the ball, since cricket balls are dark red they don't show up very well in low light. When I got home, I was so exhausted from the play and just from being out in the sun so long that I felt a little sick and had to go to bed at midnight, which is really early for me these days. Consequently I woke up just past 4 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep until 7:30 a.m., then I slept until 12:30 p.m. Now today I'm just sore all over and it's painful just to move about. But it was totally worth it, and I'm looking forward to playing again.