A Guide To Cricket For People Who Don’t Get Cricket

It's hard to take seriously a sport in which there are fielding positions known as 'silly point' and 'short leg' - but in a way, that's its beauty Illustration by Jacky Sheridan

A Guide To Cricket For People Who Don't Get It

by Mark Cooper-Jones |
Published on

With two of the five Ashes tests already played, and third test kicking off right about now, I was employed by The Debrief (who don't know anything about cricket, but are quite up for learning something new) to explain why everyone should get into those little red balls this summer. Why me? Let's begin with a boast: I'm one of a very select minority of people on this earth who understand the rules of cricket. All of them. You could say any cricket thing, and I would understand it. What does LBW stand for? Leg Before Wicket. There. And I found that one insanely easy.

What the hell is cricket?

For those with little or no understanding, cricket involves two teams of 11. One team bats first and gets as many runs as possible by biffing the ball as far as they can. (Being able to use words like 'biffing' is 100% part of cricket's appeal), before the other team has their own biff to try to get more runs, and therefore win. When not batting, a team is said to be 'fielding' - where all 11 men spread themselves around a field at such an exaggerated distance from each other it looks like someone farted at a picnic (which is possibly how cricket was invented) - and their aim is to prevent runs and get the batsmen out. I feel compelled to begin with this rudimentary explanation, because for many people the word "cricket" signifies a series of incomprehensible moments spread over 5 days resulting in a draw (See below 'How cricket looks for most people'). This view is entirely understandable; it's hard to take seriously a sport in which there are fielding positions known as 'silly point' and 'short leg'. But claiming you don't watch cricket because you somehow find it 'inaccessible' is to miss the point of cricket entirely.

So what IS the point of cricket?

90% of the time, in a cricket match, nothing is happening. Nothing. Legendary commentator Henry Blofeld has become such an iconic figure of the game simply because he is able to talk about nothing better than any other commentator: 'A huge seagull flies over our heads and away... is that another helicopter? (Disappointed) No I think it's an aeroplane.' But this lack of action is wonderful, because it means you can do things whilst the cricket is on: emails, pilates... jump start your car, I dunno, whatever needs doing. The point is, you probably won't miss anything.

I attended an evening twenty-twenty game last week (twenty-twenty = short, fun game of cricket), and even in this most action packed of cricket formats I, a cricket lover, barely watched a ball. I just sat at the Oval cricket ground just talking to some mates over a beer. Occasionally I'd get up to buy more beers, pushing past people on my row and obscuring their view - they didn't mind, because nothing was happening. My friend David, who can’t tell the difference between a ball and a bail, had paid for a ticket too. Why? Because cricket is the. Most. WONDERFUL background accompaniment to any activity in the world. I'm listening to the Ashes right now - it's divine - the thwack of leather on willow, the dulcet sounds of commentators reeling off statistics, a slow building of tension - it's perfect. Why does everyone talk about 'blink and you'll miss it' action like it's a good thing? It's not. I have to blink. I think I blink about 6 times a minute - in other 'action packed' sports I'd miss 6 things a minute. In cricket I can cook a pie from scratch and miss almost nothing, it's the perfect tapestry to life. And, if you're lucky, you'll catch one of the plethora of comedy gaffes that occur in cricket commentary boxes, such as famous one from Brian Johnson:

How Is It Fun If Nothing Happens?!

Now I did say 90% of cricket was nothing happening, but then there's the other 10%. The 'sport' %. And it's quite frankly brilliant. And you only need the most basic understanding to appreciate the drama of the competition. And when it comes to The Ashes between England and Australia, there's more drama than an episode of Game of Thrones, and almost as much bad language - for example, Aussie brute David Warner once punched the talented and boyishly fresh-faced Joe Root in the face in a bar in Birmingham. Drama. Joe Root gets revenge by batting England to victory in the first Test. Drama. Australia absolutely smashed England in the second test. Bad drama. So we’re poised at one all with three tests to go - it’s a contest! Get involved! 'Let’s bring the Ashes Home' etc.

Is England Any Good?

English cricket has had some dour days in the past, you may recognise the words 'England cricket team' from the butt of many a failure-based joke. Indeed, our own coach Trevor Bayliss admitted we 'had our backsides smacked' in that most recent test. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that some new exciting young faces this summer have seen English cricket improve markedly. Suddenly, they look a bit cool; they're hitting the ball with reckless abandon, Mark Wood is bowling over 90mph, Ben Stokes has tattoos on his arm and is being touted as the next Flintoff (I know you've heard of Flintoff). And, just in case it sways you there are some genuine hotties in there too (not that we're suggesting you're the type of person who only watches sport if there are some hotties on offer, but just in case). I mean, I’m a hetero male, but we all have our limits - they’re all sunkissed, and those whites are disarmingly pristine - So maybe you will go and jump start that car, but only when James Anderson's finished this over, right?

Things To Say To Sound Like You Understand Cricket

So cricket's starting to look a bit appealing - but you're still a rookie, too nervous to join in because you're afraid of looking stupid. Fear not; here's five key cricket phrases you can use to make you look 'in the know':

** 'Cricket is like a game of chess'**

Everyone will mindlessly agree with this, without a moment's thought for the fact they don't actually like chess.

'The bowler's getting inside the batsmen's head'

Perfect, because nobody can dispute this. You may be utterly wrong... nobody will ever know.

** 'Remember that ball Shane Warne bowled to Mike Gatting?'**

This ball was bowled in 1993. It will start a lively conversation.

'James Anderson. I would'

Man or Woman, straight or gay, all would. (I would).

** 'That's just not cricket'**

At some point, during a game of cricket, this has to be said by someone. It can be said in relation to anything that isn't cricket e.g. a bag of wotsits.

There we are. You're ready for the Ashes. But if you're somehow still not convinced, let me briefly return to that game I went to last week. I may not have paid much attention throughout the match, but the conclusion between home favourites Surrey and travelling Gloucestershire was a cracker - with Surrey needing 9 runs off the last 6 balls to win. 5 balls later, they needed to hit a six off the final ball - and the boy only goes and clears the rope! Massive shot! Crowd on their feet. 90% nothing happening, (Mark drinks a beer and talks about himself to his friends), 10% thrilling sport. On the way out, my cricket illiterate friend David was effusive in his praise for 'the exciting cricket' that had occurred. That's right guys: 'exciting cricket.' Not an oxymoron. It's time you checked it out.

(the above is Graham Swann performing 'The Sprinkler', by the way. Priceless entertainment)

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Illustration by Jacky Sheridan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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