Explaining cricket to a new chum

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WHEN IT COMES to telling the difference between a wicked wicket and a perfect pitch, we have to turn to our resident adviser on cricket vernacular, LAWRENCE MONEY:

The late great Max Walker once remarked during a Test match: “You can’t take wickets if you haven’t got the ball in your hand.” It would be splitting hairs to point out that a wicket cannot technically be taken until the ball raps a pad or hits the stumps or is caught off the bat – which would mean that the ball is no longer in hand.

Again, churlish to point out this unstated proviso. Of more importance is the precise definition of “wicket”, a tricky concept which I have occasionally been obliged to tackle on behalf of new chums to the game.

Most recently, a freshly-arrived American gentleman queried me on this very matter. “Laaa-rens,” he drawled, linguistically enhanced by his Texan genes, “I don’t kwart geddit abart the word ‘wicket’. Is that the gra-a-a-ss they play orn or is’t the three stermps?”

Ball in hand but not for long. Artwork Gordon Napier
Ball in hand but not for long. Artwork Gordon Napier

The answer is simple, I told him. The wicket on which cricket is played is alternatively called “the pitch”.  This is an area of flattened grass that is one chain long. That’s 22 yards or 20.12 metres.

“A chain?” asked the Texan.

It’s an ancient measurement which equates to 22 old-fashioned yards. But here’s an important detail, Tex. This wicket is also called the pitch. It should be distinguished from the pitch or delivery of the ball.”

Texan: “Huh?”

To explain. At either end of the wicket or pitch there is a different type of wicket. This consists of three stumps – or stermps, as you call them – which the bowler tries to hit by pitching the ball correctly on the wicket or pitch.

Texan: “Ra-a-art.”

When the wicket, or pitch, is fast the batsman has less time to detect the pitch or delivery of the ball and is at more risk of losing his wicket or stumps. If a bowler does pitch, or deliver, the ball correctly on to the wicket or pitch, and hits the wicket at the end of the wicket or pitch, he is said to have taken a wicket.”

Texan: “Huh?”

That wicket is the batsman who then leaves the wicket or crease to return to the dressing-room. Then a new batsman comes to the wicket or crease, to try to run up and down the wicket or pitch as many times as possible before he is deceived by the pitch or delivery of the ball on the wicket or pitch and loses his wicket or stumps and must leave the wicket or crease. It really is that simple. Any questions?

Texan: “Yeah, do they sell hayamburgers here at the Gee, La-a-rens?

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Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.

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