An American Take on Cricket

Our NPR station in this neck of the woods broadcasts the BBC World Report starting at midnight every night.  Sadly, it seems I’m working this late more often than not, so I get a taste of what passes for news from our neighbors there “across the pond”.  I have to say that it is refreshing to get a different perspective on world events.  The BBC covers a lot of things that never even get mentioned in the American press.

Cricket, for instance.

At the top of each hour, the very properly professional (or professionally proper) English voice will intone the headlines of the day.  However, it doesn’t matter what they are: assassination, flooding, general upheaval.  “It’s the end of the world, you’re listening to BBC World News, but first – the Cricket Report.”

Now, as an American, I have no vested interest in cricket.  I’ve never seen a match.  I tried to figure it out based on the stories on the BBC.  It was like listening to the traffic report.  It only makes sense if you have some context.  As far as I can tell, there is no slaughter rule in cricket.  The BBC would report how India scored 250 runs or Australia came from behind to score an additional 400 runs.  It’s also apparently a cathartic way for the former colonies of the British Empire to really stick it to Mother England.  It seems like England is always getting its lunch handed to them (or whatever Britishism fits here meaning the same thing).

I looked it up on the Internet and determined Cricket is similar to baseball (actually, since it was apparently invented in the 1500’s, baseball is probably similar to cricket).  I’m sure someone saw a leisurely game of cricket and thought they could speed up the game, make it less complicated and make it suitable for American attention spans (yes, sports fans, there’s a game even slower than baseball).  I suppose it reflects our American culture of shorter, simpler and faster.  It’s sort of similar to how we’ve taken the English language and lopped out all of those unnecessary U’s.



  1. Interesting piece Bob…

    I think it’s the same both sides of the pond – people are comfortable with what they’re familiar with. I (as a born and bred Brit) find it frustrating to watch American football because of all the stopping between plays compared to our football (soccer), which is continuous action (usually). I know there’s a lot of tactics and special teams involved in American football, but its not what I was brought up on and I don’t understand it well enough to appreciate it.

    I know the same applies the other way round. Americans I’ve spoken to don’t understand why we enjoy such a low scoring game as soccer, which can sometimes be a 0-0 draw, or a narrow result like 1-0. I think that because goals are not as regular as touchdowns, it’s hard to explain to Americans the elation you experience when you’re at a stadium filled with 30,000 or more people and your team scores the winning goal. It makes the anticipation level that much higher, and it’s also much more likely for the underdog to cause an upset with a moment of brilliance.

    Cricket (especially Test Cricket, the 5-day version) is a VERY English game, and I can see why it doesn’t appeal to Americans. It’s as much about the ‘sprit’ of the game (fair play, honesty, gentlemanly conduct) rather than edge-of-your-seat action all of the time. For example batsmen will ‘walk’ if they know they’re out and the umpire doesn’t give the decision – which I don’t think you find in many other sports. In fact the MCC who govern cricket and protect its laws has a seperate doctrine for the ‘spirit’ of cricket which is seperate from the rules of the game.

    To Americans, the thought of a game that can go on for 5 days and still end a draw must be a completely alien concept. However these games can often be very exciting, but usually in patches. The last game of the 2005 Ashes series at the Oval is a good example – the whole series rested on it and England just needed to hang on for a draw to win the series – it was gripping.

    Spending a day at a test match (the 5-day form of the game) is very enjoyable in a very English way. If it’s sunny it can be like an extended picnic, with the game sometimes incidental. You can take the newspaper to read during the lunch & tea intervals and enjoy a few drinks in the sun. The comparison with a war is also a good one – it’s an attritional game with a lot of psychology and often some fascinating battles between bowlers and batsmen, with the bowler trying to out-think the batsman and force the error to get him out. It’s complex, and to people who don’t know it well the terms used must make no sense at all, so it can be quite inaccessible in that way. I’ve FINALLY got my wife interested, but it was an uphill struggle!

    I think 20Twenty cricket will get more people interested in the game. It’s a much shorter (2-3 hours) and fast paced version of the game which is much more exciting. Each team gets 20 overs (group of 6 balls, delivered from alternate ends) and have to score much faster, so there’s more big hitting and more action in a short space of time. It’s a lot more American in style too, with cheerleaders and music played through the soundsystem for big shots etc… It’s interesting that us Brits haven’t embraced 20Twenty as much as other cricketing nations like Australia and South Africa – probably because it’s seen as ‘flashy’ and at odds with the traditions of the 5-day game. As such we’re not very good at it, and constantly getting beaten! I think that we English need to change our attitudes to games we’ve invented and accept that we’ve been overtaken by the rest of the world (who regularly thrash us at soccer, cricket, rugby – all games we invented). There’s no point in getting upset that ‘our’ games are evolving, and others are now better at them than we are!

  2. The only thing I can think of that sounds similar in scope to Test Cricket is maybe a Golf Tournament like The Masters.

    Since I wrote this post last year, I have seen “Lagaan”, so I understand a little bit more about the game 🙂 Maybe they’ll show one of the shorter games on BBC America; 2-3 hours would make it competitive with a baseball or football game (i.e. something you can just invite people over to watch on a whim rather than a huge planning event).

  3. Oh, I can understand your confusion. I am from India, and although in India cricket is like a national pastime (one of the bad habits we inherited from the British.) … I hate it!! Although, I’m not a big fan of Baseball either!!

  4. Cricket is the world’s number two game after football, according to this site anyway…

    I believe baseball was derived from the game we (the English) still play at school called “rounders”, which is basically baseball with a smaller bat (and smaller people). Well, everything’s bigger in the States! But seriously, I think it came over with the Pilgrim Fathers.

    Get to know cricket – listen to the World Service commentary. The key to understanding it – to the British at least – is that it doesn’t really matter what happens. The commentators are usually more interested in the cake they’ve received, which is important when you’re looking at a three day game interrupted by “lunch” and “tea”.

    The experience of playing it is much like war – long periods of tedium interrupted by short, sharp moments of terror as a rock hard pressed-leather ball hurtles toward you at 100 mph. I’ve played baseball. I think cricket is more scary because the ball is coming RIGHT AT YOU, and you either hit it or it hits you. It is one of the few (only?) English games that allows padding.

    Douglas Adams memorably uses cricket in the second book of the Hitchhikers Guide series as derived from some kind of folk memory by a race traumatised by a galactic war…,_the_Universe_and_Everything

    The English invented most of the major team sports – football, cricket, rugby (from which American football springs, I presume). That’s not just bragging – I think there’s an important anthropological lesson there about team work. They emerged around the same time as the Empire and the Commonwealth sustained the legacy of the games. So your point about the old Colonies enjoying trouncing the Old Country is spot on, even if they are playing them at their own game…

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