Thursday, May 13, 2010

Middlesex v Derbyshire- Day 2 - LV= County Cricket Division 2 at Lord's

With the EPL season ending last Sunday, the London sports scene has turned quiet. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of working next to an Australian and Englishman a few years ago. They spent most of the day insulting each other's soccer, rugby, and cricket teams. I knew about soccer and rugby, but the cricket terminology was new to me and I felt left out, so I studied the game and gradually learned the lingo. During the 2006-07 Ashes series we had an on-line subscription to the series in the office so we spent the days watching live cricket. I also spent a couple of days in Melbourne at the Boxing Day Test. Even though Australia won handily, it was a lot of fun following along and I became a fan. It's really not a difficult game to learn and once appreciated, can be quite fascinating.

Rules of Cricket

I'm not going to go into a full explanation of the game of cricket here. Like any sport, it takes watching a few games to understand the rules completely. But I will give a brief overview so the rest of the post makes some sense.

There are three versions of cricket: test matches, which take place over multiple days, one-day matches, which are limited to 50 overs per side, and 20/20 matches, which are just 20 overs per side and take about 3 hours. I will talk about test cricket which is the original form and the most interesting.

The game is similar to baseball in a few ways: there are innings and umpires, somebody throws a ball, somebody tries to hit it with a bat, and runs are the object of the game while avoiding outs. That's where the similarities end.

In cricket, there are only 2 innings for each team. The innings (the plural is used) refers only to the team who is batting. Each innings consists of 10 outs. There are 11 players per team and two batters at any time (below), hence 10 outs is the limit. Once a batter is out, he must return to the clubhouse to wait for his team to field.

Meanwhile, the team in the field bowls the ball and the batter tries to strike it, hitting it where the fielders ain't. And the fielders ain't in very many places: the field is 3 times as large as a baseball diamond and there's no foul balls. The batter can hit it anywhere he wants. If he doesn't feel he can score a run safely, he just doesn't run. So outs are not that common.

To understand the cricket field, picture a baseball stadium with no infield seating, just outfield seats all around. In the middle of this large oval is the cricket pitch, a small strip of short grass where all the action takes place. At each end of the pitch are 3 stumps of wood which hold two smaller wooden crosspieces known as the bails. These are the wickets. The batter stands at one end of the pitch in front of the wicket while the bowler runs towards him from the other end. When he reaches the pitch, he uses a complete overarm motion to bowl the ball, bouncing it on the ground before it reaches the batter. The batter then swings and runs if the ball is safely away from the fielders. The other (off-strike) batter must also run and whenever they reach the other end of the pitch, a run is scored. They may run back and forth as long as possible on a batted ball, although 1 or 2 runs are the most common result. Should the ball roll to the boundary, 4 runs are given, and should the ball clear the boundary without a bounce (like a home run), 6 runs are given. In the picture below, a fielder runs to get the ball while the batsmen are running in the background.

Batters can be out in four main ways. The first is to bat a ball that is caught before it hits the ground (just like baseball). The second is to have the bails knocked off the stumps while running between the wickets - this is called being run out. Finally, the batter may miss the ball and have it strike the wicket - in that case he has been bowled out. If the batter blocks the ball from striking the wicket, the umpire may also call him out on an lbw (leg before wicket). There are other ways of getting out, but they are much rarer. When an out is made, the term wicket is applied. A typical cricket score might be 180-6 which means 180 runs with 6 wickets taken (6 batters out and 4 outs to go).

You might have noticed the word "over" up above when describing the other forms of cricket. An over is simply when 6 balls have been bowled. After each over, the bowler changes and the bowling takes place from the other end of the pitch. In test cricket, there are no limits on the number of overs a team may bat, but there are limits on the number of overs per day (96 in county cricket). The other forms have limited overs to get a result more quickly.

A day of Test cricket has 3 sessions of around 2 hours each. The first two sessions are split by a 40-minute lunch while the last session begins after a 20-minute tea break.

The winner of the Test match is the team with the most runs after each team has batted twice. A Test match is scheduled for a certain number of days, and if one team is still batting at the close of play on the final day (i.e. has not lost 10 wickets in their 2nd innings) then the result is a draw.

See? Simple!

County Cricket

Ancient England was divided into counties and it is these historic divisions that still apply in county cricket. There are three competitions that are contested by 18 first-class teams. The important one is the County Championship in which 4-day test matches are played. In this competition, the 18 teams are divided into two divisions. Each team plays a home-and-away round robin for 16 total tests. The bottom two teams in division 1 are relegated and replaced by the top two teams in division 2. The point system is unique: 16 points for a win; 8 for a tie; 3 for a draw, and 0 for a loss. There are also bonus points for scoring runs and taking wickets, but only in the first innings. You might have noticed that a tie and a draw are different; a tie is when both teams score the same number of runs and are all out while a draw is when play ends and the batting team still has wickets.

The match I watched was a Division 2 encounter with Middlesex, the county that originally included the City of London, hosting Derbyshire, located in the East Midlands. Middlesex lost their first 4 matches this season, giving them their worst start in 140 years. Last week they defeated first-place Sussex to move out of last place. Their big name is Andrew Strauss, the English Test captain. That's him on the left below, walking to the nursery for some practice with Daniel Evans.

Derbyshire were lying second in the table with 2 wins and a draw. Their star may be Robin Peterson, who is famous for giving up a record 28 runs to Brian Lara in a Test match over.

Lord's Cricket Ground

Last week I wrote that Craven Cottage was old. As the British might say, "Pshaw"! Lord's Cricket Ground was first established in 1787 and the current ground has been in use since 1814. It may be the oldest sporting venue still in use. It is owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club and the home ground of Middlesex.

It is located near St. John's Wood tube station on the Jubilee line. For those of you with a musical bent, Abbey Road Studios is nearby and you can see the iconic crosswalk that featured on the cover of the Beatles' final album.

The field is surrounded by several stands. None of these are particularly special, but there are two buildings that you will notice. The first is the pavilion (shown above), where the members are allowed to sit. It was built in 1889 and contains the changing rooms as well as dining facilities for the members. Directly opposite is the media center (below), built in 1999 and resembling a spaceship. It is quite the contrast between these two buildings and illustrates just how much architecture has changed in a century.

The rest of the stands have two levels - most were constructed in the late 1900's as the entire ground underwent a large-scale renovation. Below is the Warner Stand which is in the northwest corner of the ground.

The Warner Stand

The most interesting feature of Lord's is the slope of the field. From one corner to the other the vertical difference is a remarkable 8 feet! It is quite noticeable from ground level and affects the bowling as a bounced ball behaves differently depending on which direction the bowler is running.

The stadium holds 30,000 fans but on this day there were only 300, so I tried sitting in a variety of different locations. With the pitch in the middle of the field, there is no one section that is really close to the action. I preferred the Tavern Stand which is down low and let's you talk to the fielders when they are playing near the boundary.

However, many fans chose the Edrich Stand next to the Media Center which gives a better view of the movement of the balls. The view from here is below.

There's a museum on site which I'll talk about in another post. There's also plenty of other buildings, restaurants, offices, etc. Lord's is more than just a sporting venue, it's the home of cricket and it acts as such.

For this match though, much of it was closed. There were a couple of food stands open and as usual I had a pie which I'd recommend. But it would be much better to see a match there when the ground is filled with people.

There's much more I could write, but this post is already too long, so suffice to say that visiting Lord's is something every sports fan should do. They give tours as well so if there's no match, drop by and sign up.

The Match

This was day 2 of a 4-day scheduled match. On day 1 Derbyshire had batted for the full day, scoring 190 runs for 9 wickets. It didn't take long for Middlesex to get the 10th wicket as Mark Footitt sliced a weak ball that was easily taken by Middlesex captain Shaun Udal. Footitt's weak effort is shown below.

Derbyshire finished at 196 and after a short interval in which the pitch was cleaned up, Middlesex began their batting. It started very slowly as first batter Scott Newman missed the first ball and it hit is pad. The Derbyshire fielders immediately asked the umpire for lbw and it was awarded. Newman was out without scoring a run on the first ball. This is known as a Golden Duck and is the most humiliating event in the game. Newman slowly trudged off the field as his day was over.

The next two batters, Strauss and Owais Shah, notched a few runs but were still out relatively quickly as Middlesex slumped to 3-56. But this brought Neil Dexter to the crease (up to bat) and he started to turn things around. First, Dexter and Dawid Malan combined for a partnership of 49 before Malan was caught out on a Footitt delivery. Footitt soon got John Simpson lbw and Middlesex were 126-5. Gareth Berg joined Dexter at bat and that is when things got going. Dexter first made his 50 (an innings of 50 runs for a batter is known as a half-century or half-ton) and saluted the small crowd. Gradually the two batsmen built a solid partnership of 100 to give Middlesex the lead. But they didn't stop there. Derbyshire couldn't find a proper bowling line and both Dexter and Berg became more aggressive. Berg notched his own 50 and the partnership totalled 150, giving Middlesex 276-5. A few minutes later Dexter had achieved his century which was noted on the scoreboard below.

Shortly thereafter Berg did the same to make it 300 runs. It was Berg's maiden first-class century and an impressive one as it was accomplished in exactly 100 balls. They added 28 more runs before Dexter popped up and was easily caught out. Still, the partnership totalled 202 runs and essentially won the game for Middlesex.

Berg got the century on this ball...and the overall score below

What was fascinating was how Dexter and Berg slowly built up the scores. Berg was extremely aggressive, knocking a four and 2 sixes in 3 consecutive balls to mark the turning point of the match. It was extremely cold and I was planning to leave but kept watching to see the milestones hit - first Berg's 50, then Dexter's ton, then Berg's, then the 200 partnership. The two of them batted for over 2.5 hours, which is the length of a fast-paced baseball game.

There were many other things that happened during the day's play, including Derbyshire's John Sadler (pictured below standing next to the boundary) chatting with me and other fans. He didn't say much other than to comment on the chilly weather but it was interesting nonetheless. I spent 7 hours watching the match and saw only 7 wickets, so batting was the order of the day. Still, it was well worth the trip to see such a historic venue and I hope to return for a match in better weather.

For a properly written account of the day's play, check out CricInfo's report.


It rained lightly after the day's play was called and I guess the wicket was affected as Wednesday's play saw 14 wickets taken. Middlesex was all out for 374 and then Derbyshire was quickly put down for a feeble reply of 143. Middlesex therefore won by an innings and 35 runs, as they did not have to bat a second time. This is a blowout in cricket and means that day 4 wasn't required.

The 20/20 World Cup is taking place right now in the West Indies. England thrashed Sri Lanka on Thursday to make it to the final against either Australia or Pakistan who play Friday. I prefer the Test version as the wickets are more meaningful, but I think that this shorter version of the game might appeal to North American sports fans. A match takes just over 3 hours and is high-scoring. The main problem would be finding cities that could create reasonable cricket grounds. The Rogers Centre was once used to hold a match between India and Pakistan, so maybe other baseball stadiums can be modified as well. Something to think about during the next MLB strike.

Next Up

I'd like to see Wembley but FA Cup tickets on the secondary market are far too expensive. However, the Blue Square Premier Conference Play-off Final is there on Sunday evening, so if it's not too cold, I might try to make that. Middlesex travel to the Brit Oval to take on bottom-feeders Surrey in County Championship action next week; I don't want to spend another freezing 7 hours but I might drop by for a couple of hours.

Then I'm flying back to LA on Wednesday and driving to Phoenix for the Jays series. The Suns are in the conference finals against the Lakers and game 3 has just been set for Sunday evening after the baseball game. So it looks to be a two-sports doubleheader that day! I can't wait for the sunshine.



1 comment:

  1. Hey Sean. Thanks for the post.

    It's funny. When I was trying to learn the game of cricket, I navigated towards the 20/20.

    It is hard to follow the game in the states because the tv stations don't show it.

    It looks like a game I would enjoy.