Letâ€™s talk about Cricket. Not the bug, the game. Both equally exciting, but one is more important to Australians than the other. Honestly, itâ€™sÂ kind of the last thing I would prefer to write about, but this topic is painfully relevant in my daily life, and itâ€™s a subject that many Australians feel strongly about. Those feelings tend to be fueled by either obsession or loathing, which makesÂ it a good topic for discussion.Â Thus, we shall discuss.
First, Cricket Facts
- Fact 1:Â There are 4 variations of cricket: Test Cricket, One-Dayers, 20/20 and the insect. Test Cricket is the worst variation and thatâ€™s what we will cover here.Â *Please note: Baseball is not a variation of test cricket. Test cricket is not a variation of baseball. Many Australians are shockinglyÂ unaware of this and will spread alternative facts, but in truth, test cricket is its own mutant species of sport.
- Fact 2:Â There are 10 countries that partake in Test Cricket: Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, West Indies, India, Pakistan, South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia. All the cool kids.
- Fact 3:Â Test cricket is overseen by the International Cricket Council, (which is separate from the Major League Baseball Commissioners) and they make the rules. There are a lot of complex rules in cricket, but theyÂ require long-winded explanations, so I wonâ€™t explain them here. I’ll share some of the basics later, but I donâ€™t know anything about the nuanced detailsÂ and I have no intention of finding out, so if you want to know, youÂ canÂ do the legwork. Godspeed.
Now, The Cricket Experience
Hereâ€™s the thing. A day at the Test Cricket is less of an outing with friends and more of a group struggle to get through the day. So here’s what I can tell you about what it’s like to survive your first Test Cricket game.
How to get cricket tickets: Wait for someone to offer you a spare. Why? Simple math. What youâ€™re looking for is a situation in which the cost of attending the game is equal to its entertainment value. When I solve that equation, the value I get is exactly zero dollars. Thus, my cricket tickets can only be obtained through last-minute spares, raffle prizes, work functions or cruel gifts. On the other hand, my Australian husband, who is normally very good at math, gets the wrong answer every time and he spends varying sums of money on tickets.
How to learn about cricket: Avoid all things cricket at all costs until game day. This might go against your natural instinct to learn about the game through exposure and discussion beforehand, but this is the wrong tactic. Why?
Exhibit A: Learning about cricket on TV.Â Once when I was involuntarily subjected to a cricket game on TV,Â the commentators forgot to commentate the game.Â On the field, guys were jogging back and forth, the ball was bouncing around, and I remember becoming increasingly frustrated because I didnâ€™t know what any of it meant. Meanwhile, Michael and Ian, a couple of mediocre ex-cricketers, were discussing the distracting lack of clouds in the sky and the overwhelming presence of the sun. I shit you not.
â€œThe sun sure is bright today, isnâ€™t it, Ian?â€Â (a guy on the field charges toward the rest of theÂ players but they all standÂ still)
â€œYes Michael, the sun is very bright.â€Â (the guy who was charging throwsÂ a ball at the ground)
Long pause.Â (the ball hits the ground and bounces toward a guy nearbyÂ who is holding a fraternityÂ paddle)
â€œI just canâ€™t believe there arenâ€™t any clouds in the skyÂ today.â€Â (the ball accidentally hits the guyâ€™s paddle)
â€œNo, thatâ€™s right. There arenâ€™t any clouds around, are there?â€Â (theÂ guy with the paddle and some other guy who you notice also has a paddle start running back and forth in a straight line)
â€œNo, Ian, there arenâ€™t. And would you look at that sun!â€Â (the score at the bottom of the screen changes)
Eventually, even the visual broadcast switched over from the players on the field to a shot of Ian and Michael chatting away in the media box.
Which brings me to Exhibit B: Learning about Cricket on the radio.Â Cricket on the radio is much the same as cricket on TV, except that instead of discussing the weather, the commentators replace game play with jokes. 1 minute and 32 second example below.
These are the people who are paid to watch cricket. They prefer the entertainment of frog jokes.
And finally, Exhibit C: Learning about cricket from a Mate. Goes like this:
You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each man thatâ€™s in the side thatâ€™s in goes out, and when heâ€™s out he comes in and the next man goes in until heâ€™s out. When they are all out, the side thatâ€™s out comes in and the side thatâ€™s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.
When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!
How to dress for the cricket: Like an idiot. Think banana costumes, Mexican sombreros, watermelon helmets, and any other form of attire that has nothing to do with the sport/game/team. Why? I donâ€™t know. Maybe because there arenâ€™t really any team color schemes and cricket attire is so lackluster that literally any other piece of clothing is more exciting?
Anyway, lets go back to the watermelon helmets because these are actually a cricket tradition. A watermelon helmet is literally just the bucket-shaped rind of half a watermelon. The idea is simply to put it on your head and wear it like a hat. Sometimes the venue might hand out empty KFC fried chicken buckets to wear in lieu of fruit scraps, but I recommend the fruit scraps, especially if you like flies.
Additionally, when dressing for the game, consider the scorching heat youâ€™ll have to endure. PerhapsÂ choose a banana costume made of a breathable material. And then mentally prepare for the sun to shine directly into your face and to shower your entire body in uncomfortable heat. AndÂ remember to keep calm when you think thereâ€™s an insect in your underwear and know that itâ€™s probably just a collectionÂ of sweat and sunscreen working its way into your ass crack.
How to tailgate before the game: Donâ€™t. Itâ€™s not a thing in Australia. Tailgating does not exist in this country. Instead, people sometimes pre-game by sneaking a beer into the taxi.
How to buy beer at the stadium: Bring a wallet full of riches, but maintain the outlook of a beggar because you will not succeed as a chooser my friend. Preferences and expectations will only bring you disappointment. You’re going to find yourself in a seriousÂ battle with the taste, temperature, cost and ABV of cricket beer. You might think this is nothing new when it comes to drinking beer at a stadium, but did you see the part where I said ABV? Alcohol By Volume. It significantly diminishes with beer served at the cricket. Itâ€™s what Australians call mid-strength, which means thereâ€™s not as much alcohol in it so itâ€™s harder to get drunk. Still entirely possible though, which brings me to my next tip.
How to drink beer at the stadium: Two words â€“ Beer Snake. So what is a beer snake, you ask? Only THE single best thing about cricket aside from when itâ€™s over. A beer snake is the creatureÂ that comes to lifeÂ when you stack dozens of empty plastic cups together to form a single, snakey chain. Itâ€™s exponentially fun because the more you drink, the longer the chain gets and the longer the chain gets, the drunker youâ€™re getting, and so on. Itâ€™s kind of an expensive tradition and the amount of mid-strength drinking you’ll have to doÂ will challenge your gag reflex, but the thrill of growing your snake will help you forget those unpleasant details.
How to cheer for a specific team: First, figure out how to tell them apart. Not as easy as it sounds. Why not? Because every player on the field, regardless of the team association, will be dressed as a P-Diddy clone wearing a white collared shirt, loose white trousers, clean white shoes and dark sunglasses. Some players may also be wearing what they call â€œbaggy greensâ€ which are basically just dark green schoolboy caps like Angus from AC/DC would wear except less cool. Some guys might also be wearing wide-brimmed gardening hats (not kidding), bucket hats or peak hats (which are just baseball hats but not actually named so because baseball and cricket are not associated).
If you are one those eagle-eyed people though, you might be able to make out the chest-placed sponsor logos, which are ever present in Australian sport and can help you make a team distinction. If you can make out Qantas airlines or Victoria Bitter, thatâ€™s your team. Those are the Australians.
How to watch the game: Donâ€™t is my instinctual recommendation, but obviously this is what you came here for. So hereâ€™s what I can tell you â€¦
First, donâ€™t be distracted by the crowd, or rather, the lack thereof. Youâ€™re going to see a lot of empty seats that will make you feel like maybe the game is not worth watching, but if your ticket was free, itâ€™ll be easier to ignore these thoughts. Additionally, youâ€™ll probably find yourself paying considerableÂ attention toÂ the family asleep next to you or the couple in front of you that wonâ€™t stop yawning and leaning on each other, but donâ€™t let them get you down. Just try to keep your eyes on the field.
So if and when you are paying attention to the field, the predominant action youâ€™ll see is going to be the bowler running across the grounds and bouncing a 6-stitcher ball across the pitch toward a batsman.
Sometimes youâ€™ll see the cricket ball bounce off of the bat and go into the air. Good luck making sense of whatever happens next. It might knock some flashing lights off of a stump or it might be caught, in which case thatâ€™s a wicket. If the ball lands on the ground and roles over a perimeter rope, the batsman is awarded runs.
In the case that the bat hits the 6-stitcher and it doesnâ€™t get caught and it doesnâ€™t hit the blinky lights and it doesnâ€™t roll across the rope on the ground, you might see two batsmen running back and forth between two white lines on the field in a way that is similar to how a gym class might run a suicide drill, except for a singular, fixed distance. Thatâ€™s another form of scoring runs.
Alternatively, nothing at all will happen.
My recommendation is simply to cheer whenever everyone else cheers.
Also, the sooner you realize that the game being played is in fact, as I have stated, not baseball (no matter what kind of similarities you think youâ€™re drawing) the easier it will be to accept the fact that you have no fucking idea whatâ€™s happening.
How to interpret the score: Donâ€™t even try. Itâ€™s impossible. The scoring is fucked. The rules are impossible. I donâ€™t even know how youâ€™re still reading or how Iâ€™m still writing about this fucking fucked game.
How to navigate the stadium during halftime: Donâ€™t worry about it. There is no halftime. Itâ€™s like this â€¦.
Test cricket usually starts around 10 a.m. After a couple of hours of game play, watermelon helmets and growing beer snakes, thereâ€™ll be aÂ lunch break and the game will be put on hold. Again, this is not halftime, and there is no halftime show. This is just lunchtime, and during this 40-minute break, some of the players might take a shower, change their clothes and have a nap after theyâ€™ve finished eating. Meanwhile, youâ€™ll be gnawing on the rind of that watermelon helmet and sucking down hot beer just waiting for the teams to finish freshening up so they can return to the field for session two. For those who stillÂ care,Â sessionÂ is aÂ legitimate cricket termÂ forÂ game-times between breaks and has absolutely nothing to do with a 7th inning stretch.
Anyway, when the next session starts, it will go for a couple more hours until tea break. No, this isnâ€™t 3-quarter time. Itâ€™s just time for tea and more snacks. Now youâ€™re probably thinking,Â Are you effing kidding me? AÂ teaÂ break?Â and sadly, the answer is,Â No, Iâ€™m not kidding. Itâ€™s all part of the game, and depending on when the game started, there might even be a dinner break folks.
As for how to navigate the stadium during these breaks, Iâ€™d say donâ€™t go to the stadium in the first place.
How the game ends: Depends on what you mean. If weâ€™re referring toÂ the sporting match itself, it probably doesnâ€™t end today. What I mean is that if today was only day 1, 2, 3 or 4Â of the 5-day test match that is test cricket, then nobody is going to win, lose or draw when the day is over. Do not be mistaken though. This is not like a 3-game series in baseball that spans a 3-day period, because like I said, baseball and cricket are not the same thing. Test cricket matches are comprised of aÂ single, torturous 40-hour game. So on each individual game day, the teams playÂ for several hours, and then somebody in charge hits the pause button and everyone goes home for the night. I like to think of it as the sleep break that comes after the dinner break.
Anyway, the next day, on Day 2, after the sleep break, the game resumes exactly where it left off, but you have to pay for another ticket if you want to resume your suffering.
Now, if weâ€™re talking about the game as in the day and the overall experience, that will depend on whether or not somebody in your group throws up or starts a fight. If that happens, you can leave early and thatâ€™s a good outcome. Otherwise, youâ€™ll have to wait until someone finally realizes that unlike prison inmates, youâ€™re free to leave at any time. Thatâ€™s when youâ€™ll goÂ home.
I’m now going to assume thatÂ youâ€™re a bona fide cricket fan. So, I invite you to challenge your newfound fandom by getting through a fullÂ 3 minutes and 23 seconds of more cricket on the radio: Australia vs. India at the Sydney cricket ground, featuring Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.Â Spoiler alert:Â itÂ gets a little weirdÂ and kind ofÂ racist.
Let me know how far you get, and Iâ€™ll let you know if I come across a spare ticket for the next test match â€¦.