cricket crash course
What is cricket?
"Cricket would never do for Americans; it is too slow. It takes two and sometimes three days to complete a first-class cricket match; but two hours of baseball is quite sufficient to exhaust both play, players and spectators." -- Alfred G. Spalding, Hall of Famer pitcher and sporting good pioneer

• Cricket matches are long, but the prolonged duration is part of the drama. They are divided into two types, ODIs and test matches. ODI sounds like the name of Garfield's sidekick, but is an acronym for One Day Internationals. These matches are fast paced and last exactly as described. Test matches are longer and tend to stretch three to five days. Times to start and end are decided ahead of time. Breaks are taken for tea and lunch. Sun or monsoon, weather doesn't affect the time schedule of matches.

• The cricket ball is like a baseball, but connected by thick glossed red leather on both ends like a hemispheric wrap. It feels much harder.

• Cricket is played on a circular field. The action takes place in a rectangular area in the middle called a pitch, which has a wicket at each end. The wicket resembles a devil's pitchfork and consists of three wooden stumps hammered into the ground with two crosspieces called bails connecting them.

"Disregard the fact that it's named after a bug. Cricket is like politics, you must have patience and a huge capacity for beverages ..." -- Joseph Marcell, Jeffrey the Butler from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

• A coin is flipped to decide who bats and fields. Cricket consists of 11 players on each side. Two batsmen always stand at opposite wickets like a tag-team duo. Pitchers are called bowlers. They stand at the other end and throw the ball on a bounce to the batsman. After a bowler throws six pitches (called an over), a new bowler comes in to pitch to the other batsman. Players like Tendulkar, who both bat and bowl, are called all-rounders.

• "Placement, not raw power is the most important thing...," Robert Lane Green wrote in "The oddly shaped bat and 360-degree field make for a huge variety of batting strategies. A dramatic smash may be good for four or six runs, but playing a ball off the edge of the bat, like a foul tip, can be just as effective."

• Cricket batters maintain a variety of swinging techniques, from drives to backsweeps to hooks. Footwork is pivotal. The entire field is at the batsman disposal. To score a run, batters must run safely from one wicket to the other.

If the ball is hit past the outer boundary line on a bounce or rolls over, it's four runs. If a ball clears the boundary in the air, the batter is awarded a six, equivalent to a home run without the Sammy Sosa theatrical trot.

One-hundred runs is dubbed a century, a remarkable feat. The one major-leaguer most reminiscent of a cricket player is the brilliant yet elusive Ichiro, who has the acute ability to dig out a base hit anywhere on the field

• Statistical analysis in cricket would make the faintest of number crunchers blush. Bill James' "Baseball Abstract" would be a mere pamphlet compared to the amount of formulas cricket statisticians use to measure performance. Did you know that Courtney Walsh of the West Indies holds the record for ducks (0 runs) in a test series with 43 in 185 innings or that Kapil Dev had a 3.71 bowling economy rate in ODIs throughout his career?

"It's a brilliant game. It's like pool with a bigger table, ping-pong without a net, monopoly with bigger dice, Risk without a blue piece, poker with no face cards." -- Charles Fleischer, comedian

• "Bowlers" exhibit the other art of the game. They come in two types, fast pitchers and spinners. Unlike the "Kingpin" and "Big Lebowski" bowlers, cricket bowlers actually get a running start and use a windmill style to hurl the ball off the ground on a bounce.

Fast pitchers such as Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar can throw a missile off the ground at more than 100 mph. With their magical ability to dazzle the eye, spinners twist and contort balls in unbelievable variations.

Cricket features its own eccentric names for pitches from the googly, a deceptive leg spin that turns the other way from the off stump to the leg stump, to the beamer, its version of a beanball.

Fielders are placed at different locations and are dubbed gullies and slips. A wicket keeper is equivalent to a catcher. Jason Varitek has trouble handling Tim Wakefield's knuckleball, but it's even harder to imagine him handling a Muttiah Muralitharan doosra.

• When a batsman gets out, he "loses a wicket." Wickets occur in numerous ways, from a bowler's breaking the wooden wicket on a pitch, by a barehanded catch, on a run out, or by the infamous "lbw" (leg before wicket), an offsides call an umpire makes when the batsman steps in front of the ball interfering it from hitting a wicket.

Teams famously ask aloud "howzat" to question the umpire. However, no matter what the umpire's decision, players respect the call. During an inning of one the test matches, Sachin Tendulkar was declared out when the umpire mistakenly thought he saw the ball hit the wicket. On the replays, the ball clearly missed the stumps. Instead of a Lou Piniella-type argument, Tendulkar simply abided by the decision and walked away. No kicking dirt, no exchange of insults.

• Baseball purists pontificate about the beauty of the game -- the scent of freshly mowed grass, the crack of the bat. Cricket aficionados discourse on the complexities of the sport -- the angular nuances, the civility and sheer splendor of survival.

Nightwatchman: a poor batsman who comes in toward the latter part of the day to protect a better batsman for the next day's match.

Maiden over: an over in which no runs are scored.

Nelson: a score of 111, considered bad luck. Named after Admiral Lord Nelson, because he supposedly had one eye, one leg and one arm.

Cricket teams play in a World Cup every four years. Australia defeated India in 2003 for the championship. Ninety-two countries belong to the ICC, cricket's governing board.

Sir Donald Bradman: arguably the greatest cricket player of all time. Holds many records including a 99.94 average in test matches. It's like a .400 average in baseball.

Ashes Cup: cricket match between England and Australia played every two years. Named after a trophy, which resembles a wooden urn. The urn supposedly contains ashes of burnt bails from a match in 1882.

George Washington was a cricket enthusiast and his troops played a version of it during the Revolutionary War.

The United States has its own cricket team, which consists mostly of immigrants from Jamaica, Pakistan, and Trinidad.

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It was made of top-grade Kashmiri willow and endorsed by the holy deity of Indian cricket. My wife, Tejal, still refused to let me buy it. We were inside a sporting goods store in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, India.

During the past hour, I had gone berserk buying every piece of Indian cricket apparel available, from the standard sky-blue Sahara logo jersey to the classic white knitted sweater. My newfound obsession with cricket had reached the point of absurdity. Just a few days after our wedding, she had already begun to question her decision to marry me.

Tejal exhibited the virtues that Hindu goddesses tend to possess when it comes to their husband's whimsical fixations, indifference feigned by a pious smile of patience and molten rage masked by the visage of serene beauty.

When the shopkeeper handed it to me, I knew my incarnation into the next great Indian cricket star would soon be complete. The bat was an aerodynamic MRF-sponsored Genius model with a sleek swivel handle. More importantly, the Maestro of Mumbai, the Little Master himself, Sachin Tendulkar, used the same type. Though other stars such as Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag had dominated the historical tour vs. Pakistan so far, it was Tendulkar who remained the legendary Ruthian figure of Indian cricket.

My imaginary cricket moment began. I stepped in front of a wicket. My knees bent slightly, I shifted the weight to the back of my feet. Though the bat weighed three pounds, it felt light in my hands. The audience of three looked on in awe ... or possibly amusement.

Before I took a swing, my wife in her incarnation of the angry Kali, called a halt in the action. Her face turned the color of the sari she wore the day of our wedding. "Did you come here for our marriage," she asked, "or did you come here to play cricket?"

Unfazed, I tipped my hat and pointed my bat in her direction and simply said, "I am the next Sachin Tendulkar." She casually informed me that I was holding the bat in the wrong way.

So, I hadn't mastered the game, but in the 2½ weeks I'd been in India, cricket had struck me at the speed of a 100 mph Shoaib Akhtar fast pitch. (For the uninitiated American, just picture a Billy Wagner fastball.)

Virender Sehwag
Batsmen such as Virender Sehwag swing for placement, not power.

God Endorses Mobile Phones

The trip from Bristol, Conn., to Bombay took 35 hours. Because of delays and French temperaments in a layover in Paris, I was drained by the time I got to Shivaji International Airport. Tejal patiently waited for me as I exited the terminal. Before we even got to our car, we were struck by the first sign of cricket frenzy. On a huge billboard right outside the airport, "god" advertised mobile phones. Sachin Tendulkar encapsulates the typical adjectives demigods and avatars are given. He is bigger in his country than Jordan in the United States and larger than Beckham in England.

Tendulkar's marketing ability reaches past the cosmopolitan cities into even the most remote villages where his Airtel Mobile and Pepsi ads hang on paanwallah stands and roadside dhabas. Tendulkar holds multiple records in cricket. He is on a Bonds-like pace to demolish even more.

Though both my parents were born in India and my dad played cricket fervently in his youth, I did not inherit the sport as a dominant genetic trait during my childhood in New Jersey. Instead of tales of cricket legends such as Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, I was schooled on the stories of Clyde's Knicks, Tom Terrific's Mets, Broadway Joe's Jets and Park's Rangers.

When my dad came to America in the late '60s, it was Marv Albert who taught him how to speak English as he listened to Knicks games on the radio. Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden were part of my early childhood vocabulary. Football was my first love, hockey my crush, basketball my passion, and baseball my soul mate.

Cricket? Well, cricket remained a long distant cousin, who lived continents away. But now I returned to India to celebrate my wedding and, unfortunately for Tejal, to become a participant in the world's greatest sports rivalry. My humble apologies to Red Sox and Yankee loyalists, Manchester United and Arsenal hooligans, but the intense battle between India and Pakistan was on a nuclear level, and I don't mean that figuratively.

The British bestowed upon India the legacy of cricket, but it can, arguably, be blamed for the partitioning in 1947 of India that split the country into secular, but predominantly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan. The countries never recovered from the bitter breakup. They fought three official wars and continue to battle over Kashmir, the beautiful, but dangerous territory shared by both sides. And each possesses nuclear capability.

Political tension prevented their cricket teams from playing in each other's countries until last year when India visited Pakistan for the first time since 1989, the year the Kashmir conflict began. In 1999, Pakistan and India almost waged war again over Kashmir. But in a week, on the eve of our marriage, Pakistan would be making its first sojourn to India in six years for a monthlong tour.

The night of my arrival, Tejal and I spent the night apart, as is Indian custom. She stayed at her home, while I lodged at my uncle's house. I spent a jet-lagged, delirious slumber dreaming of my wedding as a highlight on SportsCenter featuring an inset box of Tejal analyzing her sari, a fact bar listing the number of wedding guests, and a replay of my horrible bhangra dancing.

Under the Big Top

The warm 6 a.m. Indian sunrise woke me from my somnambulist state. My uncle and aunt were bustling with wedding fervor. My cousins were afflicted with cricket fever.

"Trying to learn cricket in the chaos of India is like studying for the bar in the middle of a circus," Michael Y. Park once wrote in the New York Times.

And, I was under the big top searching for a Buddha to enlighten me about the intricacies of the game. Thus, the gurus came in the form of my two cousins. Mihir was younger, but taller than me. Siddarth was older, but shorter.

Before this, my knowledge of cricket was relegated to the childhood visits to India when uncles scolded me about my affinity for another bat and ball game. They tried teaching me to catch with my bare hands, but I preferred my mitt. Like Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, Tejal alerted me about the famous cricket names she knew, especially the ones she had crushes on as a little girl.

Over breakfast and chai, my matriculation from cricket novice to master would begin.

Because of his ability to swing the Kashmiri willow bat, Tendulkar has become larger than life.

Say It Ain't So, Jadeja

My cousins and I ended up conversing about cricket for several hours. It was nearly mid-morning when we heard a knock on the door. My bride-to-be had arrived. We had a wedding fitting I had forgotten about. While being measured by the tailor, I sucked in my stomach pretending to hide the extra 10 pounds of domestic bliss I had added since our engagement.

My cousin Siddarth lent me a book on India's cricket captains before we left for Gujarat later that evening. On the flight, as Tejal's head rested in my lap, I covertly imbibed the heroic accounts of ancient captains like C.K. Naidu to current captain Saurav Ganguly.

When we arrived, Tejal departed to her uncle's house, and I went to my grandparent's hometown. Twenty-nine years ago, my parents were married here as well. My little brother and I bonded the next few days by watching the cricket version of the VH1's "Behind the Music." It might be a genteel sport, but cricket's also a game that Pete Rose would love. Cricket gambling and match fixing have been, unfortunately, common occurrences.

Former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin and star player Ajay Jadeja were just two of many players banned from the sport for match fixing. Cricket gambling is a multi-million dollar industry in South Asia. All you need is a notepad, cell phone and TV, and you're in business as a bookie. Gangsters from Dubai, gamblers from Karachi and goons from Delhi all play a hand in the corruption.

My brother and I were glued to our seats at the end of these shows. We exchanged a collective sigh. It was hard to imagine that a couple of small-time hoodlums could play with the faith of a billion people with the single-mindedness of a rickshaw driver ripping off a tourist.

From sold-out stadiums in Calcutta to the beaches of Mumbai, cricket is India's national obsession.

Howzat for a Wedding?

After feeding a conga line of guests and participating in a series of religious ceremonies, the official start of our wedding began. Indian weddings differ from their American counterparts in the sheer size and pageantry. Festivities can last up to a week.

Later in the evening was Mendhi night, a traditional celebration when the females from both sides get their hands and feet adorned with henna tattoos. Tejal organized a musical extravaganza, with a live band that sang classical Indian songs. Though she hadn't seen me in days, she was aware of my growing cricket fervor. She even tried organizing a match between our families.

As we left her house at the end of the night, I saw a gang of children playing a makeshift game of cricket near a lot where we parked. The lights were dim. I saw only silhouettes and shadows of faces. I wanted to play even at that late hour, but a wedding the next day prevented it.

I didn't get a chance to ride on the elephant like I wanted to, but the horses and carriage served sufficiently for the Maharaja feeling. The live marching band beat its rhythmic drums and its regal horns blared. We rode to the wedding like the ultimate royal caravan. My uncles played the bootleggers in dry Gujarat, supplying bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label that they picked up at duty-free shops.

The wedding ceremony gave way to the simple blissfulness of the perfect day. Tejal radiated enchantment in her wedding sari. Once again I realized how lucky I was and would be for the rest of my life.

Our reception took place on a wedding plot the size of two football fields. It was a bonanza. We were entertained by Bollywood stars, and I was forced to showcase to our families how poorly I danced bhangra.

Guests congratulated us. Our families wished us well. And I talked cricket whenever I could, asking all our guests from elderly women to little children, whether Tendulkar would get his record-breaking 35th test century. Their verdict: an overwhelming yes. I had the time of my life.

India's first test match against Pakistan was a classic. Indian's new warrior, Virender Sehwag, roped in an amazing 176 after a rain delay, and the mighty Tendulkar just missed his record-breaking century with a 94.

I didn't get a chance to see the tail end of the multi-day match. I was reminded of something called a honeymoon. We chose Mauritius, a small beautiful island near Madagascar, famous for its beaches and once the home of the extinct dodo bird. Tejal told me not to mention cricket to her while we were there. I didn't. I simply asked our Indian cab driver in Mauritius who won. It was a draw. Cricket doesn't believe in overtime or extra innings in test matches.

The pomp and pageantry of an Indian wedding can last for several days.

Tendulkar Reborn

When we got back, tanned and relaxed, we spent time with my in-laws. My brother-in-law Krupal and I were close, but we didn't have many topics to talk about. Yet, the second test match connected us like nothing else. While Tejal and her mom went to the beauty parlor and her sister studied for an exam, the two of us watched the technical mastery of Rahul Dravid, who stood for hours sweating profusely during the second test series match and still hit run after run. He recorded two centuries during his two times at bat. Anil Kumble bowled brilliantly, getting seven wickets.

We were still watching the match when Tejal and her mom returned. Tejal was exasperated. She already had two cricket fiends in the house. She didn't want another. Krupal taught me how to throw a spinner. I taught him how to throw a curveball.

The next day my in-laws bought me my first India cricket cap; I wouldn't take it off for days. I was addicted to the game. After all, Robin Williams once said, "cricket is like baseball on valium."

I wanted more hats. Tejal had a friend whose uncle owned a sporting goods shop. We took the first rickshaw we could find. I ended up buying three jerseys, five caps, two sweaters and two balls. But no bat. However, I did manipulate Tejal to take me to Sachin Tendulkar's restaurant.

Tendulkar's was located in the heart of the city of Mumbai, within walking distance of the Gateway of India and Taj Hotel. The restaurant was a sleek, futuristic vision full of turquoise columns and cricket memorabilia. The waiter told us Sachin helped design everything in the restaurant, from the clear glass sinks to the white crockery. He even helped with the menu.

Tejal and I weren't in the mood for fried Bombay duck, Tendulkar's favorite. Instead we had a delicious salmon. After dinner, we stopped by the souvenir shop, where I spotted salt and pepper shakers in the form of steel wickets. Too expensive. I settled for a cricket bat key chain and a mini-cricket ball signed by Tendulkar.

On our way back, I spotted something very strange. On a 50-foot by 50-foot billboard was none other than Mariano Rivera, advertising Emirate Airlines. Only in India would you find a portrait of baseball's premier reliever hanging next to an "utterly, butterly delicious" Amul butter ad. But, hey, Derek Jeter once dated Lara Dutta, a Bollywood starlet and former Miss Universe.

Despite the author's cricket fervor, the Bollywood bride made a willing dance partner.

A Matrimonial Rivalry

Our wedding vacation was ending. My parents arrived. On our last day in India, we went to Tejal's house for dinner. Before we entered her house, I once again spotted a gang of kids playing cricket. Everywhere you go, it seemed, in every nook and space of land, concrete or organic, was a group of rag-tag children playing cricket. Somewhere the next Tendulkar or Sehwag bloomed.

It was still daylight. I wanted to take a swing. We asked if we could hit a few pitches. They gave the ambiguous head nod. I was handed a bat. A gangly looking 10-year-old launched a tennis ball off the ground. I swung mightily like Casey and missed. I changed batting styles to Tendulkar. A ball fired my way again. I swung at dirt. The group was growing impatient. I asked for two more pitches. A weak grounder passed the pitcher. At least, contact. The next pitch was a line drive hook. A definite four.

Tejal grabbed the bat from me. She wanted a shot. She crushed three pitches in a row. I asked her if she would go professional. No way. She was an actress by profession.

After dinner, we came down to see if they were still playing. On a bench they sat, morose and glum. Their tennis ball was gone over the wall. Tejal ran upstairs. Two minutes later, she handed me a ball. I tossed it to the kids. They smiled. I wanted to take another swing. But it was time to go. I would be back. I promised. I would be back.

Pakistan beat India in the final test series match and came back from losing the first two one-day matches to win the next four. Sachin Tendulkar failed to reach his record 35th century. India simply failed as a team to play cohesively. Back home in the U.S., I watched all the events unravel on pay-per-view during the wee hours of the morning for a cozy price of $200. India replaced coach John Wright with Australian legend Greg Chappell.

As disappointed as I was over India's pathetic performance, on the day of the last series leaders of both India and Pakistan actually witnessed the match together. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made a three-day trip to India to watch. At the same time, the two governments made significant progress in trade negotiations and even held positive diplomatic discussions regarding Kashmir.

Something Wicket This Way Comes

When I returned home to the United States, I was a new convert trying to spread a foreign gospel to an unresponsive audience. Baseball was in full swing, basketball in the midst of the playoffs, and football beginning spring practice. Cricket might be America's second-oldest sport next to lacrosse, but we are slow to embrace our past.

That doesn't matter for me. I fell for cricket, "suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it," just as Nick Hornby described his feelings for soccer in "Fever Pitch."

When I got home, it proved difficult to translate my cricket craze to friends and colleagues. They wanted to see wedding pictures, not hear about Tendulkar's accomplishments. Throughout, my beloved wife remained sweet and understanding.

But still, there was the issue of the bat. I didn't have one. But that soon changed. Tejal notified me that she ordered one, via an online auction. Get ready. Soon enough, I'll be the first great American cricket star, with the blessings of my goddess, I mean my wife.

Amar Shah is a production assistant for ESPN's SportsCenter. This is his first piece for E-ticket. His wife, Tejal, approved use of their wedding video on the conditions that he do the dishes and laundry for the next month. Comment on this story or other E-ticket pieces at Amar can be reached at