Cricket or Baseball—What’s the Difference?
By Awake! correspondent in Australia
WHEN England’s Queen Victoria was celebrating her jubilee in 1897, a quarter of the world’s land surface was under British control. Now, the once mighty British Empire exists only as a memory. And yet, surprisingly, its influence is still seen and felt in many parts of the world today. One such legacy is the intriguing English game of cricket.
It is popular in most lands formerly under British control, such as in Asia, in the West Indies, and in Africa—but not in the United States, where baseball takes pride of place. Yet, there are reported to be at least a hundred cricket clubs in that former colony. For those who have never watched cricket, let us explain. It is a game played on a large oval field, with all the players dressed in white, where bowlers try to hit, or break, a wicket defended by a batsman. But more about that later.
Does Cricket Resemble Baseball?
Yes and no. To most baseball enthusiasts, cricket seems to be a quiet, rather slow game, ‘baseball on Valium’ as one U.S. comedian put it. Some cricket terms, however, will sound familiar. On the other hand, the purposes of the games and the rules of play are quite different. Yet, an understanding of what each opposing team on the cricket field is trying to achieve could change your frustration into fascination.
As with baseball, cricket has two opposing teams. Each team is made up of 11 men, with one in reserve known as the 12th man. This contrasts with the nine-man baseball team. The term “batsman,” rather than “batter,” is used for the player striking the ball, and the shape of the cricketer’s bat is quite different from that of a baseball bat. (See illustration, page 23.) Also, the one delivering the ball is called a bowler, not a pitcher. The expression “scoring runs” is common to both games, though the method of scoring differs. The term “innings” is used in both sports. That these terms are similar should not be surprising, however; the Encyclopedia International tells us that baseball was developed in the late 19th century from the English game of cricket, combined with another sport known as rounders.
Nevertheless, apart from the above similarities, the differences between the games of cricket and baseball are many. The dress and stance of players, the design and layout of the oval cricket field versus the baseball diamond, the positioning of fielders, and the speed of play appear to have little in common. Yet, despite differences, those who understand either game usually have little difficulty comprehending and enjoying the other once the rudiments of play are explained.
So, to the Game!
The ideal ground for cricket is an oval or a field about 450 feet [140 m] wide and 500 feet [150 m] long. Near the center of the field is the pitch, 22 yards [20 m] long and 10 feet [3 m] wide. In first-class matches, the pitch is turf, mowed and carefully rolled. In other matches it may be concrete or hard clay covered with matting. At each end of the pitch are the wickets, made up of three upright wooden stumps that are 28 inches [71 cm] high and spaced for a total width of 9 inches [23 cm]. Thus, the ball cannot pass between the stumps. Two small bails, or shaped pieces of wood, fit in grooves on top, end to end, spanning the three stumps.
White lines, called creases, are marked across the pitch four feet [1.2 m] in front of and parallel to each wicket. These mark the safe areas for batsmen when the ball is in play. The bowler must not overstep this line when delivering the ball; otherwise it is called a no ball and is penalized with an automatic free run.
By tossing a coin, the opposing captains determine which team will bat first. The winner can either have his team bat first or send the other side in to bat if he considers there may be advantages to his team due to weather, condition of the pitch, or other considerations.
Two batsmen go to the creases—one at each end of the pitch. Both wear protective leg and body pads and batting gloves, and in recent years most professional batsmen wear helmets. All the players of the nonbatting side are strategically placed around the field at various distances from the batsman who is receiving the bowling. Their positions are identified by such colorful terms as “the slips,” “silly mid-on,” “point,” “the covers,” “the gully,” “square leg,” and “fine leg.” The well-protected wicketkeeper (catcher, in baseball parlance) stands behind the batsman’s wicket, intent on catching any ball that gets past the batsman as well as trying to catch him out or stump him when he is out of his crease.—See box, page 24.
Two bowlers are delegated by the captain to be on duty for as long as he determines. Each bowls six consecutive balls (eight in Australia and South Africa) from alternate ends of the pitch. These six-spell bowls are termed “overs.” There are usually several bowlers on each team, and the captain decides when to alternate from fast and medium fast to slower, or spin, bowlers. The ball must not be pitched or thrown as in baseball, but the bowler, with an overarm action, must keep his arm extended without bending the elbow until the entire movement is complete and the ball delivered.—See page 2.
A cricket ball, usually red and leather bound, weighs about 5 1/2 ounces [156 gm] and is slightly smaller, harder, and heavier than a baseball. The spin imparted to a ball by the bowler, achieved by use of the heavy stitched seam, affects its flight through the air and determines its direction after bouncing, for in contrast to baseball, the ball usually bounces once before reaching the batsman. Only occasionally will the bowler send down a non-bouncing full toss, or full pitch, one that the batsman can reach before it hits the ground. A clever spin bowler is often more difficult to play than a fast bowler. He achieves spin by twisting the ball, either to the left or to the right, just as it leaves his hand. This causes two types of spin, termed “off breaks” and “leg breaks.”
The Batsman’s Big Job
Each of the batsmen has a dual role: to protect his wicket and avoid being dismissed or declared out in other ways; and to put runs on the scoreboard as quickly as possible. (See box, page 24.) An overly cautious batsman who concentrates only on defending his wicket and not on scoring, however, is often criticized for “stone-walling” because he makes for extremely dull cricket.
A skilled batsman depends on eye-hand-foot coordination, quick reflexes, and ability to run fast between wickets. Each time he runs safely from one wicket to the other, changing ends with his partner, he scores one run. If his stroke drives the ball to the boundary fence before it is fielded, he is credited with four runs without having to run them. If his stroke is so powerful that the ball clears the boundary fence, like baseball’s home run, then six runs are added to his tally.
Each team stays at the batting crease until 10 of their number are dismissed, for the 11th batsman is always termed “not out,” since he is left without a batting partner. The opposing team is then sent in to try to score more runs than their opponents. If it is a one-innings match, the highest total score determines which team wins. But most first-class matches have two innings for each team, so that a major cricket match may last (wait for it, baseball fans!) from three to five days, and each team may score hundreds of runs! Some famous batsmen have defied dismissal for several days, scoring over 400 runs. Quite a contrast with baseball, where even though each team plays nine innings, a game is usually over in from three to four hours. And even after that, a team might win by one run to nil!
There are two umpires, one stationed at each end of the pitch. One stands some distance off to one side of the batsman, and the other directly behind the wicket at the bowler’s end. Umpires’ decisions are final. It is “not cricket” to argue with an umpire!
It Grows on You
Cricket’s appeal is infectious once you get involved in the game. Tom, who migrated with his family from Europe when just a lad of nine, learned this soon after he came to Australia. He had never heard of the game, but he soon became a cricket enthusiast. Tom recalls: “As I learned to play cricket and became familiar with the rules, my enthusiasm grew. I soon learned that a batsman needs a sharp eye, quick reflexes, and a calm composure as he faces the ball hurled at him at speeds of up to 95 miles per hour [150 km/hr].”
Of course, there are many finer points of cricket not covered in this short article. But we hope that the next time you see a game in progress, you will watch it with more understanding, perhaps even with fascination, as you contemplate the daring strokes of the batsman and the wily skills of the bowler.
[Box on page 24]
Main Ways a Batsman Can Be Dismissed
Bowled. If the bowler breaks (hits) the wicket and the bails are dislodged.
Caught. If a ball hit by the batsman is caught before it touches the ground.
Stumped. If the batsman is out of his crease and the wicketkeeper knocks off a bail with ball in hand.
Leg Before Wicket (lbw). If the batsman intercepts with any part of his body except his hand, a ball that the umpire considers would otherwise have struck the wicket.
Run Out. If a fieldsman throws the ball and breaks the wicket toward which the batsman is running before he reaches the safety of his crease.
Hit Wicket. If the batsman breaks his wicket with his bat or any part of his body while trying to play the ball.
[Pictures on page 23]
Development of the cricket bat over the centuries
Front and side view of modern bat
Wicket with bails
[Picture on page 24]
Batsman receiving ball from bowler. Note umpire (far left), wicket keeper (far right), and second batsman, advancing down the pitch