Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Part the XXXIII: Where Nick goes to a County Cricket Match.

May 6, 2011
"Hello and welcome to County Ground, Taunton on this the third day of a four day County Championship match between Worcestershire and Somerset."

  Thats right, you heard the announcer correctly, Third day!  After seeing the one-day at Lord's a few weeks back, I decided that I should probably take in a multi-day match before I left.  Here in England, the Liverpool Victoria Financial Group sponsors the County Championship.  This is to Cricket what the MLB is to baseball at home.  Players who just finished the Cricket World Cup a few months ago are returning and many are contracted with one of the 17 county teams around England and Wales.  So what sets County Cricket apart from the one day?   Well, simply put, the game is longer...much least three days longer.

  In cricket, these longer match are often known as Test matches.  This may have something to do with the game testing a viewers patience.  Each team gets two innings, or attempts to bat.  One team goes until all ten of their batters are out.  Then the other team goes.  Then the first, and then the second again.  The winner is the one with the most runs after the four innings.  But that seems to simple so of course there are other rules.  For example, if a team bats dismally in the first inning and the other sets a huge target in theirs, if the first team fails to surpass it in the next innings when added to their first inning score, the game ends early.  Since there is only a set number of days, a team who gets tired of thrashing their opponent can "Declare" and end their innings early.  Even worse,on the fourth day of a match, if the time runs out without the last team being all out, the match is declared a draw.  Thats right, a team losing by 500 runs can draw just by hanging in there.

So let me clarify this for those of you who may have missed it:  This is a game that can go on for four days, can end early for multiple reasons, is played by two sides wearing all white who, up till a few seasons ago weren't allowed to have numbers to tell people apart, and a team getting destroyed can force a draw just by being stubborn...Ladies and Gentlemen...WELCOME TO THE MINDSCREW!!!!

  Seriously though, I really did enjoy seeing the long game of cricket.  I arrived in Taunton by train at a little after ten in the morning.  After a ten minute walk I arrived at the County Ground.
  Built in 1882, the ground has been used by the Somerset County Cricket Club since then.  It sit on the banks of the River Tone and is flanked by the Pegasus Apartment building on one side as well as St. James' Church.
St. James' Church in the background.
  I made quick work of a breakfast sandwich and coffee and found my seats in the seats on the side of the pitch.  At the start of the days play, Somerset was 83 for 3 in their second innings.  That is, 83 runs for three outs.  Their batting this morning was kind of lackluster.  They ended up 185 all out for the day.  That set a target of 257 runs for Worcestershire to chase.  That is not an easy score to defend, especially in a test match where there is still a full day left to play if needed.
Somerset's Craig Kieswetter walks back after getting out for six runs.  I like him because he wears the classic Vest over his uniform.  It gives him a kind of old fashioned feel.

  1:00PM: Lunch.  I eat a burger and chips and sit back to talk with a few of the older guys sitting in my section.  This was a good chance to meet people who have followed the team for years.  Basically, everywhere I have gone and ended up talking cricket has always met with the same reply: "An American who "gets" I can die in peace!"  
  By three in the afternoon, Worcestershire has settled into their innings.  Now I am beginning to note other differences.  The game is much slower.  Unlike the one day where there are limited overs ("Over" here means six pitches), a batter can take his time defending the wicket and finding his groove.  If he feels that his partner on the non-striker's end isn't warmed up enough, he can forsake easy singles to keep him from coming to bat. It is like a chess match, plus it takes about the same amount of time and is at times, about as exciting as one.  By tea at 4:40, things are getting interesting, Somerset has taken quite a few wickets and Worcestershire is still chasing over 100 runs.  By 6:00, it is all over.  Worcestershire ends up all out 91 runs short.  Somerset gets a day off as the fourth day isn't even necessary.  In the end, I actually really enjoyed my first long cricket match.  The grounds had wi-fi so I could pull things up on my iPod to pass the time and even used it to pull up radio coverage of the game which added a new level to the live event.  If I get a chance, I may try to take in a one-day match at Taunton before I leave.

The players sit on this balcony when they are not batting.  They are so close that they openly talk and interact with the fans.  Some sign autographs.  One little boy who had a bat with him had his eyes light up when Somerset batsmen Pete Trego yelled down to him that he had good form.  I can't think of many times at MLB or NFL games at home where that could happen.

  I closed out my weekend with two Bath Cricket Club games.  The Saturday match between Bath Second XI and Weston Super Mare was abandoned due to rain.  The match on Sunday was National Knockout Cup match and saw Bath move on to the next round beating Frocester by twelve runs in a thriller.  Hell, even cricket can sometimes be exciting. 

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