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Cousins but not brothers: Understanding the stark differences between baseball and cricket

A cricket ball. (Ed g2s, Wikimedia Commons)
Roar Pro
9th March, 2017
14

With baseball season ramping up for an April 1st regular season start and all forms of cricket wrapped up or winding down, now is a good opportunity to really take a look at what makes these bat sports unique to each other.

This way, more people can enjoy these seemingly similar sports for what they are, rather than what they are not.

On the surface, both seem similar enough. Bowler/pitcher throws ball, batter hits ball, runs are scored, someone may be called out.

Though there are these overlaps, they are as skin deep as saying that contact football codes all have an oval ball, people get hit, and points are scored by a mechanism of one side advancing the ball to the other side of the field and kicking it.

Clearly, this is a gross oversimplification that leaves out the details and, as such, it is hard to imagine a person distilling AFL, Rugby Union, Rugby League, NFL, NCAAFB, CFL, et cetera down to a level where they are indistinguishable from one another.

However, many people tend to do so with the bat codes or simply just ignore the other while calling it boring, all without much understanding or explanation.

There are key fundamental differences between baseball and the three major styles of cricket.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, Anglo/European origin sports traditionally focus on the offensive strategy of “defensive attrition” whereas American ones predominantly focus on a rule base of “use it or lose it ultimatum.”

Distilled into basic principles, Anglo/Euro sports do not require the team with the ability to score to advance the ball or do so within a limited amount of time or event restrictions. American sports do.

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Keep this in mind, as we will come back to this later.

Test cricket is by far the most defensive when it comes to batting, and the very nature of the game promotes this sort of play – unlimited balls, no strikes, no requirement to run once the ball is hit, and such a severe penalty when getting out. As such, the value of a run is insignificantly low whereas that of an out is incredibly high.

Baseball supporters traditionally consider Test cricket to be slow and dull, a belief most likely predicated on a faulty assumption that they know about cricket to begin with, let alone the different forms of the game.

To someone who watches baseball, it is foreign because the game is the opposite when it comes to the economic value of runs and outs.

In baseball, a run is of extremely high value while outs are simply common. This is because the “use it or lose it” ultimatum rules over the sport.

Unlike cricket, when the ball is hit into play, the batter must run. If a runner is one base “ahead” of another advancing player, he too must advance or be tagged out, no sharing a base is allowed.

There are also a limited number of pitches that will cross the plate. Though it is not defined, the average number of pitches a batter receives is between 3.6-3.98.

That might as well be nothing next to any type of cricket. Combined with the previous requirement of running in order to avoid being tagged out, the chances of a successful hit and staying on base is poor, and this encourages batters to hit hard on each swing.

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The result is a mentality of “if the odds are that bad, I may as well go balls-out and try for a big hit each time.”

But there is more to baseball that creates this mindset. Even if the batter gets out, he can actually get back up to bat in the same inning.

As long the team does not accrue three outs, they will continue to be at bat. This is very unlike cricket where, for all intents and purposes, you are not coming back to hit in that inning.

On a side note, in baseball the word “innings” is only used as a plural; for example, “Smith his a home run in the first inning but was tagged out in all of the later innings.”

Back to the point, even the best batters in baseball only get on base around a third of the time.

Because each base has no run value, players can consistently make it to first, second, and third but not have any points to show for their efforts if three outs occur prior to someone making it home.

Clearly the one-day format of cricket “sped up” the game but only from a Test viewer’s point of view. No baseball watcher would consider an ODI to be a “fast” game.

But, this does not explain why a cricket supporter would consider baseball to be a slow game.

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The issue in this case is that we all have different definitions for what fast and slow are, and not just in the relative sense.

Baseball supporters consider the game faster than Test and one-day cricket for a few reasons.

A baseball fan looks at the speed of the swing, the turnover of batters, and the overall length of a game, which is usually around two and a half hours.

Cricket supporters define speed differently and usually focus more on the frequency of the run score changing and, more recently, the overall length of the game.

On one hand, this does lend a greater sense of speed but one could argue that the frequency is almost like watching a trickling water meter – fast enough to see the dials spin but slow enough not to justify calling the company to stop the leak.

Focusing on the turnover of batsmen has never been a focal point and, even in Twenty20, is minimal when compared to baseball.

With that said, Twenty20 is cricket’s direct product of imitating baseball. No, strikes could not be added to speed up the game but limiting balls already has solid standing with the one-day matches.

It is no coincidence that the number is 120 balls. This correlates very strongly to the average number of pitches in a baseball game. In recent years, the average has gone up to 146 due to relief and closing pitchers becoming even more prevalent, but the difference is nominal.

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Twenty20 is a game packaged into two-and-a-half to three hours like baseball. It is played in evenings and is friendly to peoples’ work and school schedules like modern baseball.

Without getting into the history of how each of these sports began and why this impacts the way each game turned out, it is more important for those interested in enjoying each game for what they are instead of what they are not in comparison to the other.

As a supporter of all of the above, those who are interested in branching out should take the time to read up a little on these not so subtle yet not obvious differences to get the best enjoyment.

With that said, this is the lesson I will be teaching my newborn son who has entered the world today. I hope this article will also act as a small guide on his way in life while embracing your American and Australian roots.

“Play ball!!”