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Incredible India


I met the Indian Blake Griffin while attempting to learn to play cricket

Lindsay Houts Published: February 21, 2013

We arrived in Hisar day before yesterday after leaving Ganganagar feeling a bit … haggard.  A group of twenty or so Rotarians greeted us at the Blue Bird Hotel in Hisar and we were braced for more of what we’d experienced in Ganganagar — little communication about our agenda and being tugged left and and right for anything you can imagine. Wrong.

Like a lot of you, I’m sure, I get a feel for a group of people in minutes. As soon as I sat down at the lunch table in Hisar I knew the group would be a 180-degree change from Ganganagar. We mentioned that we’d wanted to learned to play cricket, and the Rotarians happily obliged, arranging for us to drop our luggage at our hosts’ homes and meet at a nearby university’s athletic fields.

Indians are crazy for cricket. Like OU/Texas, when India and Pakistan play a cricket match, the world as cricket fans know it stops. We were fortunate to have a cricket professor (yes, professor) and some of his students to give us a crash course. It mostly became batting practice and a pitching clinic, but that was enough for us.

Each team has eleven players. One team bats while the other pitches (with me so far?) To win, your team has to score more runs than the other team. OK. Easy enough.

The game felt like a fusion of baseball and golf. The pitching (called ‘bowling’) requires both arms, and a windmill-like motion. If you grew up throwing a baseball, it feels incredibly foreign. I tried, tried, and tried again, but my body still wanted to pitch the ball like I was trying to strike someone out. And I never even played softball!

Like baseball, a cricket match has innings, teams trading off batting and fielding (the fielding team bowls, or pitches). All eleven members of the fielding team are on the field together, but just two of the batting team’s players are on the field as they bat. They stand at opposite ends of the crease, an area marked by white lines on the field. Are you confused now? Because I still am.

The batter stands in front of three sticks, called wickets, and protects them from being hit by the ball by hitting the ball as it’s bowled. If the bowler hits the wickets with the ball or if the ball is caught before it bounces after being hit, the batter is dismissed and replaced by another batter. If the batter hits the ball and it isn’t caught until after it hits the ground, the batters (both of them) can try to score runs. If the fielding team hits the wickets with the ball before the batters get to the opposite crease, the batter is dismissed.

Scoring is complicated. Or sounded that way to me, anyway. A team gets 6 runs for what we’d call a home run in baseball — when the ball is hit beyond the boundary and never caught, 4 runs for getting the ball to the boundary without it being caught, and so on. The amount of wickets that are touched by the ball is also calculated into the score, though the team with the most runs is the ultimate winner.

To Indians, cricket is fairly simple, and that’s fair enough. I’ve tried to explain American football more than once, a game that I understand, and I’ve failed every time. And frankly, it just doesn’t sound rational that more than 80,000 people fill up a stadium 30 minutes from my house to watch college students play a game on Saturdays in the fall.

I caught a glimpse of the face of one of our volunteer instructors and couldn’t get over how familiar he looked, but I didn’t know why. After about a minute of staring, I realized: it was Blake Griffin’s Indian doppelgänger.

We asked him if he watched much NBA basketball, and sadly the answer was no. We explained that he looked just like the Los Angeles Clippers’ (and Oklahoma son) Blake Griffin, which meant exactly nothing to him. We showed him a photo of the All-Star and that helped. Sort of. At least he seemed flattered.

So, cricket. I understand it now, but only sort of. After a month away, I’m ready to watch some NBA. (And I’m still bitter about missing the Super Bowl, even if my Niners didn’t come out on top.)

Today is our last full day in Hisar. We visited a temple, a school, and two newspapers yesterday. When it comes to the newspapers, the printing presses, ink, and paper are just like the ones we have at home, but the process of journalism is quite different. I’ll tell you more about that later today. Tomorrow we move to Bhiwani. In other news, I snapped a zipper on my spare bag because I have officially been given too many gifts by Rotarians. It’s a hard life I lead.