A Worldly Pitch

A $60 million park may bring Broward into the bigs of the world's second most popular sport

With a proper venue on the way, the City of Lauderhill, which among its 60,000 residents counts more than 10,000 (mostly Jamaican) Caribbean immigrants, has applied to host games in the 2007 Cricket World Cup. Lauderhill was the only city in the United States to apply, and on July 4, it and 11 countries will learn whether they're among the eight host sites.

By summer, Broward may be the de facto cricket capital of the country. Your tax dollars are paying for the park where players will compete, so you may care to know why guys like Jarvis and Miller and Bascus are so infatuated with the travails of a little red ball.

Players from Guyana pray at the midmatch break (above). Robert Bascus (far right) grew up playing backyard cricket in his Antiguan village and later competed on a high-level Virgin Islands squad.
Colby Katz
Players from Guyana pray at the midmatch break (above). Robert Bascus (far right) grew up playing backyard cricket in his Antiguan village and later competed on a high-level Virgin Islands squad.

A moment, briefly, to explain this game. It's not all coconut and Heineken. Or at least, it wasn't 500 years ago, when shepherds in the British Isles took swipes at rocks with their crooks (thus, perhaps, the suggestion to "crook it" became "cricket"). It had formal rules by 1700, and within a century, British soldiers had exported the game on their errands of world domination. Eventually, the peoples in colonized lands such as Jamaica, South Africa, and Australia shed the Brits but kept much of the language and many of the customs. Soccer spread this way, like a hands-free pox, and became the world's favorite sport.

Cricket, according to everyone who plays it, ranks just behind soccer in worldwide popularity. Yet chances are, if you're reading this in the United States, you have never seen the world's second-most-watched sport.

So picture baseball, which is how Americans condensed the acreage and time needed to play cricket. (Yeah, you heard right: Baseball improved efficiency.) In the center of an oval big enough to contain two football fields is a 22-yard strip of clay called the pitch, with batters at both ends who protect their wickets. A bowler runs perhaps 12 to 20 steps up to one end of the pitch and bounces a hard, baseball-sized leather ball at the batter.

Fast bowlers, like Jarvis, charge the pitch like a running back before fireballing that red meteorite at his opponents' ankles. Spin bowlers, like Boswell Jeffers of Lauderhill, pepper-step up and lob a dizzy squirrel at the clay in an effort to confuse the batter on the bounce. Picture a wind-up in which you don't know where the pitcher will wind up.

The batsman, though, has defenses. He wears puffy shinguards, a helmet, huge gloves. He wields, vertically, a broad club seemingly born of a tryst between a baseball bat and an oar. He takes a swing like a two-armed tennis forehand. He hits the ball anywhere in the oval, and when he does, he and the other batter have the option to waddle-sprint straight ahead to the other's wicket for a single run. Make a wicket-to-wicket round trip, that's two runs. Hit a ball to the fence (or right up to the ficus tree, where a guy with a beer will toss the ball back into play), that's four runs; over the fence (and into the yard across the street), that's six. He may bat until he's out -- that is, until he allows the opposing bowler to strike his wicket or one of the fielders catches his hit or throws the ball into his wicket while he runs. Once he's out, he's out for good, and if he's scored as many as 50 runs, it has been a fine outing.

Instead of trading offense and defense each inning, cricketers bat in gaudy lumps. The game is arranged by "overs," which consist of six pitches. On this day in Opa-locka, Barbados will bat through 40 overs, accumulating what's turning out to be too many runs for comfort, and then turn the match over to the Leeward team, which will have 40 overs to tie or surpass that total. A weekend cricket match, such as those rollicking in a neighborhood near you this Sunday, may last six hours or more. A sanctioned international match (called a test match) may see 500 combined runs across five or six days, with breaks throughout for lunch and honest-to-goodness tea. Thank you kindly, British Empire.

Test matches are kinetic events for which families loiter for eight hours at a stretch, sometimes preparing meals in the stadium. Dozens of players! Hundreds of runs! Thousands of intricate strategic moves!

Five. Freakin'. Days.

"You've got a sport in which you play a game for five days and you may have a draw," says Gladstone Dainty, aptly named president of the sport's sanctioning body in this country, the United States of America Cricket Association. "Americans will never have that much time. Wars finish faster than five days." Still, nationwide, USACA boasts about 700 registered cricket teams.

Other countries are far more enthralled. The Indian cricket team's tour of Pakistan this month -- the first in more than 14 years -- is being hailed as a step toward political reconciliation in the battle of the nuclear powers. Cricket reigns in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and throughout the British-settled Caribbean. Haiti and Cuba aren't hot cricket spots -- but lo, Antigua, Barbados, St. Kitts, Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent, Trinidad, Guyana, and Jamaica love the stuff.

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