Finally, cricket questions answered

I’ve always enjoyed learning about — and if I’m lucky, playing — new sports. Watching rugby on awfully expensive European channels; a short career in roller derby, where I injured myself more in six months than I had in my entire life; sneaking glances at people playing Bocci ball or lawn bowling while walking through Inglewood in Calgary — it’s all so interesting.

Sports have a way of bringing people together, whether they’re super-fit athletes or uncoordinated enthusiasts. There’s something about the love of a game that heightens spirits and brings out the best in (almost) everyone.

That’s why, when I was told I was being sent to a cricket match at Lions Ball Park, I was pretty excited. Cricket is one of those sports events that you watch on TV and think, “What is going on? Why are they running that — wait. He stopped running. You hit it, why aren’t you running?!” And other similarly confused and ever-changing questions.

I frequently found myself asking these questions and was determined to figure out why they do what they do. A friend of mine told me about a group of gentlemen that play outside her house in the north end of Calgary. Considering I live in the deep south-east corner of the city, and it feels like a day trip to get through construction and leap-frogging pick-up trucks, I decided I would keep looking.

Jump to a couple weekends ago when I was given an opportunity to finally figure out how the game is played. For 15 years, on the weekend before Canada Day, a small group of experienced cricket players have been meeting at Lions Ball Park. People of all ages and experience levels are invited to join and learn the game of cricket.

I arrive at the baseball diamond to a small group of people setting up wickets (three long dowels, called stumps, sticking out of the ground about an inch apart with small pieces of wood lying on top, called bails) and warming up their bowling arms (pitchers throw overhead like baseball, but straight-armed like a windmill pitch, and towards the batter’s feet).

The wickets were hammered into the ground at either end of the pitch — one behind the batter and the other on the pitcher’s mound.

I approached the field and the group gave me a warm welcome. Within a couple minutes of putting my equipment down, I was offered a beverage by Gavin Parker and waved over to warm up with the others. I did not hesitate to either.

After a few minutes, more and more people arrived and we ended up having about 40 people eager to play the game. Both children and adults came out with various levels of experience. We all received a quick explanation of what to do and it was game on.

Sherman Eugene and Harley Davidson, a couple of the event’s organizers, flipped a coin to determine who would bat first. Eugene won the toss and decided his team would be the first to attempt to score some runs.

Davidson’s team (the team I was on) spread out along the field.

One member acted as a wicket-keeper (similar to a “back catcher” in baseball), another was the bowler (or pitcher) and everyone else scattered all over the rest field.

It took a few rounds of pitching, but with the helpful coaching from Eugene, Davidson and Mike Barkwith — a lovely Englishman with a great sense of humour — the group found its stride and we were having a blast.

As outfielders, our job was to get the batters out — and every person on the other team would have a chance to bat. There were three ways that we could make this happen: the bowler knocks over the wicket behind the batter, an outfielder catches a pop fly, or the outfield team is able to get the ball back to the pitcher’s area, where any one of them can hit the wicket with the ball.

While all of this is going on, the batters have a job as well. There are always two batters on the field — one in the batting position in front of the wicket and the other by the second wicket, behind a predetermined “safe” line.

The batters need to protect the wickets, while also scoring some runs. To do this, the active batter hits the ball away from wickets. When this happens, the batters will run to the opposite wicket to score a run. They have to be fast, though, as they do not want to be taken out by the outfielders.

Every player had a chance to bowl. After six bowls, the umpire would call “over” and the bowler would be changed out. After a few rounds in the outfield and a very disappointing pop fly fumble, I took my turn as bowler.

Beginner’s luck is a thing. I summoned my old volleyball spiking skills and bowled a couple of outs (I got the ball past the batter and knocked over the wicket — instant out). It was very exciting and my right shoulder was only mildly sore.

After my six bowls, I decided I should probably do what I was supposed to and take some photos. Parked far in the outfield, I witnessed amazing hits and an impressive one-handed pop fly catch by Parker. Nicely done, Doc — and I totally got that on camera.

In a professional game of cricket, 10 outs or a predetermined number of overs would end the inning. We were playing for fun so, it was a good hour and a half until our inning ended, with all but one of the batters out (or dismissed).

Teams switched, and we were up to bat. Eugene’s team finished the inning with 69 points — therefore, we needed 70 to win.

After some unlucky swings, we had a handful of our batters out. Very upsetting, but the team did not give up. A couple of the team’s batters took over the pitch, scoring numerous runs and hitting the ball out of the park.

With half of the points that we needed, it was my turn up at bat.

By the way, a cricket bat is flat and a lot heavier than it looks. It’s awkward to swing, but it’s an underhanded swing — bonus.

I walked to the pitch to join my batting partner, Barkwith. He came up to me and gave me some brilliant advice.

“You tell me to run, I’ll run. You tell me to stop, I’ll stop. But when I run, you run.”

Easiest set of rules I had been told throughout the entire day.

So, Barkwith hit, he ran, so I ran. I hit, I told him to run, so he ran. We did this quite a few times and had gone through a handful of bowlers. Not sure how many runs we had acquired, because once you get up there your main focus is to just hit and run.

Oh, and to protect your wicket as well, but don’t knock it over — which I did (oops).

I hilariously hung my head in shame, as I had no clue what I had just done. Worst way to lose your spot at bat. Sherman, I feel you. I really do. (His shirt knocked the bails off the wicket, it was a whole ordeal and a lot of fun).

A few more batters and one amazing photo finish of Davidson crossing the safe line later, our team had exhausted our players. We did not win as we finished with only 59 of the 70 points we needed, but everyone was in high spirits.

Handshakes and high fives were shared between teammates and opposing members. Another just-for-fun cricket game had come and gone.

shagenaars@postmedia.com

@StephHagenaars

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Craig Ballantyne

I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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