It might be fun these wintry days to look at two similar but yet very different games and compare them with an obvious emphasis on where they differ. Cricket and Baseball — it’s the similarities that make the differences so interesting.

You win both games by scoring more runs than your opponent. (Duh.) The total number of runs scored in an average baseball game is, say, about 8, and the winning margin is proportionately slender. A major cricket match (game) ended in Australia recently with about 1350 runs scored between the two sides and the winning margin — we poms were crushed — was around 150. How can this be?

Well, to start, a cricket match at the top level takes five days, not three hours. That difference in time is ameliorated slightly by each day’s play not starting till 11:00 am, ending at 6:30, and in between there’s an hour break for lunch, and later, 30 minutes for tea. Additionally, a bench player serves drinks on the field during the morning and afternoon sessions — we colonials, you know, so civilized. Still, that can’t account for the huge difference. What does is what constitutes a run.

There are not four bases to advance through. To score a run, the batter must put the ball in play and run to where the bowler (pitcher) delivered the ball. Simultaneously, a second batter who’s been waiting by the other wicket (the pitcher’s mound) must run to where the original batter was. They cross midwicket. All this must be completed before any fielder can return the ball to either of the wickets ahead of a batter. So that’s a run. Got it?

But how can one game accumulate 1300 runs? Here’s how:

There are no foul lines. The wickets are located in the middle of the ground, the batted ball is in play over a 360 degree arc, and the boundaries are, say, 150 feet distant all round. What’s more, a home run scores six, and ground ball to the boundary scores four.

Still, each batter gets only two outs over the five days, so for each team over that time frame there are a total of 20 outs. How can they possibly then accumulate such huge run totals. Can you guess?

Kudos if you did, it’s brutally simple, albeit sacrilegious to the average baseball fan. YOU DON’T HAVE TO RUN OUT A GROUND BALL IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO. Hit a ground ball straight to cover point (shortstop), for example, and what in baseball would be a routine out from Andrelton’s arm becomes just a loud NO to your partner at the other end who you wave dismissively back. THIS CAN GO ON ALL DAY.

Some batters have been known to be still not out when play resumes the next morning, though, thankfully, this is rare. In doing so they can, individually, with that one at bat, score 100 runs or more during that time. More common are 40 or 50 run individual at bats over two or three hours. By the way, you can swing and miss as often as you like, as long as the ball doesn’t hit the wicket after it’s passed you. There is no count, and no foul balls, and no umpire behind the batter. He’s down at the bowler’s end, 66 feet away, staring down at you, and there’s another one around 3rd base if you move him well into what we would think of as foul ground.

To help keep the run total within reason, here’s how a batter gets out:

• As in baseball, a fly ball being caught. This includes a foul tip.
• The batter swings and misses and the ball strikes the wicket (three sticks) immediately behind him. He’s been bowled out.
• He misses the pitch, it hits him on his padded leg in such a position that an umpire at the bowler’s end peers in and decrees it would have hit the wicket behind him had it not. This is the immortal LBW dismissal — Leg Before Wicket..ha!
• Run Out. One of the two batters in an attempted run fails to get to the other end before a fielder has returned the ball there — very baseball-like. And just like our game, with a runner trying for a double or triple, a batter can turn round and go back, and back again, trying to score two or three runs. There’s more or less the same risk/reward situation as in baseball. But remember: this is one of his only two precious outs in five days he’s risking, and there are two batters running, so when a run is attempted both are at risk — there are always two batters on the pitch at any one time, one facing the next ball (pitch), the other waiting by the bowler to see if a run may be on. Clear as mud?

There are now very abbreviated forms of cricket contests, man-made for the TV market — one-day internationals as opposed to five-day test matches. These games have just 40 overs: 240 pitches to each team, highest total wins with each batter getting just one at bat. So the run totals in these games would be less. But the same principles apply. You don’t have to run out a ground ball if you don’t want to.

Give me another one!

Next time, I’ll write about the difference between a pitcher and a bowler. In both games, a “fastball” is delivered at, say, around 90 mph. But the bowler in cricket is not allowed to bend his arm during any part of the delivery process: he must dispatch the ball stiff-armed. So how does he get it up to 90? Coming soon…