Cricket, the sport rather than the insect. It could be considered Universal Knowledge for a billion or more people on the planet. Almost everyone in India or Pakistan, most people in Bangladesh, England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand would have some idea of the game, and many of them could understand what the title of this piece means. But across Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Americas, China, indeed for at least 80% of the world’s population, the game will be unfamiliar.
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game. Although women’s cricket is increasingly popular I’ll write about male cricketers for the rest of this piece, to avoid writing things like “he or she”. The batter (or batsman) stands in front of a wicket (three stumps, two bails, arranged to form a “target” around 9 inches wide and 28 inches high). The batsman has to hit (or avoid being hit by) a ball being bowled (by a bowler) from 22 yards away, where there is another wicket. (Bowling is different from throwing: the bowler’s arm has to be more-or-less straight; chucking the ball with a bent arm is not allowed.) If the batsman misses the ball and it hits the wicket, or if he hits the ball in the air and a fielder catches it, then he is “out” and can’t bat again in that innings.
The scoring system involves “runs” rather than “points”. If the batsman can run those 22 yards before the ball is sent back to the wicket he scores a run. A shot that makes it to the boundary (the outer edge of the field of play, usually marked by a rope at ground level) is worth either 4 runs or 6 runs: 4 if the ball bounces before it reaches the rope, 6 if the ball clears the rope without hitting the ground.
A score of zero (a batsman getting out without scoring any runs) is known as a “duck”, and as soon as a batsman scores at least one run many commentators describe the batsman having “broken his duck”. In 1998, when Jana Novotna won the Wimbledon title for the first time (we’re dealing with women’s tennis now, briefly) a BBC commentator asked her “How does it feel to break your Wimbledon duck?” I don’t think she knew what he was talking about but she covered it well, saying how happy she was to win the title.
Back to the cricket now; the batsman celebrates any score that reaches a multiple of 50 as follows: the crowd will applaud, he will raise his bat and usually salute all four sides of the ground, sometimes with an extra salute towards the balcony where the rest of the team are watching. Scores ending in two zeroes are celebrated more effusively than scores ending in 50. Scoring a hundred is a big deal, much bigger than scoring 50, and scoring a double hundred is a much bigger deal than scoring 150. You can see examples in this clip, at 2:11 and 6:05, as the great New Zealand batsman Martin Crowe, who died last week, celebrates first his fifty and then his hundred.
I mention all this because I have now posted over a hundred pieces to this Blog. Symbolically I lifted up my Mac Book Pro and saluted an imaginary crowd. I do something similar when reading a book, when I get to any multiple of 50 pages: I lift up the book and salute, usually in a muted way, in at least two directions. Reading 50 or 100 pages of a book is still a big deal for me. Two weeks ago, when reading the third Harry Potter book with my daughter, we reached page 100 and I lifted the book and saluted different parts of the room, explaining to her, for the first time, how a cricketer celebrates a hundred.