If you want to know how to play cricket properly, the first thing you need to learn is how to plead overdramatically. Said pleading comes in handy when a bowler (baseball equivalent: pitcher) slings the red cork ball toward a batsman (batter) and it almost touches the wicket (home base, sort of) behind the batsman, but establishing whether or not the batsman is out is still a point of contention. If there is any gray area, the bowler immediately begins a very loud, very public bout of begging. After wailing the word “OUT!” overdramatically, he either stretches his arms wide as if he’s asking God a grandly existential question, points at the batsman as though he’s just witnessed a murder, or clenches his fists and twists his expression as if he’s about to start screaming for Stella. More often than not, his teammates--the fielders--enthusiastically join in on the histrionics.
All of this appealing is directed at the umpire, a stately gentleman in a sun hat, who, in contrast to the melodramatic bowler, remains stoic. His judgment comes in understated fashion: If he raises his right index finger just above his head, the batsman is indeed out, sending the bowler and his buddies into a triumphant fit. Should the umpire signal pretty much anything else, the bowler’s expression turns to one of abject misery.
Give him a second, and he should be back to normal, allowing the game to resume. If the match you’re watching is any good, more begging should follow.
Growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, I saw the above scenario played out by professionals on TV, and classmates during phys ed. I maintained a love-hate relationship with cricket: I was too smitten with American sports such as basketball (God bless the ’98 Minnesota Timberwolves) to wholly dedicate myself to this notoriously English game, which held enormous cultural cache in Pakistan (one of the many residual effects of colonization).
I grew fond of cricket only by playing it myself, and when I did, the sport was a gembaseball’s erudite, well-groomed older brother. It connected me to my Pakistani sense of identity, allowing me some common ground among friends who adored Shahid Afridi and had never heard of Kevin Garnett.
When I moved back to the US in 2001, I quickly forgot all about cricket. Here, it’s associated less with Shakespearean heroics than with tea, crumpets and other stereotypically haughty English items.
But cricket is a global phenomenon. Sixteen countries and territories make up the International Cricket Council, including Australia, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and Scotland. The US has a cricket team, too, although it’s an outlier in major competition. Disappointingly--but unsurprisingly--no one is playing cricket in Santa Fe. According to multiple sources, there was once a club here, but it vanished. One possible factor is the small Asian population: According to the 2010 Census, Asians make up only 1.2 percent of Santa Fe County’s population (as compared to 5 percent in the US as a whole).
Even with a band of willing anglophiles, finding the proper equipment takes work. I called two major Santa Fe sports stores, but neither stocks cricket gear. One woman giggled when discussing the sport, and a man mistakenly assured me that one store carries “cricket sets.” In retrospect, he probably meant croquet, a semantic mix-up that does nothing to help cricket assimilate.
In Albuquerque, however, cricket lives. The University of New Mexico’s cricket club plays in the Colorado Cricket League, but the club’s captain, Srikanth R Narravula, stresses that the team is an informal affair. Narravulaa 25-year-old from Nagarjuna Sagar, a town near Hyderabad, India, who’s pursuing a Ph.D in optical science and engineering, says that, while most team members are UNM students who hail from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and India, they’re not opposed to including the public.
During practice, Narravula says, passersby will occasionally stop and try to figure out what they’re watching. “We just explain to them that it’s similar to baseball, and we give them some chance to play, but they won’t pursue it further,” Narravula says.
Breaking into the crowded American market is difficult for any sport, and while cricket will almost surely never attain the success of even major-league soccer, a pop cultural conduit wouldn’t hurt. Eight years before all the stateside World Cup fever, Bend It Like Beckham gently familiarized us with what people in other countries think of as football. Maybe we’ll have Smash It Like Sachin someday--and just being able to understand that reference will work wonders in separating cricket from those blasted crumpets.