My last post on cricketers’ behavior ended up on another topic — the fun and challenges of pick-up cricket games. Cricket critics (say that 10 times really fast) say one of the game’s main faults is its complexity. Too many rules, too much equipment, too much space. Not easy for the Neanderthal brains to compute. But one of the joys (and frustrations, I suppose) of the pick-up cricket game is deciding ad-hoc rules so the game can fit your space and number.
So, no, we don’t have access to a Bombay maidan; we have a concrete compound that’s sligthly squarish in shape — except there are cars in one area, and garages in another. Where should we set the boundaries? And if your space is too small, you can’t get sixes just for hitting a ball over some demarcated line — no, you have to hit above the 4th floor of the apartment building you’re playing next to (not exactly a rule that endears you to compound aunties and uncles). Indoor spaces — basketball courts for example — pose particular challenges, since you need a policy on what would happen if the ball hit the ceiling and came crashing back down. Did batsmen win automatic runs? Could they be caught, and so on. Finally, you have the stump problem. Usually, chairs fit the role; other times, a chalk outline works (though this has a notable drawback in that batsmen can’t see if a ball hit the “stumps” and feel free to dispute calls). I recall an embarrassing episode during high school, when some classmates and I were visiting a teacher’s home during a community service trip. We brought out her chairs and started playing, and I happily bowled a batsman — only to completely knock off part of the chair’s plastic back. This led to a prolonged discussion on whether or not I had a duty to tell the teacher. I argued it was hardly my fault, since the batsmen let the ball through. Ultimately, I did confess — what can I say, I cannot tell a lie — and the teacher said she didn’t care. (Phew.)
Then, of course, there’s the numbers issue. Rarely will you find a game with 22 players, and consider yourself lucky if you have an even number. Odd pairings involve an extended discussion about “last man out,” where one guy is allowed to run alone between the wickets. (This inevitably leads to another debate about whether you can throw to either end to get a run out. I forget the term for this — “live wickets”? Is that it?). If you have too few fielders, you need run restrictions — that is, batsmen can’t run more than 2 runs between the wickets, or can only do so if they hit in the off-side. If you wanted a particular challenge, you could adopt “one tuppee out,” meaning a batsman can be out caught even if the ball bounced once.
Keeping all these rules in check was a tough ask, and games often devolved into protracted disputes. Typically, people on the receiving end of a particular rule would claim they forgot the rule and ask for one more chance, leaving the opposing team to play the angry teacher and say, “Rules are rules.” I played one game — in a lush urban park in the Philippines — that went down to the wire, only to fall into a heated impasse because no one knew conclusively if the batsman had hit the last ball to the boundary line (in this case, a line of trees). The game ended without an agreed winnder, because neither side could agree on the basics: 1. Where did we say the boundary was? This tree, or that one? and 2. Did the ball ever cross either of our said boundary lines?
Tell me of another game that allows such fluidity and improvisation, and I’ll take my hat off to you. Cricket demands a fairly technical mind, but once you understand it, you have a wide latitude to enjoy and approach the game as you please. And people say soccer’s better. Please!