A Gentleman’s Explanation of Cricket: The Pitcher and the Bowler (by blazon)

Two men with a common aim. The pitcher in baseball and the bowler in cricket have one goal: get the batter/batsman out. Both can throw hard and use intimidation as a factor, but they have to go about their business in very different ways as per the rules of their chosen game. Again, it’s those differences that make things interesting.

A starting pitcher has longevity as one of his top priorities. He wants his stuff to be effective enough his manager will leave him in well into the late innings. Once he’s removed, that’s it. He will not reappear again in the game in any capacity.

Not so for our bowler, who has to work to a very much less predictable schedule. Let’s say he starts. He delivers six balls/pitches. Then off he trots to the boundary to play defense while his teammate delivers six from the other end. He comes back, resumes and so on. These groups of six balls are called overs. If the batsman fails to hit a run off any of the six, it’s called a maiden, the bowler has bowled a maiden over. Haha, old joke — but that is the correct term.

After he has bowled, say, six overs, his captain might think he needs some rest and so takes him off, and our guy thus is now a full-time fielder on the boundary. At any time during the day’s play, though, he can be recalled to bowl, as can the other three or four bowlers who are part of his team. Some like him throw hard, others rely on guile and are generalized as spin bowlers, a word that has now entered our modern political lexicon. (It means exactly what it sounds like.)

You’ll note the similarities there. And, indeed, hard throwers in both sports can get up to around 90 in velocity, say. But there are two massive differences between the games that govern how they pitch.

First, the pitcher gets there by his gymnastics on a raised mound but predominantly because he’s allowed to bend his arm. Not so our bowler, his delivery mechanism must show a stiff arm when the ball is released. How then does he get to 90? By taking as long a run up as he wants/needs to achieve the necessary momentum before he leaps in the air, brings his stiff arm over and releases the ball. Try it. Thus the need for frequent rests. As long as the arm is stiff there is no rule against dropping it down at delivery, a la Chad Bradford. As he approaches the end of his run up to the wicket he can go either side of it to deliver the ball — that’s called bowling round or over the wicket.

The second difference? The pitcher is aiming to deliver the ball directly into his catcher’s mitt, on the full. He does not, generally, want the ball to touch the ground before it gets to the batter. For our bowler, on the other hand, that would spell disaster — the hitting surface of a cricket bat is four-plus inches wide and flat, so any such delivery arriving on the full is contemptuously dispatched to the boundary.

The bowler thus aims to “land” his delivery into the ground before it reaches the batsman. That could be anything from a half volley (short hop) — though that’s a poor delivery — to several feet in front of the hitter. His skills are such that the ball will come off the ground “breaking” either towards or away from the batsman hoping thus to deceive him into either missing it entirely or catching the edge not the middle of the bat and being caught out. If you are a pace bowler, you have an additional weapon to deceive which is essentially identical to that of a pitcher — movement of the ball, in or out, in the air before it arrives.

Pity the batsman. Having figured out the way a bowled ball may be moving in the air — its “swing” — he must then contend with its possible break after it lands, and how high it is going to bounce. Increasingly in modern cricket the ball is delivered to bounce half way up the pitch and is designed to intimidate by ending up around the batter’s head/ribs…perfectly legal unless the umpires decide it’s being done “too often.” There’s a judgment call for you! Get the roller out.

The last major difference is the ball itself, what the bowler has to work with and how much help it gives him when he too engages in his attempts at deception.

Specifications. You all know about a baseball. A cricket ball is harder to the touch. That’s interesting, when you consider that all players on the fielding team except the wicket keeper (catcher) must field and catch the ball with their bare hands. Inside it is cork covered by leather, the leather in two halves, the halves stitched together with six rows of stitches all round. It weighs 5 1/2 ounces. Balls made for first class/international cricket can cost a hundred dollars. One likely reason for this is that the ball must last at least 80 overs – that’s 480 “pitches” with the same ball. You cannot change it or lose it, short of an act of God. Hit one out into the crowd and that’s no souvenir — it must be returned immediately, security called if necessary.

(If catastrophe does strike for some reason and the ball can’t be rescued or a Ruthian swing has damaged it to the point it is then unplayable, then both sides and the umpires have to go through the absorbing ritual of examining a basket of old balls and trying to agree on which one most approximates the condition of the one lost!)

During the five hours or so it takes to reach the 480 pitch total, both sides peer at the ball, constantly trying to assess how it is wearing, what’s it likely to do in the air. The bowler on his walk back to deliver the next ‘pitch’ will often be seen polishing it furiously on his flannels trying to get some of the lost shine back – the more shine the more swing for the faster bowlers. As the seams wear it’s that much harder to get the ball to move in the air and off the ground.

After the requisite 80 overs, the captain of the fielding team can call for a “new ball” which is delivered with some ceremony from the Pavilion (dugout). Once he’s got it, it will likely be given right away to his two best fast bowlers who will benefit the most from its fresh shine and full seam. Slow bowlers would generally prefer sticking with an older ball, one that’s been roughed up somewhat. After almost 500 “pitches,” our ball is not what it once was (see below). The bowlers must work with its gradually deteriorating condition. The umpires do not have access to baseball’s five dozen or so to call on at their whim.

And that’s bowling for you…

51 thoughts on “A Gentleman’s Explanation of Cricket: The Pitcher and the Bowler (by blazon)”

  1. Adam…

    from observation only, yes…

    very much so…fairly rare to hear of a long term arm/shoulder breakdown…

    i guess the pics at the top tell why…one action more natural than the other.

    although…if you and i were out walking the dog by the lake and wanted to throw a ball out into the water there’s no way we’d do it stiff armed…guess that only works fluidly, naturally when the body has significant forward momentum…

  2. Alex,

    I don’t really see what is so worrisome about MLB’s actions. Steroids has always been a customer service decision; the customers wanted them in the 90s, but not in the ’00s. MLB has done everything in their power to eridicate them in baseball, and while they didn’t have a drug test, they had plenty of evidence against him.

    Now that the A-Rod debacle is coming to a close (and while some may question MLB’s tactics, few are unhappy about an A-Rod-less MLB), I don’t envision MLB having a need to exercise their wide latitutde. They really only have wide latitude in regards to player punishment, and there just aren’t that many punishable offenses in baseball that would warrant this level of punishment. And if another roid freak emerges, I hope MLB uses their latitude to get that guy out of the league too.

    Just my two cents on the A-Rod situation.

  3. A union that accedes to “it’s okay, it’s only ARod” is acceding to the “if you don’t do anything wrong you have nothing to fear” logic of totalitarianism. Tony Clark should have fired Horowitz last night, immediately after the 60 Minutes propaganda piece aired. Don Fehr would have his head on a pike by now.

  4. I really liked this piece. I watched a bit of ESPN3 cricket last year (Rajasthan Royals vs. Mumbai Indians!) and read up a bit on how the game works. The match I watched was “Twenty20” cricket which is basically the sport’s attempt to modernize and create a three-hour-televiseable show.

    By the end of the match I was into it. Part baseball, part home run derby, part something else entirely. I could see it catching on as the next cool international sport to watch in the US as soccer goes mainstream.

  5. @6, I have suspected from day one that Tony Clark, ballplayer-not-lawyer, is in over his head. Still gathering data, but nothing about this scene makes me think that hypothesis is wrong.

  6. Boy, this arbiter…

    From CBSSports: “[Horowitz] found that MLB’s payments to Anthony Bosch were justified as reimbursements for legal fees and for security as Bosch feared for his personal safety.”

  7. Remember almost eight years ago saying I didn’t want Fraudriguez on the Braves, when so many here were drooling over the idea of him being a Brave, and getting reprimanded by Stu and others, asking “how’s he a fraud”?

    Feeling pretty vindicated now: A-Rod is now officially A-Fraud.

  8. I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from seeing someone on bravesjournal refer to A-Rod as A-Fraud.

  9. @11, if I’m reading that thread correctly you were making the case that Dontrelle Willis would be a better trade acquisition than Alex Rodriguez. Since that thread to date, Dontrelle was worth -1 WAR and A-Rod was worth 31. So your copy of Gray’s Sports Almanac may still have been defective.

    If you’re just feeling vindicated that you found a hook to hang a sports talk radio nickname on the guy after all these years, well, the 2003 Braves and their collection of aging and/or tiny power hitters would like to let you in on their little secret too.

  10. @14 Let’s see…




    So who ya got?

  11. Of note: Smoltzie’s ERA+ that year was better than stupid Cy Gagne’s: 385 to 337. Does the stat break down once you’re that far beyond it?

  12. the things you learn, you’d never guess
    delivery under duress
    do not go with the flow
    a moment’s wait or so
    and end before you make a mess.

    alternatively just confess.

  13. a tester in search of a sample
    requires that you set an example
    the beginning, the ends
    as your data expends
    evidence we would deem ample.

  14. Marcus Giles had to have been on something. He fell off the face of the earth when they started testing.

    And Javy all but admitted using them.

  15. Giles fell off the earth when he got kicked in the head multiple times, which also corresponds to testing. I don’t think you can say definitively that one or the other is the true cause. I do think you say with some reasonable certainty that Giles, and his brother, were both well known “gym rats” in that era, both were stacked physiques, and both crashed pretty hard after testing was implemented across the league. In addition, their home town of San Diego was a known font of access to PEDs in the era.

    Johnny Estrada was a ripped individual on that team as well. Gary Sheffield was on the Mitchell report. There’s little doubt that Javy Lopez’s “dedication in the weight room” before his walk year was chemically aided. And lest we be accused of being blinded by fandom, Chipper Jones went from workhorse who never missed a start to breaking down with nagging injuries at *precisely* the point in time where testing kicked in and “little helpers” like amps and injury restoring PEDs were made more difficult to acquire.

  16. @24
    It is that kind of speculation that will keep Chipper off of some 1st ballots, and that’s stupid and sad. He was 32 when he started breaking down which is NORMAL!

  17. @5, Rob, here’s why I’m troubled by all of this.

    First of all, MLB has never gone into their rationale for why they picked 211 games as the punishment for Rodriguez, and it seems pretty likely that they just chose a really high number assuming that the arbitrator would knock some games off of it.

    That is problematic because Major League Baseball and the Players Association negotiated a very specific punishment schedule for usage of banned substances, 50-100-lifetime, and to all appearances, MLB seems to have simply ignored that when it came to Rodriguez (and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Braun).

    Major League Baseball is basically testing the proposition that it can get away with discretionary punishments when it feels like it, and using Alex Rodriguez as a test balloon and now a firm precedent. From now on, if MLB wants to punish someone, odds are that they will press their luck and see if they can — and there’s always someone who’s a thorn in MLB’s side, whether it’s Pete Rose or Leo Durocher (association with gamblers) or Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez (drugs) or Andruw Jones (both of them, count it). The history of the Black Sox case shows that commissioners prefer the ability to punish players as they see fit, if they can get away with it. That’s a really good way to wind up with scapegoating, overpunishment, and miscarriages of justice.

    MLB could not have picked a better target than Alex Rodriguez: he doesn’t have any advocates in the game, and he’s guilty as sin. But this is a very dangerous precedent. You really don’t want Major League Baseball and future commissioners to get the idea that they can do whatever they want to players they don’t like.

    And, yes, it is possible that Tony Clark is in over his head. In other leagues, the Players Associations have generally not been well-run when they’ve been headed by former players, like Derek Fisher. Tony may be a very smart guy and there’s no doubt he has the respect of a lot of his colleagues, but I doubt he’ll be as good at his job as Michael Weiner was.

  18. @24

    From 1996-2003, Chipper Jones played more than 150 games every season, maxing out at 160 in 1998 and bottoming out at 153 in 2003. That’s exceptionally healthy. From 2004 on, he maxed out at 143 games played in 2009, and if you sort his seasons by number of games played during that period, they hit about every meaningful range down from that 143 to his low of 95 games in 2010.

    So, yes, he seems to have been significantly less durable after PED-testing began.

    However, 1998, 1999, 2007, and 2008 were clearly the four best seasons of his career–and he was playing better on a per-game basis as a 35-36 year old than a 26-27 year old.

    It’s worth noting in the case of Chipper Jones that 2003 was his age-31 season, which means the lines are blurred in this case by the fact that his aging and the MLB PED-testing protocol are more or less simultaneous.

    So is there anything in that to say he was using? Is there anything in that to say he wasn’t?

  19. There’s nothing either way. He started to break down in his 30s, which is when a lot of players break down. (Look at George Brett’s games played by year.) A lot of players used PEDs in the ’90s and ’00s, and there were a lot of reasons to do so. There’s no way to prove it or disprove it just by looking at his numbers.

  20. I’m not saying Chipper was using. I don’t care. I find no problem whatsoever with “PEDs” in baseball. Professional athletes train hard for millions of dollars. They’re born to compete and compete and compete. The idea that they would not take every advantage they could to get better is absurd.

    Hank Aaron and Willie Mays used amps because they thought it helped them concentrate and play better. This isn’t something new.

    I’m saying that people coming in and dropping “A-Fraud” as if it this is talk radio on AM-750 The Fan should think before they speak. MLB had plenty of users before ARod. Many of them contributed to the Braves’ winning streak.

  21. @26, point of order: the NBPA has always had a player president (Fisher from 2006-13, now Chris Paul) and a lawyer executive director (Billy Hunter from 1996-2013, now an interim guy because Billy Hunter was a problem himself.)

    The only real precedent for Tony Clark is Gene Upshaw, who made the transition from player to NFLPA executive director and held that title for a couple decades until about five years ago. Every other executive director in a major sports union has been a lawyer of some sort. It should be noted that NFL players have the worst contracts and hardest salary cap in all of our major leagues.

  22. Alex, the *arbiter’s* decision on games seems to come down to:

    1. He believed everything Bosch said.
    2. He ruled that ARod used three distinct supplements as PEDs.
    3. He ruled that each individual PED was a positive “first test”* and thus 50 games.
    4. 50 games X 3 drugs = 150 game suspension
    5. Plus 12 to get to 162/full season, for “obstruction” of the investigation

    Now he’s making shit up out of whole cloth there, especially the “each drug is a separate first test failure” logic. There’s nothing in the JDA that suggests that should be the case.* He’s just spit balling and throwing out numbers at random. And the extra games for obstruction is new and made up out of thin air too.**

    *if you’re going to stack ‘tests’ for each drug Bosch was supplying ARod, it would be far more rational, logical, in line with the language of the JDA, and in line with previous cases (Manny Ramirez) to treat them as first, second and third tests, and thus give ARod a lifetime ban.

    **the “obstruction” games is odd, in that they didn’t tack on any extra “obstruction” penalty for Melky Cabrerra when he attempted to set up a fake website to justify his last positive test

  23. @31, thanks — I stand corrected.

    @32, I haven’t read the arbiter’s decision, because I just… really, really don’t want to. I saw the topline highlights that 50+50+50+12 = 162. Nowhere have I read how MLB came up with 211, and it’s quite possible that they just picked it because it’s a really big number.

    Because I haven’t read the arbiter’s decision, I don’t have a good sense of whether his reasoning was laughable or reasonable or whether the MLBPA should throw up their hands and fire the guy. It’s very possible that you’re right. In all events, it’s clear that he gave MLB what they wanted. I’m sure they’re very happy with him.

  24. A-Rod is a fraud. His numbers aren’t real & he lies at every turn. What’s not to understand?

    The fact that others have done the same thing doesn’t mean Alex Rodriguez isn’t completely full of shit.

  25. I’m fairly certain 211 games was the number of games remaining in the season at the time of his original suspension, plus a full season of 162 games.

  26. It’s obvious that the number of games is completely made up to coincide with the end of the season, just like the guys who got bopped last year. Even more arbitrarily, he’s also banned from the post season. This was likely a correction relevant to the guys whose “until next year” suspensions ended before the post season, allowing them to return.

    It’s a giant Charlie Foxtrot and I hate it.

  27. In reality, MLB probably should’ve just handed him a lifetime ban and then let it go through the system. If it hadn’t been upheld, then it would’ve been the arbiter making the judgment on whatever seemingly random number to knock the suspension down to, which is his job, and it all would’ve worked better. MLB could’ve pointed to the three specific drug offenses equaling the lifetime ban based on the JDA (and yes, I know a lot of you think it’s only one offense, but at least the number wouldn’t have come out of thin air), and it would’ve been up to the arbiter to decide. But Selig didn’t want the top of everybody’s head to pop off when they announced the lifetime ban, so now everybody’s caught up on the fact that he suspended A-Rod for a seemingly random number of games.

  28. @34,


    What do you mean his numbers aren’t real? He actually compiled those numbers, right? Are you saying that PEDs are so powerful that they explain all of A-Rod’s ability? That seems to be a rather strong statement. If you want to say they helped him, that’s more defensible but we really have no idea how much. At the very least, I don’t buy that PEDs “made” Alex Rodriquez. His numbers are real. I could take steroids until my head was larger than the Grand Canyon and I wouldn’t be able to hit like A-Rod.

    I think A-Rod has a lot of issues and, probably, some pretty unsavory stuff but being full of shit is not a criminal offense or, I assume, an offense under the CBA.

  29. Arod is an asshat. Arod is an all time great baseball talent. The idea that his accomplishments aren’t “real” is absurd.

  30. I would say that, at the very least, both his accomplishments and his self-absorption are very real when compared to others in his era.

  31. Sorry Sam, but you can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again. A-Rod’s not going to play for the New York Yankees in 2014, not going to be loved or accepted by the fans, not going to break Bonds’ home run record, nor will he get into the Hall of Fame. It’s over.

  32. I’m not an ARod fan, but something about everyone piling on him makes me want to pull for him. I’ve got to say that I don’t know if MLB’s case would stand up in a court of law, and for that reason, I think the 162 game suspension is excessive. I would like to see him back as soon as possible unless mlb presents a stronger case.

  33. I’m not ready to stop watching Alex Rodriguez play baseball.

    Like many folks, I’m sick of hearing about his life off the field and the questionable things he’s done.
    That said, I have a few unanswered questions about him:

    Can he still play? Does he still want to play? Or is he like most competitive people, wanting to go out on his own terms?

    Will MLB let him play? There’s no lifetime suspension. No placing his name on the Ineligible List, preventing him from being voted on at the HOF.

    MLB is a business and if they remain convinced that he won’t cost them money or good name, I can see no compelling reason to shun him.

    If you want back on the ballfield, Alex, you better try something else and soon. Even you can’t beat the clock.

    Americans love second acts, especially athletes.
    Don’t count A-Rod gone yet!

    Go Braves!

  34. Perhaps reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit, Dan, but to be clear, I haven’t suggested any of those things were likely to happen. I’ve pointed out that in the battle between ARod and MLB, ARod is the lesser of two evils. I’ve pointed out the fact that MLB’s actions in this case are irrational, petty, vindictive and primarily concerned with establishing Bud Selig’s “legacy” more than effectively managing either the game or “PEDs.” I’ve pointed out the fact that most anti-ARod sentiment (here especially) boils down to fanboy stupidity and petty talk radio uber-stupidity.

    There’s no rational validation for MLB’s actions in this case. As mentioned earlier, if they had simply said “he violated the JDA three times, and that’s a life time ban” then *that* would have at least had some rational to it. But going for “211 games, because Bud pooped 2.11 milligrams of poop this morning” instead pretty much drowned the baby in the bathwater.

    I don’t care anything about Alex Rodriguez. I do care about the game of baseball, and I care that MLB is being run like a fascist state.

  35. @46

    Interesting question on Mike and Mike: would you trade places with A-Rod, taking not only his money but his reputation as well?

  36. That is interesting.

    You can always rebuild your image. You can’t always make a gabillion dollars.

  37. @46,

    I don’t think I would trade places with any public figure because it sucks these days to be in the public eye. (Plus, with baseball players, that might involve a significant dumbing down of intellect.) But, yes, I would take his money and live with the reputation. Who cares about his reputation? He isn’t a serial killer. People aren’t going to be running the other way when they see him.

  38. An important thing to remember regarding the Hall of Fame: if Alex retired tomorrow, he would become eligible for the Hall in 2018, and his last year of eligibility would be 2033. That’s a lot of time. The sense of betrayal that the Yankees have carefully tried to nurture — my goodness, how could this monster do this to us? — will likely have dissipated by then, to some extent.

  39. I think it’s likewise silly to suggest that PEDs merely “help” guys like ARod. I guess they merely helped Marcus Giles and Javy Lopez, too. How do we determine their impact on ARod’s numbers? Can he be compared with the other players in his era? Is that even fair anymore?

    I think there’s a great big ugly stain on the sport when three of its greatest players of all time (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and of course ARod) are also known as the three biggest cheaters in sports history. There’s no separating these names from lying and PED use. Were they pretty much HOF bound before PEDs? Probably. Would they have gone on to have the greatest seasons in history? Doubtful. That’s what PEDs did to the game.

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