Thursday, December 6, 2012

All I Want for Christmas is You, or Building an Innings

One thing fans who are new to cricket will hear is how a batsman needs to “build an innings.” What exactly does this mean?

While I am not the expert at cricket tactics that other bloggers/writers can claim to be, perhaps the approach taken by an outsider will help other outsiders get a bit of an understanding. To do this, I will use another analogy outside my realm of expertise: the construction of a successful pop song performance—Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas”. For specific reference, and because it is fun, I will be using this version, featuring Jimmy Fallon and The Roots:

I didn’t choose this song or performance because there aren’t better songs or performances; I chose it simply because it is successful. In cricket, successful innings will differ; some will be more aesthetically pleasing than others. But as long as they are successful, that is all that really matters.

The thing about playing a cricket innings and successfully performing a pop song is that you don’t just walk out and do it. There are many hours of preparation and practice. And just as most singers don’t typically walk out onto stage and start with a high C, most cricketers don’t waltz out and start slapping sixes down the ground from the very first ball. The art of the song and the innings is that each builds toward ultimate success.

“All I want for Christmas” begins sort of low-key: a basic introduction, nothing spectacular, setting the groundwork for what is to follow.

“Make my wish come true, all I want for Christmas is you.”

The same thing, it seems to me, applies in building a cricket innings. The batsman comes to the crease watchful, and begins, if not slowly, intentionally. Basic shots at first. Setting a foundation, laying the groundwork. Indicating what may be coming.

               “I don't want a lot for Christmas
 there is just one thing I need       
 I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true...
All I want for Christmas is you.” …

The groundwork has been laid. We begin adding more. A new vocalist, more instruments. The vocal range expands. There is an upward trajectory, although within that upward move there are lows and levels. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the line “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree” to end on an up.” “All I want for Christmas” is the same, because there must still be the tension of hope unfulfilled. As the batsman builds her or his innings, they keep this in mind. They will add more aggressive shots as they go, but only as they are appropriate to the moment and the particular ball.

               “I don't want a lot for Christmas
there is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
underneath the Christmas tree
I don't need to hang my stocking
there upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won't make me happy
with a toy on Christmas day.
I just want you for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true...
All I want for Christmas is you …” …

We are still early, but heading toward the middle of the song. The lyrics and music are still basically the same, but there are more layers now and we’re adding more new ideas to the basic ideas in the first verse. More voices come into the mix as well—support! The same rules as above apply. She must stick to the basics. She can’t pre-meditate or plan what exactly will happen, because she has done her research and she knows the current methods of delivering Christmas joy aren’t helpful. The singer is feeling the pressure and tension of not having the object of her desire with her yet, but that tension is not all bad. It is helping her focus on her goal. Her voice rises slightly on “Make my wish come true,” but she is still not ready to put herself totally out there.

In continuing to build a cricket innings, the batsman must analyze the opposition and their strategy, but because nothing can be done about that, must respond by sticking to the basics, accepting and using the pressure, focusing on his or her own best way to respond. The batsman must also be able to rely, at least somewhat, on his teammates as they help one another to move the team forward (although some great innings have been played while teammates fell like leaves from trees).

“I won't ask for much this Christmas
I won't even wish for snow
I'm just gonna keep on waiting
underneath the mistletoe
I won't even make a list and send it
to the North Pole for Saint Nick
I won't even stay awake to
hear those magic reindeer click
               'Cause I just want you here tonight
holding on to me so tight
What more can I do, baby
All I want for Christmas is you, you … “…

The singer’s voice is getting higher and more excited. She is more free-flowing. She is bringing in more vocal flare; also a bridge in a slightly different key.

“All the lights are shining so brightly everywhere
And the sound of children laughter fills the air
and everyone is singing I hear those sleigh bells swinging
Santa won't you bring me the one I really need
won't you please bring my baby to me?” …

She is pretty confident now that her Christmas wish will come true, so she is more willing to let her voice go. There are more lines which build to a high. She is still sticking to the basics when necessary, but letting her voice now fully represent her heart’s longing. She is soaring with hope and confidence.

The batsman is now in control and knows what he or she is up against. What the pitch is offering, what the bowlers are up to. He or she has accepted the pressure of the situation, used it to focus and remain within himself. Now is the time for a few more extravagant shots. The other team is in the defense. But, that being said, the batsman must retain the earlier mindset; concentrate, go back to the basics during more pressurized moments, don’t pre-meditate on shots or what the outcome will be. Confidence is high and lifting the batsman.

Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas
this is all I'm asking for
I just want to see baby
standing right outside my door
Oh I just want him for my own
more than you could ever know
Make my wish come true,
all I want for Christmas is you...
all I want for Christmas is you.”

It is all now a foregone conclusion. The work has been done, she is still singing the same tune and asking for the same thing, but she is now enjoying it. The voice truly soars now. Although she doesn’t say it, we just know that her baby is getting ready to knock at the door.

The batsman is also enjoying the fruits of his labor. He or she is enjoying keeping the momentum going, repeating what has already been happening, still hitting highs and still returning to basics when needed.

So there you have it. Building a cricket innings via Mariah Carey.

Am I full of bull? Definitely.
Am I off base for most cricket fans, especially purists? Definitely.
Did I help you, the novice, understand just a little bit? Hopefully. You are my main audience!

For better and more technical views on this subject, try these awesome links:

Merry Christmas and happy batting.

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