With only four teams still playing baseball, interest in the 2013 season has no doubt mostly dissipated. Hence, the time seems right to begin transitioning to our cricket coverage here at NotGraphs. Because this is a new feature this year, and because most Americans are too boorish to have taken any interest in the sport before now, I’ll begin by familiarizing you with a few key cricketing concepts. For reference, we’ll use a contemporary account of an actual cricket “match”: namely, an account from just yesterday, entitled “Kohli stars, India pull off record chase.” Feel free to pull up the article and follow along to the best of your abilities, though your abilities as Americans are likely minimal.
The first thing you may notice is the usage of the plural form of the verb “pull” in the article’s title. This is not simply a cultural idiosyncrasy. Among the key features of cricket is the division of each team into two distinct squads at the beginning of a match. The job of the first, called (for example) “Good India,” is to score runs and capture wickets. The job of the second, “Bad India,” is to attempt to undermine all actions of their teammates. This is often accomplished by taunting, hurling foreign objects, digging holes in the pitch, filling uniforms with stinging insects or other nuisances, and administration of drugs via peer pressure, although virtually no tactics are disallowed. Cricket’s reputation as the noblest of sports largely stems from this feature, which ensures that a successful team will triumph by overcoming internal discord, as well as by outplaying the opposing side.
Let’s examine a few key passages from the article.
Australia’s top five scored half-centuries but their knocks went in vain as Rohit (141* off 123) came up with his career-best knock while Kohli (100* off 52) hit the fastest hundred by an Indian and 7th quickest hundred overall in ODI cricket to help India chase down a mammoth target of 360 with 9 wickets in hand.
As foreign as this sentence likely sounds to those unfamiliar with cricket, it is easily parsed with the help a few bits of relevant knowledge. First, the acronym “ODI” stands for Open-Door Invitational, an increasingly popular format of the sport in which spectators are encouraged to participate as they are so moved. Critics of the format point to drawbacks such as the tendency of matches to end in violent melees between sides of ten thousand players apiece, while proponents dismiss such objections as snobbish purism.
Perhaps the most important bit of the above excerpt is the phrase “chase down a mammoth target.” It will help readers to explain that the climactic phase of a cricket match involves the attempted capture of a full-grown (in senior-level cricket) pachyderm. According to the sport’s original rules, as formulated during the Pleistocene, only an authentic woolly mammoth was allowable. Although the rules have since been relaxed due to the extinction of the species, the animal is still colloquially referred to as “mammoth.” In practice, it is most often an Indian elephant when used in matches on the Subcontinent, and an African elephant elsewhere. However, as infamously demonstrated by the Hippopotamus Incident in Melbourne in 1996, attempts to “game the system” are not infrequent.
In chasing the mammoth, a squad chooses a “handicap” of a certain number of wickets to carry on each batsman’s person, with scores for a successful chase being weighted accordingly. In this case, each man for India was carrying nine wickets, a strong but not unprecedented handicap. For comparison, during the legendary chase by Trinidad & Tobago in the 1954 World Cup, each batsman carried four wickets on each arm, five on one foot, and three more arranged as a makeshift headpiece.
Stupendous tons from Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, and a splendid 95 from Shikhar Dhawan helped India pull off their biggest chase in ODI cricket to level the 7-match series against Australia 1-1.
Weights of various standard sizes are provided to the players to help subdue the animal. The largest, technically weighing 1,850 pounds but referred to familiarly as “tons,” are only employable by the strongest and most skilled hurlers. Kohli and Sharma are well-known for their pioneering use of a trebuchet, dubbed “Big Brahma.” “95” is a reference to the body temperature of the batsman, with lower temperatures under pressure being generally desirable.
Dhawan had a lucky escape when he was on 18 as Brad Haddin failed to hold on to a skier and the left-hander went on to bring up the fifty-run stand in the 9th over with three boundaries in a row off Watson.
During the first “innings” of an ODI cricket match, teams square off in an Alpine Golf format. A batsman from one side is chosen to play a full eighteen holes on a standard golf course, selecting a range of cricket bats to use in place of clubs. Meanwhile, players from the opposing squad are paired with downhill skiers on slopes adjoining the course. The objective of the latter team is to capture their opponents’ balls before reaching the cup, which they achieve by skiing at high speed across the green and striking at the ball with their bats. Deception and surprise are critical components of this phase of the match.
However, if a player takes objection to the tactics of an opponent, he may invoke a rule known as “setting a boundary.” Traditionally, the player removes his gloves, enters the offending man’s “personal area” (defined variously in different countries, but typically around 0.6 meters in radius), and speaks the following lines: “This is behavior for which I will not stand, and a boundary must be set.” The ensuing “faceoff” is resolved according to the valor and dignity of the combatants. No time limit is applied to the encounter, and evenly-matched faceoffs may stretch on for hours or even days, with a famously tragic example occurring in 1937 when South Africa’s Wilfried Grootboom and Sri Lanka’s L.W. Chandrakumar perished of frostbite in the Karakoram.
We’re now out of space for today’s exercise, so our adventures in cricket will have to continue next time! In the meantime, mind your bails, ducks and yorkers!
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