"Cricket is not something you 'like', Detective Sergeant. Cricket is a religion."
This is not an attempt to describe how cricket is played: refer to Cricket Rules
for that, and despair. Instead you'll find here a brief history and background to cricketing tropes as used in fiction. In the interests of being understandable to people who don't know what cricket is (Americans), baseball / softball terms are used for explanations.
Cricket originated in England and spread as one of the more benevolent exports of The British Empire
, today mostly played in the countries of The Commonwealth
. It is not a game associated with whites (any more): cricket is immensely popular in post-colonial India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and post-apartheid South Africa. In North America cricket is played in the more English bits of Canada, some older cities such as Philadelphia, and even, supposedly due to Indian IT workers, in Silicon Valley. Raymond Chandler
, British-educated author of quintessential Americana, was a useful bowler of leg-breaks while at Dulwich College. Despite jokes about Americans fighting a war to get away from cricket-lovers, the game was quite popular in the United States until around the time of the Civil War, and in fact, the first official international cricket match was played between the USA and Canada in 1844 on a field in Staten Island. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that George Washington himself was a cricket enthusiast! (Although the game may in fact be indirectly responsible for America declaring independence: King George II's son Frederick died after reportedly being hit in the chest with a cricket ball, but it remains unproven to this day that this specific injury had anything to do with his death. In any event, this resulted in George III's accession to the throne.)
Cricket in Western fiction at least is always associated with traditional English values of decency, fair play, and the Stiff Upper Lip
. If someone is described as a cricket player or fan, that implies civilised middle to upper class behaviour, in contrast to those dreadful soccer fans who spend the match beating each other up
. Pass the tea and scones.
Cricket does not have class barriers, even in Victorian Britain
. Lord Peter Wimsey
can take the field alongside the village blacksmith and nobody will raise an eyebrow. On the field all are equalnote
, and if a working class fast bowler takes the opportunity to bruise a few noble ribs, it's just a game old chap, no hard feelings. Cricket has generally followed society on race issues rather than lead, although both Australia and England refused to play against apartheid era South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
His Lordship, of course, will not be paid for playing even if other members of his team are. English cricket distinguished between amateurs and professionals until post WWII. Even today cricketers do not get paid nearly as much as star players in most other sports, although the new IPL 20/20 competition is changing this.
Cricket has a somewhat odd attitude to physical force. It is accepted, even expected, that the faster bowlers (pitchers) can within some limits try to hit the batsman in groin, body, or head. And the batsman won't get a free run for being hit, either. But any other physical contact, or conduct that might cause injury, is Not Cricket.
Specialist batsmen have the highest status in cricket rather than the more hard-working and usually less glamorous bowlers (specialist pitchers). Like baseball or softball, fielding in cricket involves standing around in the hot sun waiting for a ball to come in your direction, but for much longer periods of hours or even days. In both England and India, aristocratic batsmen were reputed to command their servants to perform their fielding duties for them.
The English firmly believe that they play cricket in a more chivalrous and genteel manner than anyone else, and hence can be excused for being beaten by more aggressive foreigners. As one might expect in international sport, this is despite England producing a number of successful cricket captains who were every bit as ruthless and conniving as their counterparts elsewhere. True English fans will dismiss the likes of Douglas Jardine as unrepresentative exceptions.
England and Australia have a century old cricketing rivalry for The Ashes
. Matches between India and Pakistan, two countries which were at war as recently as 1971, are also Serious Business
Despite a rich history and widespread popularity, cricket rarely plays a significant part in books and almost never in film or TV. This is because it takes so damn long for anything to happen. A first class cricket match, equivalent to a US NFL or MLB game, or a European soccer league match, is played over four days of six to ten hours each. International (Test) matches are five days. The one-day form (guess why it's called that) is not taken as seriously by players and many fans, and the newer and more accelerated Twenty20 cricket in which a match "only" takes three hours is considered by many as proof of civilisation descending into barbarism. Cricket is therefore used in the background or as a personal trait to convey atmosphere and character rather than being the focus.
In the UK, it's said that the best way to watch the cricket is to mute the TV and turn on the radio. This is because of Test Match Special
, which is essentially regular sports commentary crossed with Last of the Summer Wine
. Given the nature of the sport, you'll likely hear the commentators passing the time with such subjects as various flavours of scones, matches from decades ago, and the species of the bird that's walking across the field. It's an experience like no other. Another reason is because of breaks in commentary for the transmission of The Shipping Forecast
for Britain's coastal waters, itself an English Institution.
A few cricketing names and expressions will be recognised everywhere cricket is played, although to anyone else they will probably be taken for Stock British Phrases
- Sir Donald Bradman, aka The Don. A legendary
batter batsman, the cricketing equivalent of Babe Ruth or Pele. His career batting average, 99.94note , is one of the most famous sporting statistics. For perspective, he's the only player in history to have an average above 61, and most full-time batsman are well content with a career average of 45. A study done on sports statistics showed that this average is so far off the mean that a baseball batter would have to have a career batting average of .392 and a basketball player would have to score 43.0 points per game throughout their career.
- Allegedly, this is the reason The ABC's postal address is PO box 9994.
- Clean bowled. When the ball goes straight through the batsman and strikes the stumps without being touched. Like ten pin bowling, this also generates a satisfying clatter as the wooden stumps are dislodged. By analogy, anything that goes right through despite your attempts to stop it.
- Dispatched to the boundary. In the active sense, the batsman hits the ball through the fielders to the edge of the playing area, scoring four runs. By analogy, something that was easily dealt with. In the passive sense, a fielder is dispatched to the boundary either because they have made a mistake or are generally hopeless, and thus are being placed as far away as possible in the hope of keeping them out of the action. This second usage is fading away as in modern cricket the best fielders are often on the boundary, not the worst.
- Hit for six. Hit into the crowd on the full, for the maximum possible six runs. Direct equivalent to a baseballer hitting it out of the park (but in terms of conversational metaphor, is used more like 'home run'). The big difference between baseball and cricket though is that the ball cannot be kept by a spectator and must immediately be returned; balls can be hit for six multiple times.
- Lord's. The Lord's Cricket Ground, in London, England. The most revered cricketing playing field in the world. Every cricketer dreams of playing at Lord's one day.
- MCC, Marylebone Cricket Club in London. For decades the MCC set the Laws of Cricket and controlled the game. Even in England, MCC members are assumed to be stuffy-minded ineffective establishment grumblers of the most conservative type.
- MCG, or the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia. The equivalent to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium in the Americas, having been on the same site since 1854, in all but the official sense the national stadium in Australia, as that country's most high profile cricket and Australian Rules Football matches often take place there, along with high-profile concerts and its use as the main venue for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, and almost anything where a ball and grass is needed.
- Not Cricket. Unfair, against the rules, unchivalrous.
- Rabbits. Poor batsmen, usually specialist bowlers, who seem to be scared stiff any time a ball goes near them, are also known as "bunnies".
- Exceptionally poor batsmen, even for bowlers, ones who look as though they barely know how to hold a bat, are called weasels, as they "go in after the rabbits".
- Night Watchmen. Rabbits who come in the last ten overs of the day after a batsman gets out. Most likely to get out in the first five overs on the next day, but some have lasted to make centuries.
- In the possessive (e.g. "Darryl Cullinan is Shane Warne's bunny"), it refers to a batsman who consistently gets out to a certain bowler.
- Take guard. Before a new batsman faces the first ball (pitch), he or she carefully lines up the position of the stumps and bowler. By analogy, preparing yourself for some upcoming challenge.
- Sledging. To verbally abuse other players on the field. Can range from horrid racism to genial abuse. It is generally considered Not Cricket, though it has produced some brilliant zingers:
Australia's Glenn McGrath: Why are you so fat Eddo?
Zimbabwe's Eddo Brandes: Coz everytime I fuck your wife, she gives me a biscuit.
- McGrath didn't take it well; it's something of a recurring theme, though ultimately sort of justified; his wife Jane died of breast cancer in 2008, having had recurring bouts of it since 1997.
- A sticky/tricky wicket. Unlike baseball, the ball usually bounces once before reaching the batsman. The strip of grass between bowler (pitcher) and batsman on which the ball bounces is called the wicket. (Yes, that's also the word for the set of poles that the bowler/fielders try to hit with the ball.) If this is damp, uneven, dusty, etc. the ball will deviate in strange ways, making batting much harder. By analogy, being on a sticky or tricky wicket is not a good thing.
- A good innings. For a batsman, depends on how many runs they make (and in what fashion) during a particular stay at the crease. But the term can be applied to life in general: someone who has had a long, fulfilling life can be described as having had "a good innings".
- Stumped: If the ball gets past the batsman, the batsman is out of his crease, and the wicket-keeper takes the ball and hits the wicket with it, the batsman is out "stumped". By analogy, means utterly confused and/or clueless. This has of course become general English-language usage, even by people who have no idea that cricket exists, let alone what a stump is.
Fictional cricketers and cricket fans include:
- The Doctor, particularly The Fifth Doctor. And in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Spiral Scratch, the Sixth Doctor's last words before regenerating are saying that he's "had a good innings, you know." (GAL). The Fourth Doctor lso had his moments.
You know I think I'm wasted as a Timelord; with a talent like mine I would have made a great slow blower (complete with arm action).
- Arthur Dent (ENG)
- Lord Peter Wimsey (ENG)
- The Raffles series has AJ Raffles, professional cricketer, marvelous spin bowler, and amateur cracksman. (ENG)
- Sergeant Wilson (ENG)
- Most of the characters in Lagaan (IND)
- The title character in Seducing Dr. Lewis (CAN)
- Sir Harry Flashman, who scored the first hat trick in cricket by catching out Pilch, Mynn and Felix (through luck, trickery, and outright cheating) in an amateur match in 1842. (ENG)
- Captain Britain and Dr. Faiza Hussain (ENG)
- Will and Rob Willis (ENG/USA), two promising young player fans.
- Both Mike Jackson and Rupert/Ronald Psmith are quite accomplished cricketers, and cricketing plays a significant role in their early stories. (ENG)
- Sgt. Gavin Troy (ENG)
- Phryne Fisher, a fan rather than a player (AUS)
- The Abbotsford Anglers (AUS)
- Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, Earl of Asherton (ENG), who provides the page quote.
- Peter and Edmund Pevensie (ENG/NAR), at least in The Movie.
Famous and exceptional cricketers include:
- Curtly Ambrose (WIN)
- Hashim Amla (SAF)
- Shakib Al Hasan (BAN)
- David Boon (AUS)
- Allan Border (AUS)
- Sir Ian Botham (ENG)
- Sir Geoffrey Boycott (ENG)
- Sir Donald Bradman (AUS) (he of the 99.94 batting average)
- Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, and Trevor Chappell (all AUS)
- M.S. Dhoni (IND)
- Rahul Dravid (IND)
- Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff (ENG)
- Gautam Gambhir (IND)
- Chris Gayle (WIN)
- WG Grace (ENG) (Sure he belongs here. After all, he was God).
- Sir Richard Hadlee (NZL)
- Sir John Berry "Jack" Hobbs (ENG)
- Sir Leonard "Len" Hutton (ENG)
- Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)
- Mahela Jayawardene (SL)
- Jacques Kallis (SAF)
- Imran Khan (PAK)
- Virat Kohli (IND)
- Brian Lara (WIN)
- Dennis Lillee (AUS)
- Lasith Malinga (SL)
- Glenn Maxwell (AUS)
- Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) (But don't say that to Australians!)
- Glenn McGrath (AUS)
- Sunil Narine (WIN)
- Kevin Pietersen (ENG)
- Ricky Ponting (AUS)
- Sir Vivian "Viv" Richards (WIN)
- Kumar Sangakkara (SL)
- Virender Sehwag (IND)
- Graeme Smith (SAF)
- Sir Garfield "Garry" Sobers (WIN)
- Dale Steyn (SAF)
- Sachin Tendulkar (IND)
- Fred Trueman (ENG)
- Victor Trumper (AUS)
- Chaminda Vaas (SL)
- AB de Villiers (SAF)
- Shane Warne (AUS)
- Steve and Mark Waugh (AUS)
Cricket was their hobby, but they are better known for other things:
- George Washington (ENG/USA), General, statesman, and founding father-cum-first-president of the latter country.
- Peter Davison (ENG), actor best known for playing the Doctor in Doctor Who.
- And indeed Anthony Ainley (ENG), best known as his arch-enemy, the Master.
- Paul Cornell (ENG), writer and creator of Faiza Hussain (above). Taught the game to a group of Americans at a convention.