Posted at 04:36 PM ET, 04/01/2011

Cricket: The (real) game with a bat and a ball


India's Sachin Tendulkar bats during a Cricket World Cup league match between India and South Africa in Nagpur, India. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP)
It used to be the national game of the United States. The game includes a bat and a ball. And 11 men try their hardest to strike out the guy with the bat.

No, it’s not baseball.

The rest of the world calls it cricket, arguably the most popular game in the world after football (no, not the one with the pigskin, the one Americans call “soccer”).

On Wednesday, 67.5 million people watched India play Pakistan in the World Cup semi-finals, but most Americans were distracted by their anticipation for the opening day of that other game played with a bat and a ball.

Before India takes on Sri Lanka in the final match of the 2011 Cricket World Cup on April 2, here’s what you may be missing about the gentleman’s game.

Understanding cricket is not that difficult — just stop comparing it to baseball. The game is played between two teams, each with 11 players. The goal of the team that bats is to score runs. You score one run for running the length of the pitch, four runs if you hit the ball and it leaves the field on the ground, and six runs if you hit it out of the field in the air. In the meantime, the goal of the team that bowls and fields is to get rid of the batsmen with as few runs as possible.

If you are still confused, watch this:

One of the common misconceptions about cricket among Americans is that the game “lasts for days.” Not necessarily. The most popular form of cricket is the one-day game, often referred to as ODI (One Day International), where each team plays 50 overs (a bowler throws the ball six times in one over). The other form of the game, called Test cricket, is a whole different story. A test match lasts for five days.

Although historians claim that cricket has been played since the time of the Tudors in early 16th-century England, the game did not become a proper sport until the 18th century. The British took cricket to every country they set their feet on. From the West Indies to India to Australia to New Zealand, the game’s popularity grew until the mid-1900s. Call it irony, but England, the country that invented the game, has never won the world championship since the contest’s inception in 1975. Australia has won four World Cups, followed by the West Indies with two victories, and India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka with one each.

So when India and Sri Lanka, the two subcontinental cricket giants, face each other on Saturday, both teams will be looking to make history again. The Indians, for whom cricket is almost a religion, badly want to win because the last time they captured the World Cup was in 1983. India’s hopes are pinned on its star player, Sachin Tendulkar, often referred to as the “Little Master,” and one of the best in the sport, who will be playing his first ever World Cup final in his home town of Mumbai.

Below is a video of Tendulkar, who became the first player to score 200 runs in a one-day game.

But India will be facing Sri Lanka, a powerhouse full of talented batsmen and fierce bowlers, who will do everything to stop India and win the World Cup for the second time. The small island nation has all eyes on its star bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan, who helped his country win its first World Cup in 1996. Sri Lanka will be relying on Muralitharan’s ability to spin the ball, which has made him once of the most highly regarded bowlers in the world.

Here is video of Muralitharan at work.

Cricket is played by millions of people in more than 90 countries, even if it has it’s naysayers. (Oscar Wilde said cricket is a game that makes you assume indecent postures — though that might not have been a criticism.)

By the way, that statement about cricket once being the national game of the United States was not a joke. According to the Smithsonian Institution, there is anecdotal evidence that George Washington’s troops played cricket in the summer of 1778.

Now stop saying, “Cricket is like baseball, only more boring.” It is not.

It is like baseball minus the steroids.

By  |  04:36 PM ET, 04/01/2011

 
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