Where and how: cricket in Vermont




Last Saturday night I was at the Gut to watch the Women’s World Championships Hockey final between USA and Canada. As always, it was a great atmosphere, but instead of UVM chants it was of course ‘USA, USA.’ 

While USA did not win the Gold, it was great game and wonderful for UVM and Burlington to host a world championship event. It is also a reminder of how much sports and athletics are a part of UVM and our Vermont community, and certainly of my own life.

I did not grow up as a hockey fan, or a baseball fan as I am now, because I was in England. I played rugby through high school and college and played cricket until well into my 40s

When I moved to Vermont in 1990, I was expecting that my cricket playing days were over, but I was mistaken. The following summer I found myself back to playing cricket again, but this time for the Chittenden County Cricket Club. 

Over the years, cricket matches were played in various locations including the Redstone Green and at Fort Ethan Allen. The club was started with strong UVM connections, with people like VPR commentator and author Tim Brookes – like me, a U.K. expatriate; Michael Gurdon – a UVM business professor; David Scrace – a German and Russian professor; some hospital physicians and various students and IBMers from India, Pakistan, South Africa, etc. where the game is the national pastime.  

This was always supplemented by Americans who were curious and brave enough to want to learn to play it. 

The biggest problem for Americans learning the game, who grew up on baseball or softball, is that bowling, the equivalent of pitching, must be done with the arm straight, not by bending the elbow as when you throw or pitch. They also have trouble hitting the ball, as it is bounced off the turf in front of you, having moved both in the air and then off the turf itself. 

The cricket bat has a flat hitting surface as opposed to the round section of a baseball bat, and a different type of “swing” is needed. If you want to get a sense of the game, look at a YouTube clip of Michael Holding, the great West Indian Bowlers.

 There is a lot of historical argument as to whether baseball originated from cricket, which was played in England as early as the 14th century, and would have been familiar to many people immigrating to the U.S. in the 16th and 17th centuries. I am not going to enter into that passionate argument, but I am struck by some of the parallels. 

Obviously, both are bat and ball games in which there are several innings, and runs are scored by running from one point to another, and there are many similarities in the ways you can be out or dismissed. However, for me the most striking similarities are cultural.  

Cricket and baseball are both often described as some sort of allegory for the nation’s identity or values, good sportsmanship and behavior. Of course, the reality does not always match the rhetoric.  

For example, the English language has numerous phrases or expressions derived from cricket –  “on the back foot” means being put on defense, being “on a sticky wicket” means being in difficult circumstances, “playing with a straight bat” means being truthful and honorable and so on. 

Similarly, American English is full of baseball idioms. For example, “off base,” “rain check,” “cover all the bases,” “batting 1,000” and so on. Both games have a rich literature associated with them and an obsession with record keeping and statistics. 

The games can last a long time, although cricket wins that competition as the international matches are scheduled to last five days. 

I always think that the duration of the games has a particular influence on developing a style of journalism and particularly a broadcaster style. There are large blocks of relative inactivity, so broadcasters have to learn techniques on how to fill the space with some form of conversation or commentary. 

A lot of stories or anecdotes are interspersed with the actual commentary of the game’s events, discussion about the pigeons that have landed at second base or a dialogue between the commentators about what they had for lunch.  

Great radio commentators such as baseball’s Red Barber or cricket’s John Arlott set a style and a standard tradition which their successors follow.   

The Chittenden County Cricket Club continues to this day and has a web site, http://www.cricketvermont.com/, so you can check it out and even go and see a game or get to play.