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The Heavy Ball

How to talk about cricket without knowing anything

It is a problem even the stars are not immune to. Help is at hand, though

Sidin Vadukut
Actress Angelina Jolie arrives at a Los Angeles premiere, May 22, 2011

"…yes, but you need to consider that Syd Barnes played all his cricket on uncovered wickets"  •  Getty Images

Earlier this week I received a letter from a frequent reader of my ESPNcricinfo columns. This fortnight I would like to use this space to respond. As you will see from the transcript of her letter below, the concerns raised by this reader are universal:
Dear Sidin Vadukut,
Would it be an exaggeration to say that I am your biggest fan? I think not. I have been reading your Page 2 columns ardently for months. I love them very much indeed, and if I could I would have adopted you a long time ago. (Or can I still? Tee hee.)
Of course, because I am American, and have always lived here, I know very little about cricket. This had never been a problem. But now things have changed.
Ever since India won the World Cup this year I am finding it very difficult indeed to have conversations with my many Indian friends. Whenever I hang out on the weekends at NASA - where 74% of all employees are Indians - or at the Insider Trading and Financial Fraud section at Riker's prison in New York - where 88% are Indians - they keep bringing up cricket. They say things like "variable due from the pavilion medium" or "the worm is overtaking the cartwheeling Manhattan".
What is the meaning of all this? I am very upset that I cannot participate in these discussions. Can you please help?
I know you are busy. But perhaps the attached photos of myself in only batting pads will give you enthusiasm!
Yours forever,
Angelina Jolie
As I said before, the issues raised by Angie here are by no means uncommon. Very often I run into people from the non-cricketing nations, such as England, who feel terribly left out in cricketing company.
There are many reasons for this. First of all, the rules of cricket are both complex and inconsistent due to the multiplicity of formats. Some things that are compulsory in Tests are illegal in Twenty20. (VVS Laxman for instance.)
Secondly, context is so important in most cricketing discussions. Little children in Mumbai, who are less than 10 years old, will nonchalantly refer to the 1929 India tour of Australia, when India played the Aussies in Melbourne and batsmen Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare got into an argument over an ultimatum.
Then, of course, there are the constantly changing technical details and jargon. What immediately comes to mind is the new CDRS technology: Cheerleader Decision Referral Srinivasan.
All this makes cricket conversation a nightmare for newbies. However, all is not lost. I have a suggestion.
Since cricket conversation takes years to perfect, initiates need some shortcuts to get things started. The following is a list of five verbal tricks to join cricket conversations without knowing anything. Other people will think you know what you are saying. They might even admire your expertise. In reality you're just winging it.
The next time the conversation turns to cricket and people turn to you for inputs, fire one of these:
"But if you compare this to that innings in Sharjah…" There is no need to know which innings. If anyone clarifies, just agree with him or her. Nobody really remembers any innings from Sharjah. Except two of Sachin's.
"When you think about it, it was a pretty good toss to lose." When used early enough in a match, this sounds very pundit-like. When people ask you why, just point at the TV and say: "Look at the ground, dude!"
"Ha ha ha! At least they don't have to score 21 off one ball!" Use whenever someone is batting and you sense desperation. Or if it begins raining. This refers to a notorious moment of cricketing history that South Africa have never really recovered from.
"Whatever! This format is meaningless…" Use anywhere, at any moment in any match. And say it with disdain. You will sound either modern or purist, depending on what match it is.
"He looks a little like that Yorkshire player from the 70s no?" No one will want to admit that they know nothing at all about county cricket. So they will hem and haw and try to avoid your question. You will look like a genius.
Over time, readers like you and Angie will find many other such insidious ways of fitting into conversations.
If you have any such tricks of your own, please send them in right away. Good ones will get pictures of me wearing only wicketkeeping gloves.

Sidin Vadukut is the managing editor of and the novel, Dork: The Incredible Adventures of Robin 'Einstein' Varghese. He blogs at Domain Maximus.