Wednesday, March 17, 2010

An Amateur’s Guide to T20 Cricket

There are at least three kinds of cricket games. The classic game is called a Test game and can last up to 5 days. Another kind is ODI which stands for One Day International. The shortest version is called “Twenty20” and lasts about 3 hours.

Yesterday we saw the Royal Challengers Bangalore team beat the Punjab Kings XI (called XI because there are eleven players on a team). The owner of RCB also owns a beer company (and an airline), but beer sales were severely restricted if allowed at all.

There are two halves called innings in T20. Each team bats (and scores) only during its inning. At the end of the first inning Punjab’s score was 203-3 meaning 203 runs and 3 batters out so RCB needed 204 runs to win. Like in the last inning of a baseball game, as soon as RCB got 204 runs the game was over. But, rather than report the margin of victory as one run, they seemed to calculate it by subtracting the winning team’s number of outs from the number of balls (roughly, a ball is an “at bat”) remaining when the winning team surpassed the other team.

In T20 the inning is over when 10 batters are out or when 20 overs have been played. Each over consists of 6 valid balls (at bats, or also “pitches”) so an inning consists of 120 valid balls. At the end of each over, a new bowler (pitcher) takes over, but the same bowler can return after resting an over.

Cricket seems to be primarily a contest between the bowler and the batters. There are 2 batters who run back and forth between the two bases. Either batter may be put out by being beaten to the base by a defender with the ball. If a fly ball is caught, the current batter is out. A batter plays until he is out. Not many cricket players got a chance to bat in yesterday’s T20.

The batter can score up to 6 points on each ball (pitch). If the ball goes out of the boundary on a fly, the batting team gets 6 runs (but unlike baseball the batter needn’t actually run). If the ball goes out of bounds on the bounce, the batting team gets 4 runs. Many people held cards with a big 4 on one side and a big 6 on the other and waved them when either 4 or 6 runs were scored. Triples are very uncommon. Even doubles are unusual. The batters were not aggressive runners last night. True, they had to run with their cricket bats. It’s possible to get zero runs on a ball, and it’s possible to run even if the batter doesn’t swing at a ball. There are also things called free hits, but now we are getting out of my league.

Unlike baseball, when the ball goes into the stands, the fans are expected to return the ball. The game only gets a new ball at the beginning of each inning. The degradation of the ball is supposedly an important factor in the game.

We noticed that the announcer seemed to be cheering for the Punjab team quite a lot during their inning. This seemed very strange to us, but I think I understand the logic. First of all, the game seems to be primarily an offensive game. The fielders didn’t make many amazing plays which the crowd could applaud. The bowler is the primary defensive player but his actual bowling time is very short and there aren’t really strikeouts. If the announcer didn’t cheer for the visitors, the stadium could be very quiet. That might not be a problem except for the second factor – for a stadium to be quiet for an entire inning (about an hour and a half) while the visitors bat would probably break some sort of rule about stadium volume at modern sports games. It seems like sports stadiums are supposed to be loud, and last night’s cricket game certainly fulfilled those expectations. Most of the music we heard were snippets from Bollywood songs, but at one point the PA system blared “Tonight’s Going to be a Good, Good Night,” a song often played at Rockies games. Except for that song, we wished we had earplugs.

Another contrast with American sports stadiums was the wave. In Bangalore the wave is called the Mexican wave. The announcer starts the wave with a countdown. The wave starts in a certain section and goes in the designated direction. It’s not a grassroots effort like in the US. On the other hand, the execution is very efficient and there is a lot of participation.

Many aspects of the game were similar. There was the same atmosphere of excitement before, during and after the game. There were roving vendors, but they didn’t yell about their wares, just politely standing nearby and occasionally asking directly if you wanted any of their products. There were little promotional items thrown into the crowd -- in this case, long stick-like balloons that people would clap together. There were cheerleaders, including some blondes, wearing the skimpiest outfits I have seen on people in India. On the big screen a Bollywood star catching the game waved to her adoring fans. She wore an RCB shirt like many of the other fans.

It was a good game, and people were very excited with the RCB’s win at their first home game of the season. To find out more about the league, you can go to

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