I have been asking some of my friends—my non-cricketing, American friends—to ask me their questions about cricket. Any question. Whatever they would really like to know about the sport. I was looking to come up with some new content for the blog, and figured the best way to come up with relevant topics would be to ask people what they want to read and learn about.
I entered this exercise with two main assumptions. Number one was that I would not get many responses. I also assumed I would get questions on playing the sport, such as, “how is it played?” or “why do they stand around like that,” or perhaps even “why don’t they wear gloves?”
I was correct in the first assumption. I had three or four responses in all to my question, and one of those responses was a story from a friend about how, during a visit to the UK a couple, someone had spent 10 trying to explain cricket to him, and that it was 10 minutes of his life he’d never get back.
That story of the lost 10 minutes, although not a question, is the response I wanted to tackle first, because it underlines a prejudice in the United States, among people who don’t follow cricket, that the sport is boring, arcane, and too complicated to figure out—especially when we have action-packed, two-fisted, no-brains-needed sports like basketball, baseball, and American football. And that is where they are wrong. They are wrong because not only is cricket easier to figure out than they think, but also because those other, more traditionally recognized “American” sports can be just as complicated.
When my friend relayed this story, my first response was I wouldn’t need 10 minutes. I could explain it in a few seconds. And here’s what I said:
“There are two set of "stumps", one on each end. The bowler is trying to hit them and get the batter out. The batter is trying to stop that from happening, and in addition runs back and forth to score runs when s/he hits the ball. There you go! Simple! But the more questions you ask, the more complicated it gets. Just like football or baseball or soccer.”
That last line resonated with my friend, who officiates high school sports in Indiana, because he was at that precise moment reading through the Indiana High School Athletic Association football rulebook as an off-season refresher. He understands the concept that, on the surface, there is a simplicity which allows spectators to begin enjoying many sports, but also an underlying complexity that takes more time and knowledge to navigate. And being able to navigate that complex undercurrent takes some time. Not just in cricket, but in other sports, as well.
Take football as an example. On the face of it, the sport involves two teams trying to move a ball from one end of the field to the other. They can pass it or run it. Simple. But then you start getting into things like downs, who stands where, who can be downfield when, where you can throw the ball, offside, and all the other intricacies that give the sport the nuance that fans have come to appreciate. Then you get into rules differences between the levels of play. High school, college, NFL, Arena, Canadian: all of these levels and leagues have different rules, just as in cricket, where you have different formats to deal with.
So, the next time someone says “cricket is too complicated,” tell them the truth. It’s no more complicated than any other sport. It’s simply a question of the depth of their enjoyment.
Just start watching; the nuances will come, as they do with any sport.