Author’s Note: This has been written shortly after England retained The Ashes (it’s a real thing) in Melbourne. I am wearing a knitted cricket jumper and drinking tea. I’m doing my bit for the national stereotype.
A Brief History of Cricket
Cricket is an exquisite sport enjoyed by gentleman of fine taste, and tolerated by ladies of a discerning disposition. Invented, like all the best sports, in England it soon spread across the globe with the ever expanding Empire.
Originally devised by the Earl of Thannickshire to keep his staff occupied during the summer months, the eleven-a-side sport was soon picked up by the middle and working classes and played on the finest lawns across the country, every village green, and even in the streets by the orphaned ragamuffins of old London Town.
Unfortunately the great scoundrel epidemic of 1834 led to the imprisonment of up to seventy ne’er do wells, all of whom were exiled to Australia. These men quickly raised the popularity of the game in Australia, where they’ve been taking it far too seriously ever since.
Meanwhile merchant traders travelling to India and the West Indies taught the locals in all the major ports the game; a decision many regretted almost one hundred years later when the West Indies bowling attack was all but unstoppable. It was also taught to traders in China, but despite being able to understand mah-jong, the rules of cricket somewhat befuddled them.
Despite being the greatest game on Earth, the popularity of cricket was diminished by the invention of both rugby and football. The former being more entertainingly violent, the latter more easily understood by every nation on Earth.
Cricket took a further knock when the United States ended their Civil War and created violent versions of British sports to give the world baseball, FOOOOOTBALLLLL!, and basketball. For added measure they also took hockey, the game of choice for sexually confused private school girls, and added ice, Canadians, and Rambo-esque violence to sate any remaining bloodlust amongst the new nation’s sports fans.
In the modern age cricket is a marginalized sport that is often ignored in favour of more dazzling events, such as darts, snooker, and lawn bowls. However, it is one of the few English sports that has successfully blended old traditions with new technology and has recently seen a resurgence in England’s ability to win games. They have recently defeated Australia, in Melbourne, Australia. This is significant, because in its long and glorious history England vs. Australia is the only game of cricket that anyone really cares about.
The Ashes is a tournament held every eighteen months or so, hosted alternately by England and Australia. Each tournament is comprised of five tests (matches) and each match lasts for up to five days. If England are hosting it happens during the summer, but it’s played during Christmas if it’s in Australia.
The Ashes is almost as old as cricket itself, and was started because of the aforementioned habit of the Australians to take things far too seriously. The players essentially play for pride, because the actual trophy is a minute urn older than the jar of salad cream in my grandmother’s fridge. It contains, surprisingly enough, ashes, taken as a souvenir from the legendary ‘Hercules Test’ of 1844 which lasted twelve long months and ended in deserved draw.
The England-Australia rivalry is one of the greatest in any sport because it is fierce but good natured and rarely descends into violence. This is largely thanks to both sets of fans enjoying al fresco dining, the consumption of beer, and directing witty songs at each other.
Instances of Humour in Cricket
Cricket commentary is often rife with humour, as commentators spend five days alongside each other with admittedly very little going on in front of them. They can often be heard entertaining themselves by making lewd remarks about any young ladies in attendance, and satirize the faces of crowd members with the misfortune to be either unattractive or unusual in some way.
It has been known for cricket commentary to descend into absurd, existentialist games of I Spy which only ends when Shane Warne inevitably spies ‘B’ for ‘bosoms.’
For many enthusiasts the funniest thing that has ever happened in cricket is when Michael Holding of the West Indies stepped up to bowl to English batsmen Peter Willey. The commentator proudly announced that ‘the bowler’s Holding the batsman’s Willey.’
Tragically, listeners were unaware of the extra ‘e’ in Willey and many broke down in hysterics under impression that not only was the bowler sexually abusing the batsman, but neither the umpires nor commentators seemed particularly phased by events. Fortunately the mix-up was soon put clear, although by that point England had already lost and Holding was under investigation by the authorities.
On the pitch ‘sledging’ is commonplace, and refers the exchanging of cheap insults between batsmen and bowlers. Often this amounts to little more than childish accusations of homosexuality, ineptitude, or a baseless questioning of the opponents ability to satisfy his wife sexually. On one occasion an Australian batsmen asked England’s Ian Botham ‘how’s your wife and my kids?’ Botham, widely considered the Oscar Wilde of sport, replied ‘the wife’s fine, but the kids are retarded.’ Haha!
Understanding the Complexities of the Game
Cricket has come along way from its humble beginnings, but is very much the same game played by the Earl of Thannickshire’s man servants all those years ago. You may, after reading this, be inclined to try watching an actual game yourself. The following is intended as an instructional guide to aid your understanding and following of the action:
Cricket matches can be played on beaches, quiet streets, school playgrounds, village greens, and even in hotel rooms with two or more people, a chair, a shoe, and a rolled up pair of socks. However, your best chance of viewing a test match will be by visiting a cricket ground, which will boast a full sized pitch, a good bar, and more men in white than a lunatic asylum— and nearly as many lunatics.
Cricket can be quite simple to comprehend, because almost everything is called a ‘wicket’ and wicket rhymes with cricket, so it’s fairly easy to remember.
A cricket pitch is vaguely circular, with a dusty strip in the middle. This strip is called a wicket. At either end there are three stumps of wood (stumps) with two bits of wood perched along the top. These are also called wickets. Like basketball, the aim of the game is to score as many runs as possible by hitting a ball with a bat. Runs can be scored by running between the wickets, or by hitting a ‘boundary.’ This can be achieved by hitting the ball to the edge of the pitch along the ground for four runs, or over the edge of the pitch for a tantalising six runs.
But the bowlers (pitchers) will try to best the batsmen by ‘taking a wicket.’ This can be done either by hitting the stumps, by forcing the batsmen to block the ball with his leg (against the rules), or if a fielder catches the ball between the time the batsmen hits it and the time the ball hits the ground.
Unlike most sports which last, at most, a few hours and are divided into halves or quarters, cricket lasts from 11am to 6pm over five days. There are breaks for lunch at 1pm and tea at around 4pm. 11pm is, contrary to popular medical belief, a perfectly acceptable time to start drinking— although it is considered quite common to drink anything other than ale before lunch.
At lunch fans and players convene in the pavilion dining hall where a light lunch is served. The salmon at Lord’s is famous the world over, although the oxtail soup is not to be turned away lightly! Tea is exclusive to players only, as they enjoy a full Devonshire cream tea and Vera Lynn records in the Gentleman’s Lounge. Of course it is possible to purchase equivalent sweet treats within the ground. It is considered polite, after tea, to move onto either wine or spirit drinks.
Clapping is the standard and only accepted expression of approval within cricket grounds. Unlike American sports, cricket does not encourage horns, whistles, face paint, body paint, costumes, or any form of nudity. This is relaxed slightly during the Ashes, but that’s largely to accommodate visiting Australian fans. Make sure to only clap when something happens (when it does you’ll know), and when everyone else is.
Fortunately for you, the uninitiated, cricket is full of nonsense terms which, when used heavily in a sentence, will make sense to those around you; for example ‘Oh, gosh. That reverse sweep of the googly was rather exquisite— if only they’d fielded fewer slips and shifted the gully leg-side I dare say we would have had a fair shot at nipping the bugger’s wicket’ is little more than a string of made up words with ‘wicket’ thrown in at the end for context. It really is that easy.
You hear the term ‘that’s not cricket.’ This refers to cricket’s standing as a gentleman’s game, with cricket a synonym of ‘fair play.’ However, it can also be accurate said of any object, activity, or person who is not a game of cricket.
Author’s Note: A surprisingly high amount of this post is factual. Seriously.
a sign outside Lord's Cricket Ground, London during the summer