Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Baseball v. Cricket.

The Indian Premier League looks set to change the cricket world and cricket purists are (justifiably) appalled. Stephen Moss' comment on the Guardians' website that the IPL is "Just not Cricket", is a good example.

Moss, as a typical cricket fan, cannot write a comment on his game without taking a dig at baseball: "The truth about Twenty20 is that it is baseball under another banner." Cricket fans love bashing baseball, and many seem to genuinely believe that their sport is objectively superior to baseball.

I like booth sports, but prefer baseball. This preference undoubtedly derives from the fact that I grew up playing and watching baseball and only learned to appreciate cricket as an adult. I feel compelled, however, by what I perceived to be the arrogance of cricket fans, to write this list of reasons why I think baseball is better than cricket. This list is of course completely subjective and many of the reasons why I prefer baseball could also constitute reasons to prefer cricket.

1) Batting is harder in Baseball!

I don't mean that batting in cricket is inferior to baseball, as batting in cricket is much more of an art form than in baseball. The cricket batsman needs to learn a wide variety of shots and defensive plays to succeed, and unlike baseball there is the added difficulty of hitting the ball after it has bounced of the ground. However, the fact of the matter is that cricket is a game dominated by batting, while baseball is dominated by pitching. There's a reason a test match last five days, and even then often ends in a draw. Five days is often not enough to get the required 40 outs. In baseball the minimum requirement of outs is 51 and games typically lasts 3 to 3 1/2 hours. The advantages a cricket batsman has, as compared to one in baseball, includes a smaller 'strike-zone', larger bats, longer distance from the bowler/pitcher, slower speed of the ball and, most importantly, the right not to leave the crease after hitting the ball. Preferring the dominance of either batting or pitching/bowling is of course a matter of taste. I simply prefer watching a good baseball pitcher than yet another cricket batsman scoring hundreds of runs.

2) The ball-strike count.

Each pitch of an at-bat in baseball changes the contest between pitcher and batter, and advances the game to its conclusion. A 3-1 pitch is a completely different proposition than an 0-2 pitch, and while 2-strike foul balls do not progress the at-bat, they are nevertheless significant. Each at-bat thus progresses to its conclusion as either a walk, strikeout or ball in play. A cricket innings does of course change as the innings progresses, but with the exception of wides and no-balls, each ball does not 'count' unless a run or out is recorded.

3) Base running.

Running in cricket simply consists of running back and forth. In baseball the skill of running the bases, the excitement when a batter stretches a single into a double, steals a base or hits a triple, or when a runner scores from first on a double, is an added dimension compared to cricket.

4) Fielding.

While cricket players do occasionally make some very spectacular catches, cricket doesn't place the same onus on fielding as baseball does. Cricket players seldom display the skills off baseball infielders getting the force-out at first, turning double plays, catching a runner trying to steal, or that of outfielders making a running catch or throwing out a runner at home.

5) Unlike cricket, baseball is not undergoing radical changes.

Real cricket is in crisis. While test matches are still popular in England, Australia and South Africa, the majority of the cricket world is now hooked on the limited overs game. County cricket is played in empty stadiums and the future of game is found in the 'one- day' and 'twenty20' formats. These forms of the game are, as Moss says, just not cricket. Twenty20 has few of the elements that make baseball great, while leaving out the best parts of test cricket. In comparison, baseball has changed very little since the end of the 'dead ball' era in 1920. The lowering of the pitching mound in 1969 and introduction of the Designated Hitter in 1973, has changed baseball to the worse. Compared to cricket, however, baseball is remains true to its basic format.