Corey writes:

Since most of our readers are from the U.S., I’m going to go ahead and assume that your knowledge of the game of cricket is the same as mine was before coming to India. Maybe you’ve heard of it, but only as a punchline. It’s easy to make fun of a game that involves the word “wicket”.

This past Saturday, India won the World Cup of cricket. This is a huge deal for several reasons:

  1. This is the apex competition for national cricket teams in the world. It’s like the Olympics of cricket.
  2. It only happens every four years. India gets to sit at the top and look down on all the other cricket-playing countries for the next four years.
  3. The last time India won was in 1983. It was such a big moment for the country that it unseated field hockey (the official national sport) as the pastime of choice for youngsters, in turn creating a whole generation of rabid fans now in their 20s and 30s.

The momentum for the final match had been building for the past two weeks, as India had to beat two tough opponents to get to the final match: Australia and Pakistan. Australia has one the best cricket teams in the world, and they’ve beaten India and gone on to win the World Cup for the last 12 years. Many of my Indian friends were understandably nervous about this match, but India persevered. Next was Pakistan, and though it may not have been as nerve-wracking from the cricket perspective, there was a whole extra layer of pressure put on India for political reasons. For those of you who don’t know, the relationship between India and Pakistan is tense at best. Imagine that Mexico had nuclear missiles and hated America’s guts. Fortunately, India won that match as well, and both countries took the opportunity to mend some fences, at least superficially.

Which brings us back to Saturday. I left work at 2 and met up with my friends at the Koraput cinema hall. We took our seats and basked in the glow from the huge screen, loud speakers, and even louder cheers from the full house. Their final opponents were Sri Lanka, who won the toss and chose to bat first. Let me now take a short break to explain the rules.

Cricket is in the same family as baseball, but more like a cousin. There is a person hitting (batsman) and a person pitching (bowler). Rather than a diamond shaped field, it’s a circle, meaning the batsman can hit in any direction. Rather than having to run around the bases to score, the batsman just has to run to where the bowler is. He can also score by hitting a ball to the boundary. The fielders are trying to stop the ball from reaching the boundary (like baseball) and keep the batsman from scoring too many runs. There are a couple different ways to get a batsman out which I won't go into, but let's just say it's hard. Traditional cricket matches go until every player on each team is gotten out. This can take days, with runs up to 1000+.

Sri Lanka had a good innings, scoring 274 runs. This put the target out there for India to catch. 275 runs without risking too many wickets. India stumbled right out of the gate by losing one of their best batsmen, Sehwag, and then shortly after, Tendulkar. This would be like Roethlisberger and Ward getting hurt in the first quarter of the Superbowl. I could see the panic on the faces of my friends as they said “noooo problem” a few too many times, as if saying it would make it true. The next hour was pretty tense, but things eventually settled down as Gambhir and the team captain, Dhoni, found a rhythm that Sri Lanka could not break. India put run after run on the board, but continued to trail the “pace” that was necessary to catch up to SL. However, this strategy of steady (but not exciting) scoring was enough to put India within striking distance with 30 balls left. They eventually passed Sri Lanka with 10 balls left. Everyone went nuts. My friends tore off their shirts and danced down the aisles. I hugged strangers. There was an impromptu midnight parade with firecrackers.

I find my self still thinking about cricket and that match. I’m planning on watching some of the IPL (professional league with players from mixed countries) games in the coming months. We’ll see if I still enjoy the game when the stakes are lower. If I do, it might be the first sport I really care about.