Explaining Cricket to Americans
by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly
My Irish husband Tony and I have recently moved to Birmingham UK and I am
writing a weekly blog explaining Europe to my fellow Americans. This is the entry
about cricket. You can find the other blogs here
When I married an Irishman, watching soccer—okay, football—was part of the
bargain. No problem. I understand soccer and, having grown up in Pittsburgh, I
understand the obsession of fans. Go Steelers. But he never mentioned cricket.
It began when we talked to two Aussies in the line at Tesco. Tony asked
them intelligent, detailed questions about the tournament they were here to watch, “The
Ashes.” The World Cup, sure; what the hell are Ashes?
Over eight long weeks this summer my new country and my new husband went
cricket mad. BBC Radio even had Sir Mick Jagger and Sir John Major talking about it
together. So I asked Tony what it was about.
K: What the hell are Ashes?
- T: Australia beat England a long time ago and then burned the wicket and said
that English cricket was dead. They put the ashes in an urn and now they fight over
it. For the past 18 years Australia has won. This year they play in England. They
- K: 18 years isn’t all that long. The America’s cup yacht race was the longest
winning streak in sport and it lasted over 100 years. You mean we had something older
than the Brits?
- T: It’s long to them.
- K: Okay, so if they are playing five tests now, when are they playing the real
- T: [Gets disgusted and walks out of the room.]
- K: It’s a legitimate question! Why are they just tests and take days and
- T: Okay. Sorry. They are just called tests. I don’t know why.
- K: Okay. Here’s my next question. How can you tell the teams apart if they
all wear white?
- T: [Walks out of the room again.]
- K: Look at them! They’re all in white except for the little company logos.
Hey—that’s our bank. And can I point out that all the players and most of the crowd is
white too. Are they going to say they couldn’t find qualified players who were
- T: [Shouts from the kitchen.] You tell them apart by the colour of their
It’s obvious that husbands and wives should never have a serious discussion
about politics, religion or sports. So I decided to ask our upstairs neighbour, Steve,
because he is cricket-mad.
- K: Okay, Steve. If they are playing tests, when do they play the real
- S: [Laughs].
- K: At least you didn’t walk out of the room. How can you tell the teams apart
if they all wear white?
- S: [Laughs again]. They’re not really all white. If you look closely each
team has a slightly different uniform and wears a little ribbon near their neck that’s
the sponsor logo. The referees’ uniforms all say ‘Emirates’ for the airline.
- K: Now we’re getting somewhere. How come England and Australia play this? Is
this the World Cup of cricket?
- S: No. There is a World Cup, but this isn’t part of it. The national
teams—mostly in countries that were part of the Empire—play each other, like in soccer.
And whenever England play Australia, through the luck of the draw, it’s called the
Ashes. It happens every few years, since 1882 when they burnt the wicket.
- K: Americans think of cricket as English baseball, but it’s not much like
baseball. Is it played against the clock? Baseball is the only team American sport
not played against the clock.
- S: Not really. It’s played until each side knocks out ten men. But there’s a
series, like this, which is five days of tests; and there’s one-day cricket, which has
its own tournament; and 20-20 cricket which is faster and could become more popular.
And each has slightly different rules.
- K: Geesh. If these are the national teams playing, do each of these players
also play on a professional team, like a Manchester United or an Aston Villa?
- S: Yes, but instead of city, they are usually by county. Like Warwickshire.
Which plays at the Edgbaston Cricket Club here in Birmingham. Even though Birmingham
isn’t located in Warwickshire.
- K: Of course! Makes sense to me. They throw overhand and then hit the ball.
But they get hundreds of runs! How can you get 300 runs in one game?
- S: They get six runs if the ball goes out but doesn’t touch the ground, but
four runs if it goes out after touching the ground, and one run for running back and
forth between the wickets, one where the bowler—the pitcher—stands and one where the
batsman stands. [Steve drew me a helpful diagram]. There are two batsman, and one
bats but the other is on strike and doesn’t bat.
- K: Well of course he doesn’t bat if he’s on strike. Don’t you think this is
all a bit complicated?
- S: I guess it is hard to understand if you haven’t grown up with it. For me
it’s like breathing; I always watched it. It has a lot of statistics that blokes like
to quote, like how many wickets and how many overs, etc.
- K: What are overs? We used to have do-overs when we played kickball in the
- S: No, after one over you get a new bowler and you switch ends. Six balls
make an over. In a day you can bowl up to 80 overs. But if it starts to get dark;
then they suspend play.
- K: Why don’t they just turn on the lights?
- S: [Laughs.] No lights.
- K: Geesh. Okay, you do have outs like in baseball.
- S: Yes, there are seven main ways to get someone out, and a few obscure ways.
The main ways, like in baseball, are to be tagged out or to have the ball caught. But
you are also out if the ball hits the batsman’s leg pad or if you aim at the wicket, or
hit your own wicket…
- K: Whatever. More important: I can understand why they played ABBA’s Winner
Takes It All, but why on earth did they play ‘A Little Bit of Monica in My Life’ at
each commercial break? It’s two Spanish guys singing about a woman.
- S: That was just a Channel 4 thing. I don’t know why they did that.
- K: But what’s with ‘O Jerusalem’? They sing it at all the English
- S: That I’m not sure about. I think it’s recent.
- K: It’s a William Blake poem with a lot of quotes in it: ‘Among these dark
Satanic mills’ and ‘Chariot of fire’ and ‘England’s green and pleasant land,’ but what
does it have to do with cricket?
- S: Nothing really.
Well, that clears it all up for me.
Thank you, Steve, for your help. And Tony—you can come back in and put football on the