Cricket, Baseball, Gin, and Beer

Posted in The sporting life on May 8th, 2002 by bill
“Everyone knows which comes first when it’s a question of cricket or sex—all discerning people recognise that. Anyway, don’t forget one doesn’t have to do two things at the same time. You can either have sex before cricket or after cricket — the fundamental fact is that cricket must be there at the center of things.” –Harold Pinter
Dateline: Barming, Maidstone, Kent, England It has taken me only a few days to learn that the English are quite mad, and I say this with affection, because they are very much like us. Thus, if you apply the transitive theorem, you learn that we, too, are crazy—which, quite frankly, I had always suspected. For instance, though this whole country is organized around drinking—you can scarcely walk a hundred yards without stumbling upon a pub, while food is an afterthought, which explains its quality, or lack thereof—the pubs in fact close promptly at 11. And so when the English drink they do it quickly, and with gusto. Thus, as we sat outside the Glasshouse near Gloucester, we were a pint and a half in before I was able to ask our host Johnny if he might be willing and able to explain the game of cricket to me. Being an obliging sort, he was quite willing, and mostly able. Though he was a bit fuzzy on the mechanics, Johnny apparently had a firm grasp on the essence of the thing, which was after all what I was looking for. Much of what he told me was blurred by the evening’s libations, but I have done a bit of subsequent reseach and will now attempt to summarize for you what I have learned. Cricket, of course, is a direct ancestor of baseball—either its maternal grandfather or its genial but slightly dotty great-uncle, I’m not sure which. The actual rules of the two games are quite different, but fundamentally they each involve two groups of players who throw, hit, and catch a ball while running (or standing) around on a grassy field. Both games have a ritual quality that tends to make them move extremely slowly. But while even a particularly long baseball game is wrapped up in four hours, five tops, a regulation cricket “Test match” absorbs six hours a day (not including a 40-minute lunch break and 20-minute tea break) for five days. That in itself is remarkable enough, but here’s the kicker: If, on the last day of the match, play cannot be completed for any reason—if there’s not enough time for one team to finish its innings, or it rains—the match is declared a draw and the previous four days are rendered null and void. This part was quite difficult for me to wrap my American brain around until Johnny explained to me that, in his view, cricket’s primary function is to serve as a backdrop for the real English national pastime—which is, of course, drinking. Then it all made sense. After you’ve spent five days lounging pleasantly around the cricket pitch drinking gin, why should you care if anyone wins? And if the match ends in a draw and you all have to reconvene later and do it again, why should that bother you? Which brings us right back to baseball. I’m not saying that there aren’t a lot of genuine and passionate baseball fans out there, but in my experience baseball is often as not—and I hope I’m not giving out any state secrets here—just an excuse to get out of the house and drink beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This is why I’ve come to believe that baseball is not really a different game from cricket, but in fact the same game, poorly remembered. We know that Abner Doubleday was a myth—baseball was most likely invented by a group of aging immigrants who got together on a summer’s eve and, under the influence of some particularly strong home-brewed cider, decided to re-create the beloved game of their youth. Though a bit fuzzy on the mechanics, they apparently had a firm grasp on the essence of the thing, which was after all what they were looking for.