July 15, 2010


Cricket and Baseball Find Common Ground in Show (JOHN F. BURNS, 7/14/10, NY Times)

For the English, cricket has always been the gentlemen’s game — played in whites, with decorum prized as highly as the grace of a batsman’s “strokes,” and committees to codify “the spirit of the game,” above all the principle that playing honorably is more important than winning. Baseball, by contrast, has been seen by most cricket lovers as a vulgarization of the true bat-and-ball game, which Rudyard Kipling said defined what it was to be properly English.

Baseball, in this view, was a game for stoutly built men proud to be called “sluggers,” uncouth players who said things like “I’d rather be lucky than good” and chewed tobacco, and who, unlike barehanded outfielders in cricket, wore leather gloves to catch balls. Worse, there were baseball managers who kicked dirt at umpires.

For their part, most Americans have professed bewilderment at what has so enthralled the English and their former colonial subjects who took up cricket and, in many cases, learned to regularly thump their former masters. With “test matches” between the main cricket nations lasting as long as five days, and then often ending in draws, it has been an American commonplace to say that watching a cricket match is as exciting as watching the grass grow.

Against this background, the Lord’s exhibition is a bid for a kind of standstill agreement, an effort to move the games beyond decades of chafing toward a new era of respect. At a time when BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill has engendered new trans-Atlantic tensions, the exhibition, titled “Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect,” may carry a wider message about two countries that have traditionally combined admiration for each other with a degree of wariness and mostly good-natured disregard. [...]

The exhibit also makes the case that cricket, played in America from as early as 1709, was America’s principal bat-and-ball game until the eve of the Civil War, with thriving cricket clubs in many major East Coast cities, including New York, Brooklyn, Newark, Boston and especially Philadelphia.

But the story traced by the exhibit, like the arc of the two games as they are played today, is as much about baseball’s influence on cricket as the other way around. In recent years, as test match crowds have dwindled, the most popular forms of cricket have been the new, shorter varieties of the game, played within a single day, or, with an even more rambunctious following, the Twenty20 form that is played faster than many baseball games.

Cricket talk is now sprinkled with baseball terms — “batter” (in place of batsman), “catcher,” “pinch hitter,” “outfield,” “switch-hitter,” “strike,” “curveball” and “home run derby,” to cite examples overheard during a recent test match at Lord’s. Some of the best cricket teams — Australia’s, for one — have hired baseball coaches to improve throwing skills, one area where baseball has long had an edge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2010 5:51 AM
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