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July 25, 2001

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What cricket has and baseball doesnít

Gaurav Sharma

Cricket and baseball have always been considered cousins. However, many feel that baseball is the poorer cousin, and I dare say, they are absolutely right.

I know, many MLB fans would beg to differ but if they go through this column without any bias and pre conceived notions, it may just prove to be an eye opener.

The relation between cricket and baseball goes back to the 17th century. The English who migrated to the United States brought along the earliest form of cricket called Ďroundersí.

Baseball ĎRoundersí was played in the cricket mould, with a pair of stumps and two bases. The bowler used to bowl under arm and the batsman used cricket bats to protect their stumps. However, with the advent of time, more Americans took to the game and it was changed to suit the increasing participation. This is how Baseball briginated in its earliest form.

Of course, since then both baseball and cricket have undergone various changes but where cricket stuck to the old format, baseball molded into a completely different game.

Even though, baseball and cricket originated from the same game, I personally feel, cricket has always been the better and richer of the two. I understand that not many would agree with my view point but I have strong arguments to prove my stand. The only way through which we can solve this debate is by comparing both these games. It is but natural that my analysis would be from a cricket fans perspective and I hope you will not mind that.

Talking of comparisons, let us begin with the biggest difference that both the games have. I am talking about those 22 yards of clay that cricket has and baseball doesn't. You may argue that what's the big deal about that? The big deal is, that it is these 22 yards or what is commonly called Ďthe pitchí, which makes cricket the great game that baseball isnít. The pitch adds so many dimensions to the game that a baseball fan cannot even imagine.

The pitch can have a huge impact on the way a cricket match progresses. The pitch defines the composition of a side; what the captain opts on winning the toss i.e. whether to bat or field; the kind of strokes that a batsman can play; the way the bowlers have to bowl and quite often the pitch can also have a huge bearing on the outcome of a match. Can baseball boast of anything like that? I donít think so.

A cricket pitch is not just a barren piece of land. As a matter of fact, a cricket pitch is affected by various factors. These include the weather conditions, the wear and tear caused by the players' shoe spikes, the amount of grass covering on the pitch and the over head conditions. A pitch having more grass covering offers extra bounce and pace to the quick bowlers, on the contrary, a pitch that is dry and devoid of any grass tends to offer more turn and lower bounce. This helps the spin bowlers. An overcast and humid day would see the ball swinging and seaming off the pitch, in contrast, on a sunny and hot day the ball would not swing or seam off the pitch. All this adds to the challenge and the unpredictability of the game.

General view of a cricket stadium The batsman and the bowler must adjust to different conditions in order to perform to their potential. On a green pitch, the bowler has the upperhand whereas on a hard and dry wicket it's the batsman who dominates. This makes for a great contest between the bat and ball and tests the skills and ability of both the batsman and the bowler. Does baseball possess the ability to provide such a contest? The answer is simple, it does not.

The absence of these 22 yards makes baseball far too predictable. Since the ball has to be bowled waist high to the batter, it makes the batters task that much simpler. On the other hand in cricket, the batsman has to judge the line and the bounce of the ball correctly and in a fraction of second has to decide the most suitable shot for that particular ball. As for baseball, the batter can just set himself for the shot in advance because he knows that the ball can only be pitched in a very limited area and he doesnít has to worry about the bounce and the line of the ball. The shot which most of the baseball batters play is called a slog in cricketing terms and even the worst of cricket batsmen would fancy himself playing such a shot. This can not be said about the baseball batters. I am sure, that a baseball batter would struggle to even make contact with the ball if he bats on a cricket pitch and against a cricket bowler. Batting in cricket is all about the right footwork, technique and timing which unfortunately is missing in cricketís poorer cousin.

Try having a taste of some cricketing shots like the straight drive; the cover drive; the cuts and pulls; the big lofted drive etc. I can assure you that it will take your breath away. These shots are stunning examples of timing and power. They are not mere slogs but require tremendous amount of practice and skill. Also, look out for those toe crushing yorkers; the rib-snorting bouncers; the big leg breaks and off-breaks; the out-swingers; the leg-cutter; the flipper and many more. All these alien terms are various kinds of deliveries that a cricket bowler has in his armory. You can realize for yourself as to the skill and the technique that a batsman must possess to face such an onslaught. Can baseball pitchers even think of such variety? You know the answer. Donít you?

Unlike cricket, where both batsman and bowlers have a fair chance, baseball doesnít give the batters the opportunity to build an innings. In cricket, the batsman can decide when he wants to take a run whereas in baseball the batters often have to commit Ďhara-kirií, thanks to the ridiculous rule of running as soon as the batter makes contact with the ball. Cricket provides the batsman ample opportunity and time to build a substantial innings. Though, it is not that easy as it requires loads of concentration and stamina. A slight lapse in concentration can lead to the batsmanís downfall because in cricket the batsmanís first mistake is often his last one. It is not like baseball where the batsman has three opportunities to strike the ball.

Cricket is not just about going out and banging the ball for home runs or in relative terms, sixes and fours. In fact, some times the batsman has to curb all his shots and defend for long hours in order to save the game for his side. Many a time, the batsman has to play in extremely difficult conditions that can be highly demanding, physically as well as mentally. This is just not the case in baseball because the batter hardly gets any time to stay in the middle.

If you think that baseball players are tougher than their cricket counterparts, then think again.

I mean to say that if they are so tough then why do they need those big gloves to take the catches? At the end of the day itís no big deal to stop the ball with a thick glove. On the contrary, the cricketers use bare hands to stop the hard leather ball, which can be coming at you like a bullet. If you donít believe me try it yourself and if you are still not satisfied then try the same on a chilly day. I can tell you that once you try this out you would definitely know who is tougher.

The fact that baseball, to a great extent is limited only to the United States, is ample indication that it lacks the appeal which is important for a game to gain global acceptance. On the other hand cricket may not be as popular as soccer but it has an international standing and at present apart from the 10 Test-playing nations there are over 120 associate nations that form the ever growing cricket community. The associate members include the United States, The Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong, Singapore and many others. This is a clear indication of cricketís growth as a truly global sport. Also, it proves that cricket enjoys more popularity over its counterpart.

Finally, I would like to say that it is the challenge, the unpredictability factor and the skills in which lies the beauty of the game of cricket.

I will finish off by saying that if baseball wants to become as good as cricket it has to borrow some of cricketís finer points. However, unless that happens baseball fans will have to be content with only half the fun .If you want the whole of it how about a small doze of cricket?

Editor's note: Rediff believes that like its own editorial staffers, readers too have points of view on the many issues relating to cricket as it is played.

Therefore, Rediff provides in its editorial section space for readers to write in, with their views. The views expressed by the readers are carried as written, in order to preserve the original voice.

However, it needs mentioning that guest columns are opinion pieces, and reflect only the feelings of the individual concerned -- the fact that they are published on Rediff's cricket site does not amount to an endorsement by the editorial staff of the opinions expressed in these columns.