LONDON -- Of all the similarities between cricket and baseball -- the throwing, the hitting, the running, the odd devotion to long pants, the shall-we-say languid pace of play -- the most striking one is this: They are the only major sports in the world in which the defense has the ball.
At first, this might not seem like a big deal. But it was impossible to ignore after a day such as Saturday, when, some 400 years after cricket was said to have been formalized and about 170 years after baseball played its first recorded game, these stick-and-ball cousins put their connections on display in an unprecedented way.
It was, all told, a repository of runs, a plethora of pitches, as these games have (literally) never been closer. There are just 8 miles between Lord's Cricket Ground, where Australia played New Zealand in a Cricket World Cup match in the early afternoon, and the Olympic Stadium, where the Yankees faced the Red Sox at night in the first Major League Baseball game in the United Kingdom. It was a distance that allowed anyone -- preferably anyone with a lot of sunscreen and a decent alcohol tolerance -- to mix wickets and walks, overs and outs.
I made that journey Saturday (with the sunscreen but minus the drinking) and, to my surprise, found myself focusing more on the similarities between these sports than the differences.
"To start, you'll see that Lord's has the same feel as Yankee Stadium," said Graeme Lloyd, who is as close to a primary source on both subjects as I could find. Lloyd is Australian, so he has cricket in his blood, and he pitched for the Yankees from 1996 to '98, becoming the first Australian player to win a World Series. "The sense of history, the sense of importance to the game," he continued, "it's the same at a place like Lord's as at the old Stadium."
He was right. With the nine stands ringing the playing field, a glorious balcony and a main house that has elegant staircases and crystal chandeliers, a visit to Lord's can feel as though you're watching a cricket match in a museum (which, technically, you are: Lord's has been around for more than 200 years and has a great gallery of art and memorabilia).
By 2 p.m., the fans milled about, eating and drinking and trying not to melt in unseasonably warm temperatures that threatened 90 degrees. The general sentiment seemed to be one of blissful, leisurely tranquility intermingled with occasional spasms of incredible intensity, such as when the man next to me eating French fries spilled ketchup all over his friend as he quickly transitioned from lazily chatting about the weather to wildly celebrating a diving catch from New Zealand bowler Jimmy Neesham.
The whole scene felt familiar, too, like the cricket version of hearing the crack of the bat, jumping up from your seat and dumping the beer you had in your lap all over the people in front of you. In either case, is it really your fault? When the defense is the side that has the ball, it generally wants to do whatever it can to keep the offense from getting any sort of rhythm. That results in both sports featuring stop-start-stop-wait-a-minute paces, which might hinder the other team but also leaves some fans in a (totally understandable) light daze.
"Both sports are actually excellent as background noise," said Kenneth W. Regan, a professor at the University of Buffalo who has written on the intersections of baseball and cricket. "In both sports, there is constant slower movement that is based around the defense trying to take away a relatively small supply of outs from the offense. They're great to have on the radio while you're working on a doctoral thesis."
Now, some describe cricket as more action-packed than baseball, arguing that something happens on every pitch. While that is true, the counterpoint, one quickly realizes, is that cricket also has a lot more foul-ball equivalents, in which the batsman makes contact with the ball but doesn't hit it far enough for anyone to try to score.
The strategy of the game, a genteel gentleman sitting behind me explained, is layered. The fielding team tries to bowl balls that will induce the batsman to hit the ball to the places where they have put their fielders, while the batsman is trying to protect his wicket on tough pitches and smash the ball beyond the field's boundary when he gets a relative meatball.
Cricket has even created new versions of the game, designed to increase the aggressiveness of the batting team and shorten the length of any given match. "That's been controversial for a lot of cricket traditionalists," Lloyd said, "but I think the people in charge in both sports know that most fans mostly want to see guys swinging."
That is, at their hearts, the appeal of both games, isn't it? To see someone stand up there, a tiny twig in his hands and a determined look on his face, staring down a whizzing ball and somehow sending it catapulting toward the stars? That's the magic of it, the aspirational part that fans crave. The Neesham catch was great, sure, but there was grumbling all over Lord's about the paucity of sixes -- something akin to a home run -- on display.
By 5 p.m. at the Olympic Stadium, as the fans poured in through the gates, they chattered less about the pitchers and more about Aaron Judge and J.D. Martinez and how many blasts might fly over the (very, very) short center-field fence.
It was a lot, as it turned out. The Yankees and Red Sox took nearly an hour to play the first inning, combining to score 12 runs as Masahiro Tanaka recorded just two outs before being pulled and was, absurdly, the starting pitcher who lasted longest (Rick Porcello got only one out). Judge did hit a home run. So did Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks. Michael Chavis hit two for the Red Sox. Jackie Bradley Jr. had one for Boston, too.
As dusk turned to nightfall, the fans did as their cricket colleagues had done: They lounged, snacking on Britain's version of a ballpark hot dog and laughing at the grounds crew dancing to "YMCA." Sporadically, they roared, such as when Chavis unleashed his second blast to center in the seventh inning or when Freddie Mercury edged out Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster in the Giant Mascot Race. (Winston Churchill, who competed with a cigar in his mouth, brought up the rear.)
Just before 9 p.m., Australia finished off New Zealand 243-157 in what might (but probably wouldn't) be called a "bowler's duel." The Yankees' wild 17-13 win at the stadium was still trudging along at that point, but the fans seemed unbothered.
More than 4½ hours after the first pitch, Aroldis Chapman took the mound in the bottom of the ninth, charged with protecting the lead. He picked up the ball, looked in at the catcher and took the sign. He was in no hurry.