This is Only a Test (Part 2)

Today I started playing International Cricket 2010. I also started to finally understand cricket. And you know what? Cricket is fucking awesome.

A disclaimer before I continue: I’m going to try and explain cricket, as I see it, as part of this post. I might make some really terrible mistakes. I’m still only just learning about it and the primary medium I’m using is a video game. Nothing I say about the game of cricket should be taken with any authority. It’s very likely that my attempts to describe it will be dead wrong. But if what I say sounds cool, then you should take some time to learn about cricket. Hell, you should do that anyway if you like baseball.

With that out of the way, I can start talking about my cricket video game experience.

First of all, International Cricket 2010 is a game published by Codemasters. That might mean something to you. Probably not. If you have heard of them, it’s probably in the context of early 90s Micro Machines games, the Dizzy platformers, or Operation Flashpoint. They’ve tended to focus on publishing a certain sort of game: high on realism, low on presentation. Their games are ugly, but they carry a certain gravitas with regards to their subject matter. Hell, if I ever decide to learn about F1 racing, their F1 2010 title is apparently the be-all and end-all of the genre. International Cricket 2010 is basically what you’d expect from a Codemasters game. Boring interface, ugly graphics, but controls well and is clearly reverent of the sport.

Onto cricket. I started out the only way I knew how: the tutorials. The game had extensive tutorials on batting and bowling, which was quite fortunate because I didn’t understand either.

The tutorials were incredibly boring. Even worse, the instructions were ridiculously obtuse. Just to give an example, I took a picture of my screen. Yeah, amateur stuff, I know, but there’s no other good way to capture from my PS3 when I’m playing a European game:

Ah yes. I hate it when the bowler tries to tempt me outside my stumps. It gets me every time. I spend all day trying to make sure he doesn’t get the edge to my slips cordon. I close my curtains so he can’t even see the edge to my slips cordon. But then goes outside my stumps and he tempts me. Then it’s all over. I forget to leave the balls outside the off stump. Then he gets the edge to my slips cordon and I play at the ball. FUCK. I hate it when that happens.

Obviously this made no sense to me, so I failed this tutorial several times. Then I looked for clearer instructions within the game and found the following:

I’m not even sure I want to address this. “Leave two balls aimed at the player’s off stump”? I don’t think that kind of talk would be in a game rated appropriate for children in the United States.

After a few minutes of snickering at the language, I realized what the game was trying to tell me. Essentially, sometimes bowlers in cricket throw terrible bowls that the batter should just take. It’s basically like taking a ball in baseball, except it happens less often (which will be explained later).

So I plodded through the tutorials, all of which tried to explain the rules and strategy of cricket in similarly obtuse fashion. I began to understand it.

I’ll try and start at the beginning. In baseball, there are innings, outs, strikes, and balls. If you’re reading this, you know there are three strikes to an out, three outs to an inning, nine innings a side. With cricket, there are balls, overs, and innings. There are six balls to an over, and innings continue indefinately until one of the following criteria is met:

1. 10 out of 11 batters in the lineup are dismissed (they make an out)
2. The specified number of overs (usually 20 or 50) have been completed
3. The Batting team decides to end the innings.

To put this in baseball terms: In order to end an innings, the bowling team must retire almost everyone in the lineup. That’s basically 10 outs. To make matters worse, the first two batters get to bat until one of them makes an out. Then the third batter takes his place. And so on. To top it off, making an out is a lot harder in cricket than in baseball. So an innings takes a long fucking time.

In fact, it’s honestly helpful to forget any similarity between baseball innings and cricket innings. They aren’t the same. In a test match, which literally takes days to complete, there are only four innings. Each side gets two. Two innings per side equals almost a week’s worth of cricket.

Because of this, cricket is a high scoring game. Expect numbers in the hundreds.

Now, I’m sure everyone is wondering why the first two batters get to bat until one of them gets an out. And that has to do with yet another major difference between cricket and baseball. In cricket, there are essentially only two “bases”. They are not called bases, and they are not indicated by felt pillows. They are “wickets” and they are represented by a series of three sticks (stumps) in the ground. The batter (or batsman) stands at one of the wickets and receives the ball from the bowler. Another batsman stands at the other wicket, so its essentially as if there is always someone on base.

The bowler delivers the ball and the batsman swings. Whether or not he makes contact, the ball is considered in play. Both batsmen can attempt to score runs by running between the bases/wickets. And they can do this as much as they want, until the fielding team returns the ball. If the ball strikes the wickets before a batsman scores a run, the batsman is dismissed. And that’s a really bad thing.

What’s interesting is that the batsmen/runners don’t have to try and score a run. If the batsman hits a soft grounder back at the bowler, they can both stay put. It is considered a ball (which is 1/6 of an over) and if there are limited overs this is still a bad thing. But it’s better than being dismissed.

This is maybe my favorite part of cricket. The batsmen have to decide how many runs to try and score. If they push it, one of them is dismissed. Imagine if when a batter in baseball hit a slow roller to the 2b, he could decide to stay put and try again. That’s cricket. There is actual strategy on offense. There’s actual strategy on defense, too, but I’ll probably address that in my next post.

Essentially here’s what happens: there are two batsmen at two wickets(bases). The bowler delivers the ball. The receiving batsman hits it. It rolls or flies to the fielders. If a fielder catches it outright, the batsman is out. But if the fielder does not, the two batsmen must decide whether to try and score runs by running between the two wickets(bases) before the fielders can return the ball to the wickets. If one of the fielders hits the wickets with the ball before both batsman are safely behind the “crease” or line near the wickets, the batsman/runner is out. If they stay put, nothing particularly bad happens, though the over continues on.

A couple of addendums: if the ball is hit, strikes the ground, and then goes out of play it counts as four automatic runs. This is like a ground rule double. Due to the way fielders and stadiums are configured in cricket, this can happen on a ground ball. If hit hard enough, a ground ball can leave the field of play and count for four runs. If the ball is hit and goes out of play without touching the ground, it counts as six automatic runs. This is like a home run.

The best way to look at cricket on offense for a baeball fan:

  • There are two bases, called wickets, represented by three sticks
  • There is always a baserunner on the second base
  • Runs are scores by running between the bases when the ball is in play
  • If the ball is caught in the air after being hit that is an out
  • If the ball is thrown by a fielderand strikes the wickets while the batters are running that is also an out
  • Ground rule doubles are worth 4 runs, home runs are worth 6
  • Batters continue to hit until they make an out
  • Each bowl is a single “ball”. There are six balls per over and sometimes there are limited overs
  • If there are not limited overs, the innings continues until 10/11 of the line-up makes an out
  • Scores are really high in cricket.
  • Next time I discuss cricket, I will talk about bowling and defense and try to tie it together with the lessons of this post.

    This is only a Test (Part 1)

    Almost exactly one week ago, I was sitting in a pub in Tamworth, England. Tamworth is a medium-sized town outside of Birmingham that is notable for exactly two reasons: an indoor ski slope that uses real snow and one of the best preserved Norman castles in the country. I was there for the castle, not the ski slope.

    I wasn’t at the pub to drink. Not yet. That would come later. It was only 11:00 am and I don’t let myself drink until at least noon. But I was renting a room from the pub and it wasn’t ready yet, so I hung around in the bar, killing time until I could drop off my suitcases.

    There was really nothing to do but watch the TV in the pub, which was showing a cricket match between Canada and New Zealand.

    This was the first time I’d ever actually seen cricket. I’d heard about it. I’d even read about it a little, though my eyes tended to glaze over as soon as I tried to parse out the details. I knew that it was essentially the eccentric British/colonial uncle of baseball. And I love baseball, so I tried to make sense of it.

    I couldn’t. It was too bizarre. The pitcher(bowler) had a running start. He was throwing at the ground, trying to bounce the ball. The batter was using some sort of paddle. There were sticks stuck in the ground. It appeared as if there was only one base, and there was always a runner on that base, and somehow runners could score more than once on a batted ball. The announcer kept talking about something called a Yorker and I couldn’t decode whether it was good or bad. The whole thing was fucking ridiculous.

    Of course, that’s not cricket’s fault. I just didn’t get it. I’m sure if someone from Tamworth came to the US and watched a baseball game he’d have a hell of a time trying to figure out the infield fly rule. He might wonder why pitchers don’t always throw curveballs or why usually only 3-5 batters hit per inning. No, this was my fault. I didn’t get cricket. And that pissed me off.

    I knew I would like cricket. After all, baseball is awesome. And cricket is really the only other team sport that relies so heavily on individual, instanced events. There is no clock. It all boils down to a a series of individual moments between pitchers(bowlers) and batters(batsmen) that is heavily influenced by the fielders behind(around) the pitchers(bowlers).

    So I decided I needed to learn cricket. I tried wikipedia but my eyes glazed over as I tried to read the rules. But there aren’t rules. There are laws. Cricket has Laws, and that is awesome. However, reading the laws didn’t really do much to help me understand the game. I’m sure if I read the rulebook for baseball or American football I’d still be similarly confused. I needed to see everything in action. And so I came up with a plan.

    I would buy a cricket video game.

    This whole situation makes me feel like such a nerd. I realize that. But I honestly can’t think of a better way to learn cricket than by playing it. For various reasons–living in the US for example–actually playing cricket was out of the question.

    Besides, I’ve already learned so much from video games. I played Civilization and learned that the only downside of Communism is that my pyramids would become obsolete. I spent untold amounts of time with Oregon Trail and it taught me that trying to travel to the west coast means dying of dysentery.

    So when my wife and I went to Birmingham the next day, I took her on an ill-conceived quest to find a cricket video game. It turns out, cricket video games are not sold in the US. So I had to buy it while I was there. Fortunately, my wife put up with my flight of fancy. And fortunately, we found International Cricket 2010 for the PS3:

    At this point, I should offer a disclaimer. If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, you need to be careful. No one publishes cricket video games in the US. Any game you buy will likely be designed for foreign systems. The PS3 is “region free” which means it will play any game designed for any region. In this case, this is a UK game. But that’s not all! UK games run in PAL video format. US TV inputs are in NTSC format. There is one exception: HDMI is HDMI everywhere. So if you want to buy International Cricket 2010 and play it in the US, you’ll need the following:

    1. A PS3 and the PS3 version of the game
    2. An HDTV
    3. An HDMI connection between your PS3 and your TV.

    Otherwise you’ll be wasting money on a game you probably can’t play.

    This week, I begin my odyssey. I’ve only stuck the game in my PS3 so far to make sure it actually plays. It does. There’s no turning back.

    I will learn cricket. And I’ll detail all my attempts right here.