Batsman Up! : Chaps of Summer Bring Baseball's British Cousin to South Bay for Cricket Tourney

Times Staff Writer

Sounds of October in the South Bay: "Start hitting, guys! . . . We need more runs. . . . Knock it out of here! . . . Good running, man!"

Sights of October in the South Bay: A man comes out of the game after his time at bat. A teammate congratulates him on his hitting. They exchange high fives.

The sights and sounds come not from people named Reggie, Fernando and Pete, but from people with names like Govind, Dilip and Joginder. And it wasn't baseball they were playing last weekend at West Torrance High School, but cricket, a distant, older cousin of the national pastime.

For members of the South Bay Cricket Club and the 17 other clubs in the Southern California Cricket Assn., October has a certain World Series fever about it. This is the month that teams compete for the association's coveted Williamson Trophy.

The South Bay club, formed in 1968, is a collection of men of many ages and occupations. One player is in his late 50s. Like many cricket clubs in the U.S., the South Bay team is made up almost entirely of people who immigrated to California from British Commonwealth countries.

Piece of Old Country

Mike Smith, a San Pedro resident who came to California from Yorkshire, England, six years ago, said he heard about the club from some friends at his job. "They told me that there were a bunch of weird-looking, weird-sounding guys dressed in white playing some ridiculous game down in Torrance," he said. He knew he had found a piece of the old country.

The league's season extends from April to September, and competition for its trophy begins the first week of October. Although players agree that the level of competition in Southern California is nowhere near that of cricket in the eight nations that play at the international level, they love it just the same.

Cricket, which originated in England possibly as long ago as the 18th Century, has been spread throughout the former British Empire, and former colonies have since produced better cricket teams than the English themselves.

Although India won this year's eight-team World Championships in Australia, the West Indies "side," or team, is considered the world's best. "They play real cricket there," said Vibhakar Verma, a native of India who is captain of the Ventura club, South Bay's opponent last week.

Same Origins

Like baseball, cricket is thought to have its origins in a medieval English game called rounders, and the two modern games have many similarities. Like baseball at its basic level, cricket is a conflict between a moving bat and a moving ball.

The cricket ground is composed of two "wickets"--sets of three posts driven into the ground--66 feet apart. The hard, red, leather ball--a little smaller than a baseball--is pitched, or "bowled," toward one of the wickets, bouncing once before reaching the batsman who stands with a paddle-like bat in front of the wicket, as if to protect it. Another batsman stands at the other wicket, and the bowler alternates between them every six throws.

There are no foul lines in cricket--the batsman can hit the ball anywhere on the field. If the ball is hit out of the perimeter of the field on the fly--a home run in cricket--six runs are scored. If the ball leaves the field on the ground, four runs are scored. Runs are also scored when, after a hit, the two batsmen run to each other's wicket before the ball is relayed in to a wicketkeeper, or catcher.

The batter is out if the ball is caught in the air, if one of the posts in the wicket is hit by the pitched ball or if one of the runners is thrown out. An inning is over when 10 of the 11 batters are out.

Alien Names

In addition to the bowler and the wicketkeeper, there are nine fielders on each side, and they shift according to the proclivities of the batsman or bowler. The wicketkeeper and the bowler are the battery, as in baseball, but the names of the other fielders are alien to these shores.

Instead of first base and second base, there are such infield positions as mid on, mid off and point, as well as outfielders such as long on, long off and deep square leg. When the infielders move in close to the batsman, ostensibly to watch for shallow pop-ups, they are known as "silly," as in silly point or silly mid on, because, as Verma said, "They've got to be silly to get that close to the batsman."

Just as pitchers in baseball are respected for the utter force generated by their fastballs, fast cricket bowlers are respected for their speed. Bowlers and pitchers throw their projectiles from roughly the same distance, but in cricket the bowler has as much as 50 feet to make a running windup and to throw the ball.

The best bowlers on the England and West Indies sides have been clocked at over 100 miles per hour, and every batsman wears shin guards for protection, and sometimes a helmet and shoulder pads. In spite of these precautions, several cricketers have been hit with fatal blows in competition at the sport's highest levels.

Adapt to Baseball

Cricket players who settle in the United States and other baseball-playing countries usually have few problems adapting to the new game, and their offspring often take strongly to baseball. Major leaguers such as Dominicans Mariano Duncan, George Bell, Manny Lee and Alfredo Griffin, Nicaraguan David Green and Panamanians Rod Carew and Ben Oglivie can probably trace their ancestry to forebears who left cricket-playing islands for baseball-playing Caribbean countries.

The South Bay club is the only club that fields a team in both the first and second divisions of the league, and two Sundays ago the second-division team began its quest for the Williamson Trophy. Its opponent, Ventura, started slowly but amassed 67 runs while slugger Ishur Gordhan was at bat, and the mostly Indian squad from the north ended their time at bat with 120 runs. In California cricket, each team has one at-bat, compared to two innings in international competition

During the mandatory 20-minute break while South Bay prepared to bat, bowler Smith expressed confidence that his team could top Ventura. "As long as we don't go wild, as long as we don't do anything daft, we'll be all right. It'll be a close one, but they can be beaten."

Though the South Bay players didn't do anything too daft, they were able to score only 70 runs against some good bowling by Indian-born Shankar Rao, the Dwight Gooden of the league, and the fact that no matter how well the South Bay batsmen hit, the Ventura fielders were there.

Last Sunday, the same thing happened to South Bay's first division side, which fell to the Los Angeles-based Century club, 170-85.

"That's the way it goes, basically," club President Gordon Buck said. "In cricket anything can happen."

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