Cricket for Americans: 19 April 2019: The Squad

***Programming Note***

Tomorrow’s USA ODI against Oman — their opener in the World Cricket League 2 (a tournament for all those ODI marbles) — will be streamed LIVE on TV2Namibia’s YouTube channel. Hat tip to Peter Della Penna for this information. Check out his Twitter thread for a little more detail.

UPDATE: the games are all streamed on USA Cricket’s YouTube channel.

***

There are times when I know I am not maintaining the theme of these posts. They are supposed to be for Americans who are not familiar with the sport as an attempt to turn them on to this great game.

I realized this again yesterday when I was writing about two different things: cricket squads and the West Indies. I will cover the former today and the latter tomorrow. If you are not new to the game, and I get anything wrong or if you have a different take on either topic, please do post in the comments!

Okay, so, the cricket squad.

You need 11 cricketers to play a match. From 30,000 feet, there are four different kinds of cricketers: batters, bowlers, wicketkeepers and all rounders (people who can do both bowl and bat). Most squads breakdown something like this: five batters, four bowlers, an all rounder and a wicketkeeper. Sometimes that wicketkeeper is also pretty handy with the bat, so some teams will be more like six batters, four bowlers and an all rounder. There are lots of variations on the theme, too, of course, as some squads don’t have an all rounder, some captains like to have five bowlers, etc. But the above is more or less right.

Within each of the above four types of cricketers are even more divisions. For the batters, you have sloggers, openers, blockers and people who can do it all like Virat Kohli. And for the bowlers you have seamers, fast bowlers, leg breaks, spinners, etc. And it’s within these divisions that the squad debates really start to heat up. Who should open? Do you carry two spinners or just one? For while the starting XI will more or less pick itself, those four other players do matter, as they will be the ones the captain decides to swap in and out throughout the tournament, depending on weather, pitches, opponent, etc.

It’s more complex than baseball. Or, at least, very different. In baseball, a starting lineup consists not of 11, but of 24, considering all the moves managers can make during games: pinch runners, pinch hitters, relief pitchers. This allows managers to field seven or eight pure hitters and only worry about one throwaway out with the pitcher and maybe a shaky at the bat infielder. In the National League anyway. In the American League, it’s even simpler, since the pitcher doesn’t bat, so the manager doesn’t have to worry about any holes and can just put his best hitters at each position out there.

In cricket — while captains are allowed to bring in substitute fielders if a player needs treatment — the captain is more or less stuck with the 11 he picks. Which makes squad selection the hot topic that it is. Picking the wrong spinner or too many spinners or the wrong opener can lead to certain disaster and the captain will have no one to blame but himself. And if the selection committee leaves the wrong fast bowler at home, then they are to blame.

Yesterday I said it’s a lot of talk. And, really, it is. But there’s a reason there’s a lot of talk, and that’s because there is a lot to talk about. A thousand scenarios to hem and haw over. Knowing full well that the captain is locked into his 11 once that coin is flipped adds an even deeper level to the chatter.

Cricket is infinitely complex — and in some ways a little harsh — and squad selection is an example of both. But that complexity and that harshness are reminders that the game holds no quarter, and demands the best from its players, from the squad selection to the final over. And it’s something that makes the game so great. There is no phoning it in, no second chances, you have to say: “These are the guys I want to go to war with. These guys and only these guys.” And then you cross your fingers and hope you got it right.

Until tomorrow.

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