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Jan 15, 2022
It has the second-highest number of global fans among all sports, after soccer. It bears similarities to baseball, and North America was one of the first regions where it was played. Yet cricket remains a mystery to many Americans. From England to the West Indies to India, the sport is a religion, and its players deities. But now, in surprising parts of the world, cricket is coming alive. Join use in today's Weekender read as we dive deep into the booming world of cricket.
1 - Who Plays It
It’s played in more than a hundred countries and is a top sport in 11 nations — Australia, India, Pakistan, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe — and in the Caribbean, where multiple islands play together under the banner of the West Indies.
2 - How It Started
The first recorded references to the sport are from the early 1600s, and it was in the 17th century that cricket first moved beyond England — its birthplace — to North America. Yet it truly spread to the rest of the Commonwealth only in the 20th century. That’s also when the women’s game started taking off.
3 - The Rules
Fundamentally a battle between bat and ball, the sport is played between two teams of 11 players. Each team bats at least once, and tries to score as many runs as possible before they’re bowled out or choose to end their innings. Whichever team scores more runs wins. Batters can get out in four major ways: if a ball hits the stumps behind them; if the ball strikes the pads they’re wearing while their legs are in front of the stumps; if fielders catch the ball after the batter hits it; or if batters are caught out of their crease by fielders. Batters score runs by running up and down the pitch — just as baseball players run around the bases — or by striking the ball directly to the boundary (4 runs) or over it (6 runs).
4 - Forms of the Game
Cricket is played in three main formats. The oldest, Test cricket, involves two innings for either side and is played over five days. In One-Day cricket, each side bats once, and essentially has 300 balls to score their runs. Finally, there’s T20 cricket: Each team bats for 120 balls.
Best of the Best
1 - Donald Bradman
There’s no debate. The Australian was the best batsman of all time. He averaged 99.94 runs in Test cricket — no one else who has played a similar number of games has crossed a mid-60s average. He needed four runs in his final innings to retire with a career average of 100, but was bowled out without scoring. During World War II, Bradman’s sporting excellence offered a ray of optimism to Australia.
He’s just 5’5” tall — but for more than 20 years, Tendulkar carried the weight of expectations of more than a billion people. The Indian was the greatest batsman of the past three decades, often single-handedly taking on powerful bowling attacks. His rise coincided with India’s economic liberalization in the 1990s, and to an entire generation, he remains the “God” of cricket.
4 - Sarah Taylor
One of the greatest female cricketers of all time, the Englishwoman played some of the boldest shots ever attempted in the sport, was electric as a fielder and helped elevate the profile of women’s cricket. She also broke taboos, citing her challenges with anxiety to retire from the sport in 2019 while at her peak.
5 - Shane Warne
They called him “Hollywood” for a reason. Arguably the sport’s greatest-ever spin bowler, the always theatrical, blond-haired Warne could turn the ball either way, will it to bounce more or less, or to simply skid on. A colorful character off the field too, Warne was briefly banned for taking drugs and was engaged to actress Liz Hurley. A feature film is being made about his life, and Warne wants to be played by Russell Crowe. It helps that Crowe comes from a cricketing family.
Money and Influence
1 - Franchise Leagues
Until 2008, cricketers earned pots of money almost exclusively from endorsements. Then the Indian Premier League, the sport’s first major franchise league, started and forever changed the calendar and priorities of cricketers. Overnight, cricketers could make in a month what had previously taken them years to earn. Other cricket leagues — in Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean and more — started, and a new generation of cricketers willing to put franchise games over national games was born.
2 - Bollywood
If cricket’s a religion for 1.3 billion Indians, it’s hardly a surprise that Bollywood, one of the world’s largest film industries, would want a piece of that pie. Former cricketers have transitioned to film in leading roles, while others have had popular movies made about their lives. Cricket-Bollywood couples aren’t a rarity either.
3 - Politics
Cricket’s influence extends to the world of politics. India-Pakistan cricket series have been used by the leaders of the South Asian rivals for public diplomacy. When President Donald Trump wanted to win brownie points with an Indian audience during his visit to the country in February 2020, he referred to Tendulkar — horribly mangling his name. And in the early 1990s, cricket provided a means for South Africa to return to international sports as it finally abandoned apartheid.
Think you know your cricket? Let's see! Take our quiz and check against the correct answers below.
Which former cricketer was known as “Hollywood”?
In how many countries is cricket played?
More than 100
Whose name did President Trump mispronounce in February 2020?
How many runs does a batter score by hitting the ball over the boundary?
Who is considered the greatest batsman of all time?
What’s the oldest format of cricket called?
In which year did the Indian Premier League start?
1. Shane Warne
2. More than 100
3. Sachin Tendulkar
5. Donald Bradman
6. Test cricket
Beyond a Boundary: One of the greatest cricket writers of all times, C.L.R. James looks beyond the field of play at the ways in which the sport has changed racial and social equations, provided a platform for the underdog and transformed entire nations.
Chinaman: This award-winning 2011 novel by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka uses cricket as a metaphor for society in the island nation. An alcoholic journalist tries to track down a washed-up cricketer. But the real search begins once he finds him.
Days in the Sun: Even if you don’t know the ‘c’ of cricket, you’ll fall in love with the sport and all that it represents after reading this 1920s masterpiece by Neville Cardus.
Out of the Ashes: A group of young men growing up in war-torn Afghanistan have one dream: to train as cricketers and make their nation proud. You don’t need to know cricket to love this documentary.
Death of a Gentleman: This investigation digs into how the sport’s three most powerful cricket boards — India, Australia and England — orchestrated a power grab to twist cricket’s future in a direction that helps fill their coffers.
Edges & Sledges: This weekly podcast takes you inside Indian cricket and introduces you to the next movers and shakers in the sport.
Switch Hit: If heated debates are your thing, this is the podcast for you. Cricketers and experts analyze the sport, chew over the latest news and project what the future holds.
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