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“Explaining” Cricket

It didn’t take me long after arriving in the English-speaking Caribbean to figure out that Latin American stories about this beautiful game might be just urban legends. They abound: cricket is boring, too complex ever to understand; games last for days, weeks; spectators can’t wear a cap or cheer out loud – you can only raise cards with 4 or 6;  raise the wrong card,  you are out of the stadium.

People tend not to challenge urban legends, as I didn’t, but just a few days in Barbados the challenging started. Cricket is not an elite sport. It is played everywhere. Bats, balls, wickets (that small structure behind the batsman – or batswoman, as there is women’s cricket), and rules are improvised and adapted by kids and grown men in streets, alleys, beaches, anywhere.

Makeshift balls, from a tennis ball wrapped in electrical tape to a hard young breadfruit, hit by makeshift bats, shaped from a coconut branch, go into yards and hit people and houses and break windows. Players say sorry with a smile, recover the ball and carry on.  Drivers need to watch for players running across the road behind the ball. Ace players are national heroes and celebrities. People know everything about the history of the game, even if their facts don’t match.

So I started to wonder how a “boring, complicated and restrictive game” could be truly loved by so many in different continents, from a diversity of cultures, wealth, influences, education and status. Does it sound vaguely familiar – like football (futebol in Portuguese, or fútbol in Spanish)?

After getting stuck in Eastern Caribbean airports where TV sets show only cricket, listening to endless discussion on radio and with friends, and finally visiting a cricket stadium, or oval, my moment of truth dawned: I had become a cricket fan. What I didn’t know is that as a Brazilian, living in the Caribbean and loving cricket, the most important challenge was about to come – how to “explain” cricket to fellow Latin-Americans.

Around a table, a few beers, the magnificent Caribbean Sea, the conversation went more or less like this. OK, it’s played by two teams of 11 players. I can see everybody happy with this first bit of information. Yes, but they are not both on the field at the same time. Oh, like baseball? Eleven players from one team are on the field against two players batting for the other team that. I see eyebrows rising, a common feature from now one.

The player who is throwing the ball – no, bowling it, keeping his elbow straight, hence the bowler – is trying to knock down (break) the wicket (those three little poles behind the batsmen/women) while the batsmen are using the bats to protect the wicket and knock the ball away, so they can run to the other end of the pitch and score a run. The other 10 guys (the fielders) are trying to stop the batsmen from scoring runs by fielding (stopping) the ball.

Every time the wicket is knocked over, the batsman is out (retired). This is also called a wicket. After ten wickets the team that was defending takes its turn to bat. This is one innings. And yes, only ten wickets because there must always be two people batting so the eleventh, or last, man can’t bat alone.

But cricket can take a while to ‘explain’ and this is just the merest beginning. So stay tuned to this blog for wickets, overs, Twenty-20, test matches, umpires and coolers full of food and beer.

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