ELIZABETH, NJ -- On Saturdays and Sundays in the summer, visitors to Warinanco Park have grown used to seeing a group of players, clad in white, and clutching an odd looking bat, in a large field near the park’s exit. They are playing a game that looks sort of like baseball, then again sort of not. It’s cricket, and it’s the world second most popular game.
Yes, that’s right, it’s cricket, and this sleeping sport is about to wake up. It has been quietly growing in New Jersey since the turn of the century. Right now, New Jersey Softball Cricket League claims more than 100 teams and 2,500-plus players; Cricket League of New Jersey has 35 teams and 1,000 players; and the Millennium Cricket League with 36 teams. Soon the men – and women – in white will be a more familiar sight. But why dress in white?
“It’s tradition,” explained Shoaib Abbasi of the Woodbridge Cricket Club, looking up from where he was keeping score. “It goes back to England. The game started with the royals hitting a ball and the peasants running after it.”
Such an inauspicious beginning has propelled cricket into a sport played around the world, in places such as England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and some Caribbean Islands. What these far-flung countries have in common is that they are or were part of Britain back when the sun never set on the Empire. England may no longer govern in most of these places, but it has left an indelible stamp in the form of a passion for cricket.
The game is played with 22 players, divided into two teams, with two umpires. They play on a 350-foot long, oval-shaped field with a 66-foot-long playing area called a pitch in the middle with a flat bat that weighs three and one-half pounds and a ball that can travel as fast as 100 miles an hour. The pitch is marked with painted lines: a bowling crease in line with the wicket, and a batting or popping crease four feet in front of it. At each end of the pitch is a wooden target called a wicket, placed 22 yards apart, and made of three vertical stumps supporting two small horizontal two wooden crosspieces called bails. If the batter knocks down the wicket, he or she is out.
Two batsmen take positions at opposite ends of the pitch. One is the striker and the other, the non-striker. The striker or batter tries to hit a ball that is 'bowled’ (pitched) toward him or her from a set distance along the pitch. After a bowler has bowled six times (an over), another member of the fielding team is designated as the new bowler. The old bowler then takes up a fielding position. The batsmen stay in place, and the new bowler bowls to the opposite wicket, so the role of striker and non-striker reverse.
A run is scored when a batter safely completes the distance running from one end of the pitch to the other. A batter can make a score without running, by hitting a home run over the boundary of the field of play, which counts for 4 or 6 runs, depending on whether it bounces before clearing the boundary.
The team can also accumulate runs from bowlers’ and fielder’s mistakes, such as a ‘no ball’ where the bowler is too close to the batter when they bowl, or a ‘wide’ when the ball is too far away from the batter, making it too hard to hit. The aim of the fielding side is to get the batters ‘out’ by taking ‘wickets’ or restricting the number of runs scored. Once the innings are completed the teams switch between batting and fielding. The innings are completed when the batting team is all out or all overs have been bowled.
There are two ways to play, long term and short term. Long term or test matches can take up to five days and are played mid-day to evening with only15-minute breaks. Typically, 600 runs are scored in this game. Short term averages 180 runs, and players don’t always wear the traditional white.
So, as the weather gets warmer, and spring turns to summer, those players with the unfamiliar-looking bats will be taking the field, preserving an old game in a new place.