x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Instant Expert: It's just not cricket

The No. 1 game in southeast Asia was born in England during the Middle Ages.

THE BASICS There's nothing basic about cricket. But if we have to summarise, it is a bat-and-ball game played on an oval field, which has a 22-yard-long pitch in the middle of it. There are 11 men (or women) on each side. One side is batting and the other is bowling. The batting team tries to score as many runs (see sidebar for terminology) as possible, while the bowling team tries to get them all out by hitting the stumps.

WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN? In England, of course. Anything that combines men in fancy dress, tea and balls has to be English. It dates to the Middle Ages in southern England. By the 18th century it was the national sport. As Sarah Bernhardt summed up: "I do love cricket - it's so very English." The first game was reputed to have been played in the village of Hambledon in rural Hampshire where the pub overlooking the ground is called The Bat and Ball.

WHO WATCHES IT? Millions of people globally. Football has eclipsed it in England, but it is the No. 1 sport in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And it seems to touch all classes. The playwright Harold Pinter once enthused: "I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth." Some, however, disagree. Groucho Marx was heard to say in the middle of a match: "So when does the game begin?" It is true that at times it can seem extremely slow. But that is also part of its charm.

WHO ARE THE STARS? The ones everyone has heard of are Imran Khan (legendary all-rounder and captain of Pakistan), Sachin Tendulkar (Indian batsman, nicknamed the God of cricket and widely regarded as the best batsman of all time) and Ian Botham (England all-rounder and captain). Current stars are Stuart Broad, the ladies' favourite, and Kevin Pietersen, who was born in South Africa but plays for England. He is the most destructive batsman in the game. And also a bit of a ladies' favourite.

LEG BEFORE WICKET Or LBW, the key phrase that will make you sound like you know it all. If a player has any part of his body (usually a leg) in front of the wicket he can be called out. The theory being that if his body part had not been there, the ball would have hit the wicket.

WHAT'S WITH ALL THE FOOD? A large part of a cricketing day out revolves around food. In amateur games, the wives and girlfriends organise such delicacies as Coronation chicken and sponge cakes. You stop for lunch and then tea, meaning that the game can go on for hours and hours. One American friend I took to a cricket match once appalled both teams by yelling: "Hey, no more eating until it's over."

IT'S JUST NOT CRICKET The spirit of the game is all-important, hence the phrase "it's just not cricket" was coined in the 19th century and is still used to describe ungentlemanly behaviour. The theory being that cricket is very much a gentleman's game. Which it is, most of the time. Unless they're match-fixing, of course.

CRICKETING GAFFES Commentary faux pas from the mid-80s as the West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding took aim at England's batsman Peter Willey: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." And the most famous one from the legendary commentator Jonathan Agnew referring to Ian Botham's failure to step over the stumps: "He just didn't quite get his leg over."

Know the lingo...

WHITES The most crucial part of the game, the kit. Otherwise known as cricket whites, consisting of a pair of trousers, shirt, jumper and a piece of protective equipment (cricket balls are extremely hard). The uniform is rather fetching. The only reason most women ever watch cricket is to see men looking languid in whites. As most women don't understand the rules of the game, it doesn't really matter how they play.

WICKET This is where the batsman is aiming when he bats. It is made of three stumps and two bails. If the bails fall off the stumps, the batsman is out.

OVER Not yet it isn't. An over is a set of six balls batted by the batsman. Once the over is over, another batsman takes over from the opposite end of the field.

GOOGLY A great word. Sounds more exciting than it is. You don't really need the technical details, but it is basically a type of ball (or delivery, to use its correct term) bowled by a right-arm leg-spin bowler. Glad you asked?

ALL-ROUNDER No, it doesn't mean they have a weight problem, it means they can bat and bowl. Most cricketers excel at either one or the other.


The England-Pakistan Test series begins from January 25-29 at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Individual ticket prices are free to Dh250 and corporate prices are Dh150 to Dh20,000 for a box with 22 seats and catered food. For details, email shahzeb@adcricketclub.ae