LONDON -- The way to understand how cricket is played, said an Australian aficionado and weekend player, is to think of it like baseball. "You've got a pitcher and fielders and a guy with a bat who tries to hit the ball and make runs.
"Don't try to make it any more complicated than that," he advised. "You'll just get mixed up."
A British fan and amateur cricketer was horrified. The complications of cricket, the infinite subtlety and variety of play, the arcane rules and peculiar terminology, are what make it fascinating. The game to think of when trying to understand cricket, the fan said, is not baseball but bridge.
"Like bridge, it is a game you can understand only if you play it. Tennis, golf, baseball -- if you watch those games, you think anybody can play them."
But cricket, he said smugly, "is probably the most complicated game in the world."
There are several things for the foreign novice to remember about cricket. Games, or "matches," are extremely long, lasting up to five days. There is a form of one-day cricket, but many hard-core addicts consider this to be pandering to the hot dog and beer crowd.
Even after five days of play, a great many cricket matches end up as officially declared draws, for reasons that are too complicated to explain.
There are many rules and intricacies to the game, most of which fall into the "bridge" definition. The following is the baseball version:
Cricket is played on an oval, grassy field, in the middle of which is the "pitch," a 22-yard-long, oblong strip of clay. At each end of the pitch is a "wicket," composed of three "stumps" (three-foot-tall wooden poles stuck in the ground in a row) and the "bails" (another two pieces of wood laid across the tops of the stumps.) Altogether, the arrangement looks like a capital E lying on its side.
A cricket team, called a "side," has 11 players. Like baseball, one side plays in the field, with players spread at various points inside the circumference. The other side bats. Two batsmen are up at a time, one standing in front of each wicket. The fielding team also employs two "bowlers," or pitchers, at a time. They alternate, each bowling six pitches, or "overs" to his facing batsman.
The batsman, standing in front of the wicket, tries to hit the ball before the ball hits the wicket. If he succeeds, he can try to score by running along the pitch to the other wicket, while the opposite batsman does the same.
Each completed crossover of the two batsmen is one run. A fly ball out of the field earns an automatic six runs. A ball that rolls off the field on the ground without being intercepted by a fielder is an automatic four runs.
A batsman can be out in several ways, including those common to baseball. An out also occurs when the bowler hits the wicket or when the referee finds a batsman "leg before wicket" -- standing so that a properly bowled ball hits his leg before his bat or the wicket.
Once out, a batsman is replaced by the next man in his side's lineup, and the opposite batsman and bowler begin play.
One side's innings (for some reason the word always is used in the plural) ends when 10 batsmen are out -- a process that normally takes several hours. It is not unusual for a batsman to be up literally for days, accumulating at least a "century," or 100 runs, for his side.
A "test," or international match, ends after five days (four in Australia), or after each team has been up twice.