An Unexpected Lesson in Cricket

By Blake Baxter (@bbax2)

I was feeling, as I often do, reflective in my last few days working for Caterpillar, Inc. The past two hectic weeks had been devoted entirely to getting ready for my new job. But as I was closing in on the final days, I realized that I’d pretty much checked everything off my list. And so, as I was flooded with relief at the thought of this in-between stage of my life coming to an end, I abruptly turned away from my rapidly approaching future. Instead, I looked back on my two-plus year experience.

In total, I worked in three different groups, in two different locations, in four different offices, at five different desks and at one end cap. My last ten months were spent doing mail –- a task absolutely as dull as it sounds. I often struggled to find myself engaged with my work. In fact, I was even known to casually throw around descriptions like “mind-numbing” and “soul-crushing” to sum up the experience. However, while I was certainly frustrated at the time, I can say now that I gained a lot from the opportunity. I learned many professional and life lessons that I will always remember, even if they weren’t necessarily related to my field of study or interest. Having the professional experience on my resume was certainly a plus, as well. I’d like to think I did a good job in my interviews for an internship with ESPN Louisville and a full-time position with Technical Solutions & Services, but it would be remiss of me to not recognize that it was beneficial to have “Caterpillar, Inc.” associated with my name. There are also definitely a handful of things that I knew I would miss when I left: my coworkers whom I’d grown fond of, listening to music on my headphones at work, the soup of the day, working in a culturally diverse environment. The list was longer than I’d realized.

It was during these obligatory last days when I had one of my most unexpectedly memorable experiences out of the whole time that I worked there. There was so much on my mind that I’d completely forgotten there was a division picnic in the park to celebrate our various accomplishments. I arrived with the expectation that I would socialize, eat some food, have a lemon shake up and be on my way after I was there for the minimum time requirement. Maybe, I’d even suck it up and participate in a game of kickball in my work clothes. However, I was surprised when an American guy close to my age and an older gentleman visiting from India posed the question: “Would you rather play two-hand touch football or cricket?” Is that a question? That’s like asking if I wanted a Miller Lite, or a foreign draft that I’ve never tried before and don’t even understand. Of course, I’m playing cricket!

Few seemed to know the rules, but we didn’t let that stop us. Two Indian fellows provided the equipment and split the teams. We watched as they placed three sticks into the ground, adjacent and close to one another. I could have sworn that he referred to them as “stems,” however Wikipedia refers to them as “stumps” so I’ll assume I misheard. These stumps essentially serve the same purpose as home plate in a baseball game. I found that I had an easier time understanding things, if I could figure out the baseball equivalent of every aspect of the game. This wasn’t always practical and in retrospect may have actually made it more confusing at times, but I had to start somewhere.

Anyway, if you’re the batter then you get into something resembling a batting stance and try to prevent the ball from hitting the stumps because if you don’t then you’re out! You don’t get the benefit of three strikes that we Americans take for granted.  Oh and the pitcher, who isn’t even called a pitcher –- it’s the bowler, is allowed to bounce the ball once off the ground when he pitches, er I mean, bowls. Geez, this was going to be challenging. Apparently, cricket is an unforgiving game. Also, there aren’t foul balls –- it’s fair regardless of the direction you hit it, but there’s a kicker. In baseball, you charge down the line as soon as you make contact with the ball.  In cricket, though, you get the freedom to pick and choose when to try to run. Imagine how many more hits there would be in baseball if guys just waited until they hit one they deemed good enough. The games would last forever…just like cricket.

Thoughts and questions rapidly came to me as I attempted to take it all in. Okay, so where are the bases? Well, it turns out there aren’t any. After you get a hit that you consider satisfactory, you run to the other set of stumps where the bowler is pitching bowling and you run with the bat in hand. The (funky-looking, flat) bat, oddly, is an artificial extension of your body that enables you to reach the wicket (the proper name for a set of stumps, see I’m learning!) quicker than your natural body allows. However, in our case, we used a tree because we only had one wicket so just imagine us wildly waving our bats at a tree whenever we dared to try for a run.

But something else struck me as odd: why is there someone already on base? Alright, that’s not the correct terminology, but you get my point –- it’s strange that someone is on the opposite end of the batter before they even bat. Actually, this isn’t strange. On the contrary, this is the norm. In cricket, the batter and the runner run back and forth after the batter hits the ball in a desirable place and the team gets a run for each time they reach the opposite wicket. They continue to alternate at-bats until one of them gets out. At this point, the person who gets out is replaced by a new batter. Eventually, it started to sink in: oh, so it’s kind of like a tag team system! For an instant, I was transported back to my childhood, playing Royal Rumble on the Super Nintendo. It was starting to come together.

There were other things that became clearer as the game progressed. When my team was fielding, I realized we weren’t trying to get a set number of outs –- we couldn’t bat until we got every single person out. But once everyone was out, the half inning was over, right? Actually, wrong: each team only bats once and there is no such thing as a half inning as there is in baseball. Apparently, “innings” is the correct term and it is used to indicate both the singular and plural form. No wonder Americans find this game so hard to comprehend!

Another interesting thing I learned was that everyone gets a chance to heave the ball towards the batter in cricket. Everyone knows that in baseball, the pitcher is a specialized position. In contrast, in cricket, everyone gets a chance to bowl. Each team switched bowlers after every six deliveries and I kept hearing our Indian mentors say the word “over”. I assumed that this meant the bowler’s turn to bowl was over, but later found out that each six pitch delivery was actually officially called an “over”. Baby steps…

It rained lightly as we played, but we still managed to get two whole games in before it started storming. My team was there to have fun and learn a new game. The other team was more concerned with trying as hard as they possibly could. Consequently, much like when a pitcher starts throwing too fast in a friendly game of adult wiffle ball, the scores became very lopsided. None of us let the lack of competition dampen our spirits, though.

Soon after the second game, the rain picked up and the force of nearby thunder shook the pavilion. Everyone in the field headed for their cars. I glanced at my phone once I reached mine and noticed that I’d been there much longer than I’d originally anticipated. It had been an unexpectedly fun and challenging experience. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better one to bookend a chapter of my life that I appreciated more than I ever realized.

Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College FixThe Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday. 


Categories: Sports

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