The Oxford Blues women’s cricket team meets in a small gym with green rubber floors, not much larger than a basketball court. The coach is speaking to the team, running through some throwing drills, and two hard, leather-bound cricket balls are flying haphazardly around the room as the team warms up. Suddenly cricket bats and tennis balls are broken out and small groups of hitting drills commence, projectiles now soaring through the air in every direction; the sharp cracks of the bat piercing the light conversation taking place amongst team members. The head coach catches sight of me sitting idly on the sidelines, drafting this column, and with two emphatic gestures (one at me, one at the tennis balls laying in the corner), I’m now involved in this practice somehow, ducking and dodging as I pick up balls for the team and try to avoid being hit. How on earth did this happen?
Luckily for me, this week’s focus, cricket, is one sport I have some experience in! When I was in the eighth grade, I went to India for my aunt’s wedding and briefly (emphasis on briefly) participated in a bride-versus-groom cricket match during the three-day wedding festivities. So yeah, I’m basically a professional.
If you haven’t been following my columns or were thrown off that I switched from Tuesdays to Wednesdays, I’m currently studying abroad in the Bing Overseas Oxford program and am taking this opportunity to construct a weekly update outlining the differences between sports in America and sports in the UK. This week, I followed my fellow Stanford students, senior Olivia Witting and sophomore Sophie McNulty, as they attended cricket practice.
For those unfamiliar with how cricket works, as I was before writing this column and still mostly am, imagine it like an entire game of baseball played within the span of one inning. A pitcher (called a bowler) throws to a hitter (batsman) who is attempting to strike the ball with a bat in order to score points. Simple, right? Except the batsman gets to keep hitting until they are knocked out by the bowler (called an over), often accumulating a large number of runs. Also, there’s only one base, and you keep running back and forth to it, sometimes switching spots with the bowler. Also, there are no foul balls; you can hit the ball to the side or behind you. Also, the ball is solid and dense, and protective leg pads and gloves as well as a caged helmet are required to be worn by the batsman.
Confused yet? Don’t sweat it. The important thing to remember is that in the form of cricket that the Oxford Blues play, Twenty20 Cricket, one team bats until they get 20 overs, and then the next team bats until they get 20 overs. Trust me, this is far preferable to the form of cricket known as Test Cricket, in which bowlers must go through the entire batting lineup before an inning ends, and matches have been known to last upwards of three days.
Olivia led the way to the Oxford sports center for practice at 6 p.m. This is Olivia’s second quarter at Oxford, her first coming two years ago during her sophomore spring. During that quarter, she was interested in playing cricket from the get-go. “I played softball in high school; I was a varsity pitcher, so I knew how to catch; I knew how to throw; I knew how to hit with an object. It translated well.”
Actually, Olivia practically joined the Oxford Blues, which are the Oxford equivalent of a varsity squad, by accident. In her words, “I misread my college’s schedule to go to their cricket practice and accidentally went to the Blues cricket practice, but they said to stick around, and I played for two hours, and they thought I’d be a good addition.”
Once at practice, Olivia introduced me to one of the team captains, second-year Oxford student Vanessa Picker, who told me a bit more about her experience with the team. “I moved over from Australia. I started playing cricket in the backyard with my dad and my brother when I was about seven years old. There were some really good pathways; I started playing in a bunch of different teams, and when I moved over to Oxford, I quickly found this team to play with.”
The team begins playing most of their matches in their spring term, just after we depart Oxford, but the competition gets pretty fierce. Vanessa explained their match structure to me; they mostly compete against other U.K. universities in the British University and Colleges Sport (BUCS) cup. Their biggest rival, as expected, is Cambridge, and they play them multiple times a year. This culminated last year in an Oxford-Cambridge match at Lord’s cricket ground, known by cricket fans as the “Home of Cricket” and one of the most historically famous sporting locations in the U.K. According to Vanessa, “Everyone who is a cricket fan would love to have the experience of playing at Lord’s. A lot of the other Blues matches might not be at so well renowned a location, so that’s one benefit to being in the cricket program here.”
Practice was a success for Olivia, Vanessa and the new members of the team, including Sophie, who was attempting cricket herself for the first time. She was overly enthusiastic after practice was over, saying, “I’ve never played cricket before, and I didn’t know any of the rules, but after today I definitely want to go back. The team is very supportive and puts a lot of energy into training new players. After one day I feel like I have some grasp on the game.”
Attending the practice was highly productive, but without a doubt the best thing I learned about Oxford cricket involved the halftime period after one team has finished batting their 20 overs. In the collegiate rules, it is mandated that the home team must provide afternoon tea for the visiting team, and they both eat together on the sidelines. Imagine the scene: You’ve just played a grueling, two-hour half of fielding, and you’re agitated and sweaty, ready to strike back at the opposing team, but you can’t because you’ve got to spend the next 30 minutes eating cake with total strangers you’re attempting to beat. This entire concept is the most British thing I’ve ever heard and honestly makes me want to take up cricket a little bit. I’m out until next week — until then, enjoy American bacon and the distinct lack of two-dollar coins in circulation!
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada “at” stanford.edu