Damian Lewis and Cricket

The thing about following an autodidact, a renaissance man, a man for all seasons, is that you tend to become a bit of those things yourself (if you weren’t already). If Damian were just an actor and did nothing else between acting gigs except hide out with the family somewhere far away from cameras and people and prying eyes, we’d have a pretty easy (and boring) time of it, wouldn’t we. But, no, this guy has to do lots of other things, namely a lot of other sporty things, pretty much the entire time he’s not working on the sport of his profession.

Damianista’s done a fine job telling us about Damian’s summer. And here, I’ll touch a bit more on one of those summerly interests, the one that may be, arguably, the most foreign to us Yanks: the game of cricket.

Damian was slated to play at Authors v Entertainers on September 12 to benefit Chance to Shine, an organization geared towards “spreading the power of cricket.” Whether he did in fact play or not, we can’t confirm. Nonetheless, here are some ponderings on some ins-and-outs and themes of this strange-to-us game, bits from his attendance at other cricket matches this summer, and some glorious shots of the Authors v Entertainers event at Wormsley.

Spoiler alert: Authors won over Entertainers in this match so chances are that Damian may not have been there afterall. 😀

A couple years ago I followed along to Damian batting (ie hitting) a half century at Authors v Actors at Nursery Ground. Now, as then, cricket to Americans is defined by how much we don’t know or care to know about it. Baseball is the national pastime, we say, why would we need another batting game? Baseball is us, indelibly engrained in the American pie fueled mindset of anyone here who’s ever donned a cap and eaten a hot dog. Baseball runs thru American blood, I could say rather hyperbolically and provincially. And cricket is known to us only by what it’s not: baseball. You mention cricket to an American, what you get back is the proverbial crickets chirping.

Kids in Britian and all the lands once colonized by Britian throughout the world find no barriers to playing the game. All you need is one bat, one ball, a couple of rocks or old shoes to designate the wicket, and witness an entire street of boys and girls playing for hours. But, let’s not talk about American kids coming out to their neighborhood baseball fields and carving out a place for cricket, because that’s obviously not happening anytime soon. Instead of imagining Americans ever playing cricket, let’s focus on the activity of watching the game.

Full confession, I didn’t really get the full appeal of baseball until I learned about the invisible rectangle that defined the strike zone. Oh, I said, when I learned this non-minor detail, the pitcher is aiming the ball for an area that no one can see but everyone knows exists. NOW, the game makes sense! Truly, this fact increased my enjoyment of the game many fold. When the ball gets to the zone, the batter either hits or swings and misses. Preferably the hit is hard and long and not caught, and, bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a home run. Even if the batter doesn’t swing, if the ball is in the zone and not hit, it’s a strike. If the ball is pitched out of the zone, it’s redundantly deemed a ball. Four of those and the batter gets to stroll casually to first base. Fascinating, right?

Here’s a handy graphic of the comparative stances in the two games.

In addition to the ball and bat, the crucial detail of the strike zone is what can even allow a comparison between baseball and cricket. See, cricket has something like a strike zone too, but it’s visible. It’s an apparatus called a wicket, comprised of three sticks (stumps) with a couple of sticks on top (bails). Knocking the bails off the stumps gets a batter out. No three strikes to get to the out, just simply out.

That’s where the comparison ends.

We know baseball is about hitting hard and long and into the air to a place where no one could possibly catch it. Cricket is also about hitting hard and long and if that ball gets outside the boundary, that’s a handy six points:. A sixer (or as most of the blokes playing would say “Six-a!”) Cricket, unlike baseball, is also about hitting to the ground at such a curve and an angle that the ball bounces in unpredictable ways and rolls all the way to the boundary eluding all efforts to catch it. That gets you four points.

Another twist in the plot is that, unlike a baseball pitcher, the bowler doesn’t just have to pitch the ball at inhumanly high speeds that elude any effort to hit it. The bowler pitches the ball to bounce in front of the batter, with a rich attentiveness to the condition of the field, where there may be cracks, soft spots, dry spots, etc. In fact, in cricket, the actual field seems to be another character in the play. The length where ball meets bat is the pitch and most (if not all?) professional cricket pitches are grass, meaning they are sensitive to the effects of dew point, humidity, and wear and tear over extensive play. Knowing the condition of the field is one part of what makes cricket so cerebral a game.

I’ve known tangentially about this game since I was a child, but only when I read this wonderful description from Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland did I really get the appeal:

….White-clad ring of infielders, swanning figures on the vast oval, again and again converge in unison towards the batsman and again and again scatter back to their starting points, a repetition of pulmonary rhythm, as if the field breathed through its luminous visitors.

How lovely, right, to imagine the flow of activity into and then away from that rectangle of the pitch, like the field is a breathing organism, the game a visitor to the organism and each player a cell doing its part.

In cricket, there are two runners, taking turns at bat. The batter does not have to run at all if he’s hit a sixer or anything where he knows leaving base will get him out. The “base” is defined by a crease a couple feet in front of the wicket. The runners tally up runs by running from crease to crease. Only when a runner and/or his bat is behind the crease is he considered safe. Runners are called out when a fielder gets the ball to the wicket keeper (roughly equivalent to the catcher in baseball) and he takes out the wicket while the runner is outside the crease.

And, get this, the bowler also takes turns pitching to one side and switching over every six pitches. Those six pitches = an over. A 3.5 hour cricket match is 20 overs (120 pitches) A one day cricket match is 50 overs (300 pitches).

Test matches span two days. Here’s Damian in attendance at the England v West Indies Third Investec Test on Day Two at Lord’s. The gentleman next to him is his dad. (I wonder if there’s a Brit version of that old father-son ditty “Take me out to the ball game” they play at every seventh inning stretch)

…and chatting up the Prime Minister while he’s there.

Another day, England & South Africa at Lord’s, here’s Damian rattling off all sorts of cricket lingo, most of which will fly by us like sixers (see what I did there?), but sounding lovely, nonetheless.

Gotta love how he resolves that ultimately it’s about meeting up with friends in front of a green field, under a blue sky. Kinda like baseball. Just substitute the Pim’s with some Mac & Jack and a chili dog, we’re right there with our neighbors across the pond.

At the same event, he waxes nostalgic about his own fleeting glimpses of stardom at the pitch.

There was a bit of interest…did have one or two things to offer…but..temperament…mentally weak…didn’t have the steel…too flash.

So, let’s review, what does it mean when a player scores a half century in 6 overs? Why, it means that the bloke scored 50 points (running and/or hitting) in 36 pitches. Make sense? Don’t quote me on this, but I’d say it’s pretty impressive to score more than the number of pitches you get.

But such a declaration is just a catchy headline, not the final score that identifies the winning team.

There is a possibility of 10 outs in every “inning”. In a 3.5 hr match (ie 20 overs), each team gets one turn at bat. Scores are tallied as the total number of points scored by 10 batsmen over how many got out, within the time limit or 20 overs, whichever comes first. So, say, you see a score of 136/7. That means 10 batsmen scored 136 points, and only 7 of them were called out. Players who leave the match never having been called out, are, helpfully, identified in the stats as “not out.”

In the one day match, everything gets quasi-doubled (each team goes twice, 50 overs) and in the 5 day matches, there are no limits on overs, so players can keep scoring as long as they’re not called out. As you can imagine, one can see some epic shenanigans in those matches. And there are civilized breaks for tea. Alas, who’s got the time anymore?

Here’s some tweets from the Authors v Entertainers match. What a field and what a sky to play under. Beautiful!


2 thoughts on “Damian Lewis and Cricket”

  1. Thank you so much for this fantastic post. You really studied cricket for us!

    I am one of those people that think about the insect and not the sport when cricket is mentioned! But because of the ball and the bat I always thought it was like a sister to baseball. Now I understand it is a different game. I enjoy baseball though, can you guess how I came to learn about it a bit? 😀

    As much as I don’t get the cricket jargon, I love the way the sport makes Damian feel sort of nostalgic. Growing up on Abbey Road, around the corner from Lord’s, going to games with dad and brother when he was a boy, and look, he is still going to games with dad. He also played cricket as a boy (“Pivot, Damian!”) and now he is coaching his own boy. I love the way sports bring families together over generations all over the world. And cricket is no exception. Heartwarming!

    And you are absolutely right! If the authors won then Damian was not there. I believe it! 😀

  2. I still don’t get it lol looking for the crease…. Huh? Guess I’ll have to watch Damian play in person for it all to sink in. Thanks for trying to explain to us!

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