James Wallis levels with you


I know cricket is a bit outside my usual remit, but any true believer knows that it’s basically a strategy boardgame played in a field so I have no apologies for this.

For those who still refuse to understand the king of sports, there are several forms of cricket. They fall into three main categories: the multi-day match (Test matches, internationals and first-class cricket matches), all of which give each team two innings and often ends in a draw; the one-day or limited-overs match in which each team gets to bowl (and face) a fixed number of balls, usually 240, or 40 overs of six balls; and the recent development of Twenty20 cricket, a game of 20 overs (120 balls) per team, that can be played to completion in three hours or less.

Twenty20 has proved massively popular, and is having extraordinary amounts of money thrown at it right now. And justly so. It’s fantastic entertainment, it’s what you want cricket to be: both teams fresh and not afraid to take risks, balls being smashed all over the ground, big scores, no draws, drama, the crowd on its feet. I was at a Twenty20 match last summer where Surrey captain Mark Ramprakash, needing six runs off the last over, won the game by walloping a six into the pavilion. It was a moment from the Boy’s Own Paper. Twenty20’s not subtle, nor is it strategic, but it’s a brilliant evening out.

The one-day match, or ‘Pro40’ as it’s now being called, has suffered as a result. This is much more of a game: it’s tactical, limited-resources stuff, fatigue beginning to play a factor, it’s intelligent cricket in a digestible form, but for the audience it requires a whole day’s commitment, which is great if you’re a student or retired but not a lot of use for the rest of us.

Nevertheless the county sides are pushing Pro40 to those who have come to the game via Twenty20. Some matches now start in the afternoon and run late under floodlights—a problem for many cricket grounds built before such things were invented, and who now have to deal with planning permission and objections from local residents before they can even bring in temporary lights. But there’s a big publicity push on for the longer-form game, to convince potential spectators that it’s a better game.

Even so, despite all that, I’m not sure Surrey CCC’s slogan for the next series of Pro40 matches hits the spot. I can see where they’re coming from, but ‘Twenty20 with twice the balls’…. Well, we’ll see.

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  1. John H says:

    Well it’s not a matter of /refusing/ to learn, although it’s only in the last few years that I’ve realised that football is a strategy game.

    I was exposed to the meme that cricket is a deep strategy game earlier this summer, when I spent a few hours at Leamington Cricket Club because it was sunny and they had a bar. But my host wasn’t able to explain in greater detail, and I’ve not found a resource that does so. If you can point me at one (a short one!) I’d be interested.

    I wish my sports teacher at school had spent more time on strategy. I think he assumed it was obvious, which it is only if you’re already interested.

  2. Chris M. Dickson says:

    *laughs like Sid James*

  3. james says:

    John, it’s strategic on many levels. The boardgame analogy mostly has to do with field placement and start/middle/endgame strategies, while the actual ball-by-ball, over-by-over stuff is more like… I hesitate to say this, but it’s like Magic: the Gathering. You have a fistful of cards, each with strengths and weaknesses; your opponent has the same. Each over is a conflict of six engagements between one specific attacker (bowler) and one or two specific defenders (batsmen). The attacker can defeat the defender; the defender can only ward off the attacker–though in a long game he can also tire him out, or demoralise him (morale is hugely important in cricket, and becomes more important the longer the match). So selecting the combatants, the order they take the field–particularly given that the nature of the field can change from ground to ground and even from session to session in a match, whether it’s taking spin (and if it can be worn down in such a way to encourage it to take spin later on in the match).

    A good Test match can have as many as 2000 separate deliveries, each one of which is potentially crucial to the outcome. And you can get matches where the play is incredibly slow and apparently boring, but below the surface an incredibly tense strategic battle is being played out–the Lords test last month, England vs South Africa, was like that: South Africa taking a day and a half to force a draw. It wasn’t exciting. It was, however, superb cricket.

    I could go on, at length, but I’ll let this fellow do it for me.

  4. James Bridle says:

    And what you’ve just reminded me of is Dot Cricket – the ultimate bored schoolboy game, which consisted of drawing up a grid of possible outcomes (6, 4, catch, single, dot etc.) and jabbing it with a pencil. We used to play whole test matches this way behind a pile of books on the desk, and keep the score properly in hand-drawn scorebooks. Them were the days and so on…

  5. james says:

    Ah memories–I seem to also remember a version which involved rolling hexagonal pencils with possible outcomes carved into their sides. Can’t recall how it worked at all, and may have made it up.

  6. James Bridle says:

    You can buy that version – Owzthat – if your pencil-carving skills are no longer up to it. I once developed a rugby version that was a cross between Owzthat and Warhammer… I beat my dad. Oh yes.

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