By Nick Bruce
Volume XXXVII, Issue 2, April 4, 2014
On a rainy Sunday afternoon, four members of the Amherst Cricket Club and I sat down in Keefe to chat about the sport dear to their hearts. Their jovial spirit was infectious; their jabs about international rivalries were at once competitive and light-hearted.
Hoping to make it onto the pitch soon myself, I asked them to take me briefly through the rules and history of the game. Like baseball—only better, they contend—cricket centers around a bowler throwing a ball to a batsman, who tries to hit the ball. If successful, the batsman runs in a straight line across the pitch in an attempt to earn a run. Meanwhile, fielders gather the ball and throw it at wickets so as to “out” the batsman. There are eleven players per team, and the organizing mechanism is innings. Batsmen bat continuously until out. To see who’s really the best team, games oftentimes last five days in order to prevent the anomaly of upset.
The game’s beginnings date back to sixteenth-century England. Cricket later expanded across the globe in tandem with the British Empire. It is most popular today in England, India, Africa, Australia, and the West Indies. The Amherst Cricket Club encourages anyone looking to learn more to join on the pitch: camaraderie, in addition to intense competition, lies at the heart of the game. What follows are their thoughts on the most fascinating dimensions of the sport and its culture at large.
On Positions and Strengths:
Elson Browne-Low ’15 (of Guyana): I’m a very quick and dangerous bowler, but terrible catcher and acceptable batsman. I really enjoy running and firing the ball out as fast as I can, especially as I’m the fastest bowler in the five colleges. I’m loyal to the West Indies team.
Reuben Kloppers ’16 (of South Africa, lives in Australia): I like bowling the most because you have the opportunity to instill fear in the batsman by bowling fast at his head or body. It’s a test of courage for them, and if they want to win, they have to be brave. That might seem harsh but it’s the nature of the game!
Aneesh Pasricha ’16 (of India): I enjoy bowling. Currently I bowl quick. My favorite thing is to swing the ball (moving it through the air instead of off the ground – using Bernoulli’s principle) into the batsman’s feet, which is both somewhat painful and unplayable, and acts as ‘revenge’ for a shot played on an earlier ball. It is wonderful to see the batsman completely miss the ball because of its movement off the ground, and even now, I believe that playing a well-spun ball is the hardest thing for a batsman.
Nigel Mevana ’16 (of Zimbabwe): I consider myself a decent batsman. Bowling is not my strongest point in cricket. The reason for this is that I haven’t mastered the art of varying my delivery; a good bowler is one whose next delivery is to some degree not easy to predict. On the fielding side, I usually like to be the wickets keeper.
On the Politics of Cricket:
Elson: Developed by Great Britain and played in many of its colonies, cricket in many ways became a symbol of colonialism. This is not to paint it as a colonial tool, however, because cricket (after the independence movements of the mid-twentieth century) became a symbol of rebellion and national pride. To this end, great rivalries developed between former colonies and England, some of the most contested being between England and Australia and between India and the West Indies. In some ways cricket was a way to symbolically affirm that the former colonies were just as good, if not better, than the English, and as such that their future would be just as prosperous. This initial political contest took on new context during the Civil Rights Era because the West Indies (comprised of the English-speaking Caribbean) who were predominantly of African or Indian descent felt the need to take a stance on racism in the sport as a whole. This was brought to light most contentiously when South Africa offered to play them in South Africa, but under the designation “honorary whites.” In response to this, the West Indian players were so motivated they dominated the sport for nearly twenty years, winning every series from the early seventies to early nineties.
Another important political contest is between Pakistan and India, with games between each side representing tension from border disputes as well as their historic national rivalry. As a result, games reach a frenzied pitch and players’ homes have been burned down in retaliation for poor performances.
Last, Afghanistan’s stunning rise from associate to almost full member can be seen as symbolic of the country’s hope to overcome its violent past. As the Afghan cricket team improves, it may increasingly draw the attention of ordinary Afghans, potentially serving as a unifying force, but also a sign to the international community that Afghanistan can indeed overcome any obstacle.
On Great Rivalries:
Aneesh: It is said that the biggest rivalry in cricket is Australia vs England. The rivalry stemmed from an 1882 match between the two nations, during which England was soundly defeated. Australian press (known for getting a bit too into things, even at that day and age) published a mock obituary about “the death of English cricket” and that the body has been cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.
India-Pakistan has to be my favorite. For obvious reasons, the matches don’t remain games but are often politics. Celebrities and even leaders of both countries are generally present to watch the game in a show of friendliness and sporting spirit. Contests are generally regarded as Indian batting vs Pakistan bowling, which have been departments in which the countries are strongest. Through history, Pakistan has been the more successful of the two. Most unfortunately, in recent years, some Pakistan players have fallen into fixing and their performance has been dropping. So the Indian team has been performing a lot better.
On Attending an International Match:
Reuben: I remember sitting at Lords Cricket Ground in London, known to many as the home of cricket, in 2012. I was watching a 5-day test match between the best and second best test teams in the world, South Africa and England respectively. The atmosphere was one of quiet appreciation and tense apprehension as the game was a close one. Being a lone South African supporter surrounded by a sea of English flags and banners, I felt outnumbered, but not unwelcome.
South African fast bowling duo Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn were busy making a meal of the English batsmen. Nevertheless, the great thing about cricket is the ability of supporters of both sides to have fun together. When you’re at a cricket match, you’re not necessarily watching the cricket all the time. Being at a cricket match is about the experience; it is about having a beer and a barbeque with mates and supporters of the other team alike while enjoying what is mutually considered to be the greatest sport on the planet.
Aneesh: Whenever an India-Pakistan game takes place, India shuts down, and I assume Pakistan does as well. Due to a history of schools and offices becoming empty, two things happen: either the match is held on a weekend, or that the game day becomes, effectively, a national holiday—schools and offices are closed.
On Unique Rules and Customs:
Nigel: If the ball hits the helmet or hat of a fielder when it is on the field but not being worn, the batting team is awarded five runs. I assume the purpose of this run may be to discourage fielders from leaving helmets lying around all over the place.
Sledging is a common practice in the game of cricket where players from a team attempt to psychologically distract a member of the opposite team by jeering at him/her. Sledging, not surprisingly, has been the subject of controversy, especially when people overstep certain boundaries and end up verbally abusing members of the other team.
On the Amherst College Cricket Experience:
Reuben: Many people think that cricket is a game played solely by international students. This is not the case. Some of my fondest memories of cricket at Amherst include having Americans who are keen to learn about the game join in and try it out. On multiple occasions, we have played in the Amherst Gym or Coolidge cage, and a person shooting hoops by themselves has joined in our game and enjoyed themselves immensely. Where I come from, it doesn’t matter if you know the people playing or not. When there is a game of cricket going on, everybody knows that if they want to join in, they are most welcome. On the beach, if people are playing, you don’t ask, you just join in. It is the spirit of the game
Aneesh: Back home in India, I played cricket virtually every day, and I knew I was not going to survive for too long without cricket. Whenever I met someone from a cricket-playing nation, I would ask them about their interest in the game. Eventually, by a stroke of luck, Nigel saw Elson carrying a cricket bat early in the semester. We got in touch with him, learned that he was from Guyana (one of the countries represented in the West Indies cricket team), and immediately wanted to play cricket. We got pretty seriously into it next spring, and would play on the quad once or twice a week. Professor Singh (from the Econ department) also became a regular member. We played just like most of us did back home, using improvised pitches, wickets, rules, etc. Playing cricket with a cricket ball is dangerous and needs gear. We’d often use taped tennis balls, to mimic the hardness and increase the weight, while still maintaining safety. That said, getting hit is still pretty painful, especially because Elson can bowl in excess of 80 mph. It was last semester that we decided to register the club to avail safety gear and better equipment.
As our membership continues to expand, we would definitely appreciate a dedicated place to play at Amherst itself. Unfortunately, the support we have received from the College and especially the Athletics Department has been very, very limited. This is a missed opportunity, because cricket means diversity (especially here, virtually each member is from a different country), and we believe enhancing diversity is always one of Amherst’s goals.
Amherst will be even more appealing to international students if our cricket club is better-equipped and allowed to expand. Hopefully, as Amherst becomes more familiar with our game all this will change.
On their Favorite Players:
Nigel: My favorite player of all time would have to be Andy Flower. He is the record holder for all the batting statistics in Zimbabwean cricket, and is the only player from the country whose name appears in the International Cricket Council’s Top 100 Test Batting rankings. Having internationally competitive players like Andy Flower really elevated the popularity of the game in the country and helped it to be exported to the less affluent societies. Andy Flower is also known for using cricket as a platform to protest human rights abuses. In 2009, Andy Flower took up the role of the coach for the English cricket team and led them to some impressive victories.
Reuben: My favorite players of the modern era are AB de Villiers, who is an aggressive and extremely talented batsman, and Dale Steyn, a fast bowler who can swing the ball both ways at over 90 miles an hour. These players have helped South Africa rise to the number one ranking in test match cricket, which is by far my favorite format of the game.
Elson: Brian Lara—twice holder of the world record highest score and retired as leading run scorer of all time. Sir Frank Worrell—laid the platform for the West Indies’ cricketing dominance by leading the team’s first world-class side and helping develop some of the team’s most influential players.
Aneesh: Sachin Tendulkar—I don’t think there exists anyone in the cricketing world, let alone India, who doesn’t recognize Sachin. The “Little Master” (because he’s 5’5”) is a batting great. He has the most runs and the most 100s in the history of the game. He is so revered in India that people have been known (no jokes) to commit suicide when he’s in a bad patch. The beauty of his batting lies in timing and shot placement.
Muttiah Muralitharan—the classic soft-spoken Sri Lankan genius. Unlike other bowling greats, Murali (as he’s often called) lets his bowling do the talking. He has the highest number of wickets in the history of the game. He is a spinner: he turns the ball with his hand such that when it bounces off the ground, it moves away or into the batsman. He foxes batsmen with ease.