Few if any UK icons are as baffling to the foreign eye as cricket.Traditionally played on village greens by two sides of 11 men wearing whiteclothes, the game is characterised by its slow pace, long breaks for tea and lunch, and a sense of fair play and sportsmanship that has even lead to cricket becoming a byword for these two traits.
The basic rules of the game are simple: to score more runs than the other team. Unfortunately for the casual observer this is where any semblance of simplicity ends. Terms such as googly; silly point; wrong'un; chinaman; flipper all add to the complex rules and scoring system that seem to act as deliberate obfuscation to those outside cucumber sandwich eating circles.
Cricket is a game played with a willow bat and hard, corkball encased in leather. It was first recorded as being played in England in sixteenth century and by the eighteenth century it was England's (and therefore in those heady days of early Empire Scotland's) national sport. By the middle of the nineteenth century the first international matches, or tests, were being played.
The game is played on an oval pitch, and in its purest form,all eleven men get two chances to score as many 'runs' as they can before the other team eliminates all of them by getting them 'out' through catching theball, hitting the 'stumps' the batsman stands before, or by 'run-out' or 'LBW'(Leg Before Wicket) which we don't have the time nor space to explain here.
Two umpires, usually ex-cricketers, oversee the match and ensure that play is kept fair. Umpires are shouted at by 'bowlers' when they believe LBW has occurred and the umpire coolly gives his decision by raising a finger for yes, or nodding his head for no. Apart from this, umpires count the number of balls bowled and subsequent 'overs' (six runs equates to an over),and also act as clothes horses for the jumpers and hats of bowlers during anover.
Like so much in the UK, cricket is at the mercy of that other most baffling of UK icons, the weather. Games can drag out for as long as four to five days, only for the efforts of both teams to be declared null and void as rain stops play and the game is drawn; something unheard of in baseball or American soccer.
Cricket has produced many great international rivalries,most notably 'The Ashes' which is a series of test matches played between England and Australia. Great characters to have come out of cricket include the great Yorkshire batsman Geof Boycott; arrogant but brilliant all-rounder Ian Botham; demon West Indian fast bowler Curtly Ambrose; and Australian spin legend Shane Warne.
The cool and genteel nature of cricket is often seen as a reflection of the English psyche. Unfortunately the English as a whole no longer possess these attributes, but the game of cricket can remind the English of who they once were and what they have lost.