Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mysteries of Cricket

Cricket matches occasionally end in a tie, and often in a draw;  but that does not make it a futile game;  if no side ever won, the game would lose its point.
-- John Watkins, Science and Skepticism (1984), p. 279

Assignment:  Distinguish tie from draw.

I am at last resigned to the fact that I shall never understand String Theory;  and a grasp of cricket  must likewise remain  forever beyond my means.
Given that, Kipling’s dig about “the flannelled fools at the wicket” was quite unfair;  you practically have to be a barrister to make sense of the game.


More re the point of a given genre of game:

Within the vocabulary of chess, it makes no sense to say ‘That was the one and only move which would achieve checkmate, but was it the right move to make?’  … as someone might ask, whose purpose in playing chess  was to amuse a small child  rather than to win.
-- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981; 21984), p.  125

(And what is the point, of this game of life? --  Perhaps, to amuse the gods.)

It would be interesting to imagine extragalactic sociologists or philosophers, provided with a complete, objective and uncommented, play-by-play record of every cricket game ever played, and every chess game ever played; we wonder whether, from these, they could deduce what the point was.  Cf. & contrast the card‘game’ that we children called ‘War’, in which again, the ‘point’ is to ‘win’,  only, each player’s moves being completely determined, the resemblance to any normal game is but feeble;  it’s really just a long-drawn-out, inefficient way  of staging a single coin-flip.


Back to cricket, with its arcane distinctions and welter of rules -- surely exceding those of tennis (let along ping-pong), basketball, soccer  and much else.    These come at a cost (we want to shout, Just play the game!), but indeed to such an extent, that what would, from a practical point of view, be counter-productive, must surely serve some sociopsychological purpose, delineating the cultural boundaries of the Tight Little Island.   Rather like the Japanese language, with its complex system of grammatical honorifics, which no-one can master who hasn’t grown up in the culture from birth.  Or Anglo-Catholic worship ritual: unlike in an evangelical church, where anyone can wander in off the street and fit right in, for an outsider to attempt to participate  is continually to find yourself sitting when (suddenly, inexplicably) everyone else is standing up,  or standing up when they are sitting down, or kneeling, or crossing themselves.

For an American analogue, we would suggest, not so much our National Pastime of baseball, which physically most resembles cricket, but American football, with its ever-expanding rulebook, its minute schedules of differing penalties for everything from twitching (on the offensive line -- “false motion” -- or the defensive -- “offsides”) to spiking the ball; and its many game-interrupting circumstances. -- What physically most resembles football is rugby;  but here the playing of the game -- the continuous unscripted motion, as in soccer or basketball -- quite trumps the courtly ceremony characteristic of football.


There is generally a core of rules that characterize the essence of a given kind of game.  As for the rest, they contribute to its aura of spectacle,  but are not constitutive of the game.
The essense of football is simply that one guy runs with the ball toward a goal, and the other guys try to stop him.   Early football (and kids’ football even today) was largely just that.   Then they added the possibility of a forward pass:  that was a significant addition to the core, constitutive of an extension of the game (Football  v. 2.0), but one in which the earlier nucleus remained aufgehoben:  after all, there are plenty of running plays even in the NFL, and if you laid them all end-to-end, you’d have a simulacrum of original football (though to be sure, they are subtly different, since each play is instinct with the possibility that someone might throw the ball).

The constitutive rules of chess are the powers of the pieces.   That much is sine qua non -- you couldn’t very well specify the moves of all the pieces except the knight, letting that fellow to joust around as the mood might move him.   But now you’ve got a game, which could just as well exist without niggling side-rules like that of castling, or capture en passant (let alone purely ceremonial, non-structural rules like “j’adoube”).

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