David Shillingford of the Shelter Island Cricket Club demonstrates the straight-armed throw of the game for columnist Ralph Gardner Jr. The club’s annual match is Saturday. Uli Seit for The Wall Street Journal
The vast and unbridgeable gulf between two peoples, even those with a common language, can be summed up in one word: cricket.
I’ve never understood the sport. I find it impenetrable. No matter how much I’ve watched it. Not that I’ve watched that much.
I think part of the problem is I’m a chauvinist: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
Cricket bears a passing resemblance to baseball but, to an outsider, appears to lack the machismo. In baseball, the pitcher bends his arm at the elbow, whipping the ball at maximum velocity. In cricket, the ball is thrown with the arm straight, which looks vaguely girlish.
Also in cricket, as I understand it, points are scored and accolades earned just as easily by hitting the ball along the ground. In baseball, poetry is made when the projectile takes flight and travels as far as possible.
A cricket ball—crimson with white stitching Uli Seit for The Wall Street Journal
You’ve probably already deduced—especially if cricket is your sport—that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Which is why I made my way to Shelter Island last week for a cricket lesson ahead of the Shelter Island Cricket Club’s third annual match on Saturday. The game is a fundraiser for the Shelter Island Ambulance Corps.
Two Brits—David Shillingford, in risk management, and Frank Emmett, a Shelter Island schoolteacher—had agreed to provide a tutorial.
Also, present were Mr. Shillingford’s two children, Orla and Basil. They were sitting in their dad’s car in the shade entertaining themselves.
I bring them up only because Mr. Shillingford boasted that earlier in the day it was 11-year-old Basil who had mowed the pitch, the 22-yard strip of manicured grass where the bowler delivers the ball and the batsman attempts to hit it.
“Unlike baseball, the ball is supposed to bounce before it gets to the batsman,” Mr. Shillingford explained. “A bumpy pitch is dangerous.”
The bowler’s art, as I understand it, is to deliver the ball with all the unpredictability that a baseball pitcher musters with the curve, fastball, knuckler, slider, etc.
His assignment is probably even more of a challenge since it’s supposed to hit the dirt, or rather the grass, before rising to the batter. Hence, you want as true a bounce as possible.
“The town has a heavy roller,” to produce as smooth and professional a pitch as possible, Mr. Shillingford explained. Unfortunately, it had yet to be deployed. Which didn’t come as good news.
David Shillingford, in the white cap, and Frank Emmett demonstrate how to play the game of cricket. Uli Seit for The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Shillingford handed me the cricket ball, which was crimson, its seam in the center. Nonetheless, its density was similar to a baseball’s.
I saw the risk manager delivering it with English—no pun intended—and it taking a diabolical bounce directly into my eye socket.
“People assume we play every weekend” because of the club’s handsome white jerseys and caps, Mr. Shillingford said. “We play once a year.
“We had a phenomenal graphic designer” who created the regalia, he added. “He got carried away with the logo.”
He was referring to the club’s rakish and professional-looking emblem of crossed cricket bats over an outline of Shelter Island and the letters S-I-C-C. “Last year, we had players from England, Wales, Canada, Bangladesh, New Zealand.”
Mr. Emmett added: “Sri Lanka, India, America, obviously.”
Sides were apparently picked based on who owned homes on the island, who rented, and who simply happened to be somebody’s houseguest.
“Whether you had kids born in the U.S. was part of the algorithm,” Mr. Shillingford said.
Unlike professional cricket matches, which may be played over five days, the Shelter Island benefit consumes only a few hours.
Frank Emmett helps measures out the pitch. Uli Seit for The Wall Street Journal
Pimm’s Cup and rosé are served to friends and admirers—attendance last year hit 400—though apparently not to the combatants until the match is complete.
“You want to be quick-witted,” Mr. Shillingford explained.
“There’s no advantage to being relaxed. Professional cricket organizations do quite well at selling alcohol, but not to the players with the ball moving as fast as it is.”
After Messrs. Shillingford and Emmett took their “innings,” I stepped into the batter’s box, or crease, or whatever the area in front of the wicket is called.
I had no problem making contact with the ball, probably because a cricket bat is wide and flat—and because Mr. Shillingford was courteously delivering the ball from about 10 feet away and at about 5 miles an hour, as if he were pitching to a toddler.
I demanded he throw the ball at the grown-up speed and from the distance he was bowling it to Mr. Emmett.
The projectile took a wild bounce, caroming from my right side to my left and whizzing about 6 inches past my left ear.
“HOWZAT!” the Brits shouted in unison.
“When they think a player is out, the opposing team shouts howzat! to influence the umpire,” Mr. Shillingford explained.
Little persuasion was required in my case. I was clearly out and happy to return to my national pastime.