Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Miss Football

ESPN radio has a morning talk show called "Mike and Mike in the morning."  I think the title is a take off on the names of the talkers, Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg.  Golic is a retired NFL player and Greenie is a lifetime sports fan who, like me, confesses to a personal lack of athleticism (I still hate that word - see previous post titled "athleticism").  I'm a big Mike and Mike fan.  Watch the TV version of their show on ESPN 2 practically every morning.

Until recently.  Like this morning they're talking about Roger Clemons.  Baseball.  Boring.  Too many teams.  Too many games (162 games per team every year, plus post-season).  Too many stats - "Batting average against left handed pitchers on Tuesdays after Sunday road games to teams east of the Mississippi with losing records before the all star break."  I don't care!

There's a void in my life every year from the day after the Superbowl until that September Thursday when  NFL begins the new season.  Life without football is pointless.  Thank goodness for the Outlaws filling some of that emptiness, giving us football until June. 

Their last game was June 18. 

Now what?  No NFL. No Outlaws. 


I live near a Williamson County park.  A cricket league has a field there.  Cricket is an internationally popular sport followed with near religious fervor.  It must be exciting.  So I grab my camera and head to the park.

Bowler throwing ball towards batsman.  Note the wooden stakes behind
bowler and batsman.  Those are wickets.  The bowler flings the ball rather
than throws it and bounces it a few feet in front of the batsman, just to make
it difficult to hit or block.
Cricket is a little like baseball.  But not much.  A pitcher - cricketers call him a bowler - flings a ball, which is like a hardball in baseball but harder and colored red - at a batsman who wields a wide flat bat and attempts to hit the ball.  That's about the extent of any similarity between baseball and cricket.  Cricket is like football only in that it has eleven players on a team.  It is similar to hockey only in that the batsman wears pads that look like goalie pads,to protect his legs.

The bowler/batsman duel takes place on a mat in the center of a large oval shaped field.  So the batsman hits the ball into play in any direction.  I suspect the fun of the game involves the batsman maneuvering to place the ball in the perfect spot.  Watching batsmen twist their bodies to direct the ball reminds me a little of basketball players jumping toward the basket.  Just a little.

In this photo and the following the batsman is twisting his body
in unnatural ways to direct the ball exactly where he wants it.
Note in this photo the ball has already been hit and is high right
in the photo.

If you look closely at these photos you'll notice some sticks behind the batter.  There are three "stumps," wooden stakes set in the ground, which I believe are called a wicket.  When the bowler bowls the ball he is really trying to get it past the batsman to the wicket.  If he can knock the wicket down, the batsman is out - "out" being another concept similar to baseball.  The two photos that follow illustrate a wicket being taken  out by the bowler.

You can see one of the blue stumps flying in the air and the red ball
bouncing off of it.

Batsman looking with dismay as the white stump is knocked flying
by the red ball that got buy him.
A part of the batsman's job is to protect his wicket. To make the job more difficult, the bowler doesn't throw the ball in any kind of straight line or even curved line as in baseball.  The bowler bounces the ball, hitting the ground somewhere in front of the batsman.  Which makes hitting the ball more difficult.  And blocking it to protect the wicket.  Which is why the pads to protect shins and ankles.  The ball is hard, harder than a baseball.  Some batsmen wear face masks.

Bowler airborne as he
flings the ball toward batsman.
Another novelty to add to the challenge is the way the bowler bowls.  He doesn't just stand on a mound and wind up an throw.  He starts ten yards back from where he'll be letting the ball go and runs toward the batsman.  He leaps in the air and flings the ball with a fiercely intimidating motion. 

Now if the batter hits the ball into play - and if he hits it it is always in play because the field is circular or oval and he's in the middle of 360 degrees of fair ball - scoring gets interesting.  A fly ball landing beyond the edge of the field scores 6 runs.  A ground ball that rolls outside the edge scores 4 runs.  A ball that stays within the oval field -  if the batsman wants, he can run back and forth between the two ends of the playing strip (see first photo above) and keep running until the ball is returned by a fielder.  Each time the batter tags up at the opposite end scores a point.  Now actually there are two batters and both run back and forth and I'm not exactly sure whether each touch scores two runs, one for each runner, or just one for the batsman. 

Whew.  Now all this running and 6 and 4 run homers builds up a pretty high score.  A team may score 200 to 300 runs.  And a game may take eight hours.  Or more.  It may take days.  Weeks!  Well, I'm not sure about weeks but I think someone talked of a game going that long.  And it is organized so one team bats first and then the other team.  They don't alternate.  The first team does all it's batting and then the second team comes on. If you join a cricket game in progress, you may hear "They're ahead 134 to nothing.  We haven't been to bat yet."

Maybe I'd appreciate it more if I had played the game.  But I have to admit cricket isn't going to fill the void in my life left by the end of football season.  While at the cricket game, my mind wandered.  I was actually excited when the little park train steamed past the field. 

And I had time to think great important thoughts. 

Do women play cricket?

And if either Mike Golic or Mike Greenberg quits, will ESPN have to rename the show?

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