London — England playing Australia at cricket is like pitting the Chicago Cubs against the New York Yankees of old in the World Series. After disgracing themselves with a humiliating run of defeats against other Commonwealth cricket teams, England bounced back to win the series ``down under'' recently by two matches of ``tests'' to one with two inconclusive results (or ``draws'').
Nothing is sweeter in the Englishman's world of sport than to beat Australia, particularly since the Aussies rubbed the ``Pommies''' noses recently when Australia handsomely defeated England at Rugby League (a variation of the better-known Rugby game called Rugby Union).
One Australian sports commentator was cheeky enough to say on BBC after the series that if the Australian players were the ``Racquel Welches'' of Rugby League then the British were the ``Miss Piggys.''
But now the tables are turned, with England finally making a welcome return to cricketing form by beating the Australians fair and square.
This will warm the hearts of every true Englishman shivering in the worst winter in 40 years, while he observes on television pink-cheeked English cricketers turning bronzed in Australia's summer sunshine.
Although cricket doesn't have anything like the popular following of, say, soccer or even snooker (a British variation of pool), it burns deep in the English psyche.
Englishmen who have betrayed their country as spies and gone behind the Iron Curtain are known to have pined for the game of cricket.
Diplomats abroad in noncricketing countries miss the game desperately.
To an Englishman, love of cricket can be a badge of respectability. A Conservative member of the European Parliament who was privately berating a prominent Labour Party member of the European Parliament managed to strike a modicum of balance. ``His one redeeming feature,'' he conceded, ``is he likes cricket.''
Cricket, played all in white and very often on picturesque village greens with a church spire in the background, is so much a part of British culture that cricketing terms have become everyday English metaphors.
Something which in the United States wouldn't be regarded as ``kosher'' has its English equivalent in ``it's not cricket.'' To look back on a long fulfilling career is to have had ``a good innings.'' To be ``hit for a six'' (the highest score obtainable from a single hit of the cricket bat) is to be knocked for a loop. ``Playing for time'' is also thought to have its origins in cricket where a single match at the county or international level lasts several days. People frustrated in what they are doing are ``stumped,'' while going through a bad or difficult patch is often referred to as being ``on a sticky wicket.''
To the uninitiated, the game often defies comprehension. Even Britons admit that while positions such as bowler and batsman are easy to explain, it's almost impossible to define other positions on the cricket field such as ``gully,'' ``square leg,'' ``silly mid-on,'' or ``silly mid-off.''
But for Americans who want to understand the game that was the basis for baseball, help is at hand.
It's possible to buy in one of the tourist shops a tea towel on which is inscribed the following:
``Cricket (as explained to a foreign visitor). You have two sides: one out in the field and one in. Each man that's in the side that's in goes out and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. When they are all out the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When both sides have been in and out including the not outs, that's the end of the game.''
Simple, isn't it?