Jan. 28, 2006 – This much I know to be true: the Leeward Islands and Barbados cricket teams played each other this weekend in the 2005/2006 Carib Beer Cricket Series at the Addelita Cancryn Cricket Grounds.
Beyond this frugal bit of information, take your chances. I observed Saturday's match from an envied seat in the commentary box. What follows may not be accurate, but it's truthful. I have avoided any mention of the length of time the matches take, because I don't believe that even those in charge understand this.
Saturday's game, which should have started at 10 a.m., was postponed until 12:40 p.m. because it was not proper weather for "cricket, lovely cricket." It was explained to me by Derrick Nicholas, a West Indies Cricket Board officer, that it's traditional at these matches to greet one another with, "My, it's a lovely day for cricket." In fact, Trinidadian Lord Relator has a calypso to that effect.
Now, I know a lot has been written about this game. It is still not well understood in America. Then again, baseball is not understood in countries other than America and Japan. In the following description I hope to help the layman get an idea of how it is played. I have no idea why – to win, eventually, I suppose.
Source reporter Mat Probasco wrote an account of Friday's match, which was taken by Barbados, I think. But I figured no one except perhaps a cricket player or another sports reporter could conceivably understand what he had written. For instance, "Hinds went to one knee and sent a six square leg, then immediately knocked a four to the same spot early in the final period." I will attempt no such rhetoric.
On Saturday afternoon, 11 men from one team, the Leewards, were in charge of the field. At least there were more men wearing the Leeward uniforms than the Barbados uniforms. And speaking of uniforms, the cricketers' are so much nicer than baseball's outfits. They are all in spanking white pants and polo shirts emblazoned with a picture of a Carib Beer cap.
They all seem to wear catcher's garb, which only the catcher wears in baseball. The cricketers have long, pleated leather-looking things called "wicket keepers" on their lower legs, which, somehow, doesn't seem to impede their play.
Actually, I had help with descriptions from within the friendly confines of the commentary box, where I sat with other reporters (including Probasco, who was tending to the business end of things). TV newscaster Terry Mayers, of Amaya Media in Barbados, told me the leg things are called "wicket keepers" and "batting pads" are on the knees.
All things considered, I figured Mayers would be rooting for Barbados, but he quickly dismissed that idea. "I am cheering for cricket," he said. How civilized. I can just see a Yankee or a Red Sox announcer saying that.
And cricket is a remarkably civilized game. Much more so than baseball. Forget the seventh inning stretch. In cricket, the action pauses for luncheon and for tea. Seriously.
Anyhow, Saturday about nine of these 11 young men stood on the field, legs apart, hands folded neatly behind them, as though they hadn't a care in the world. They were all looking at their team's batsman, who stood in front of the wicket on the pitch.
(OK. A wicket is a set of three stumps, painted yellow and topped by crosspieces. A pitch is the oblong area in which play takes place, where the ball is thrown from and batted at.)
Back to field action. The Barbados bowler suddenly made a wild run up the pitch and, with a very awkward-looking movement, released a small, orange rubber ball, which the batsman hit for quite a good ways.
I should mention that the bowler, who tosses the ball, looks really funny doing so. This is because he must throw with his arm straight, which gives him the appearance of the flightless dodo bird running and flapping his wings.
Mayers explained that the batsman had hit a "four," because it crossed the boundary, which I think is the big white rope surrounding the ground. If it had "flown over," he would have gotten a "six," Mayers said. A "six" is like a homer. So, this explains Friday's Barbados score which Probasco wrote, was 360, with Barbados team captain Ryan Hinds leading his team with 168 runs.
I tried to catch Probasco on this; no team scores 360. However, I was wrong. Being a Chicago Cubs fan I was misled. The Cubs haven't scored 360 runs in the last 10 years.
Meantime, back on the field, less than lovely cricket weather suddenly struck. Play was halted. A bunch of guys in yellow shirts ran onto the field with a big, blue tarp which they wrangled around the pitch. Mayers observed that, with those winds, getting the tarp down would have been a match for Dennis Conner.
I knew what he was talking about, as I know something about sailing, too. He referred to the America's Cup race, which the American Conner on Stars and Stripes has won a couple times.
Anyhow, back at the Cancryn field, people seemed to having the time of their lives. In fact, I think some of them weren't aware that play had been interrupted. The atmosphere bore no resemblance to a rain delay in a baseball stadium, which always seems to bring out the worst in everybody.
The stands were filled with music, drums or anything else handy, played by a bunch of "Lucian Crucians": St. Lucians living on St. Croix.
I took advantage of the moment to search out Ryan Hinds, who besides being Friday's hero, is a big, big star — the likes of Sammy Sosa or Willy McCovey, (if you know your baseball). Hinds is internationally known and was the 2005 winner of the Malcolm Marshall Award for top all-rounder. Whew.
So, I asked in the stands where I could find him, and without further ado, I did. He is adorable, big smile, unassuming. He was leaning over the rail of a tiny, white building, which I guess is cricket's answer to a dugout. After getting permission from his manager, I introduced myself, and asked if I could take his picture.
(Can't you imagine popping into the Yankees dugout for a word with Derek Jeter?)
Hinds said he loves being on St. Thomas. "It's so beautiful," he said, "but Barbados is beautiful, too." Playing my cards close to my chest, I didn't pester him with any silly questions about cricket. He said he began playing 10 years ago when he was 14. I assume it must have taken him the first five years to learn the game.
Anyhow, I hope I have made this game clearer to those of you who were confused by Probasco's account. I plan to return to the field of battle tomorrow ,when I imagine they will still be playing, and I will have had a good night's sleep.
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