Palant and cricket family resemblances?

Two games, both played with bat and ball, both involving hitting, running, and catching the ball, both with their origins in traditional folk games. One originated in Upper Silesia and Opole District, and may have been transferred to the United States by Polish and German immigrants, where, some claim, it served as the inspiration t'or baseball. The other began as a game by country boys in old England, grew gradually into an organised sport with defined rules, and was exported to the British colonies. It is enthusiastically followed to~lay not only in England but also in India, Sri Lanka, Australia and the West Indies, among other countries. These games are Palant and Cricket. Let's look now at the way both games are played.

Palant and baseball do indeed bear some similarities. For one thing, they are both played with a ball of approximately the same size, though the ball used in baseball is heavier. A palant bat is similar to a baseball bat, but shorter. As in baseball, the object is for the batter to strike the ball and return safely to his position. But palant, like any game, has its own rules and style that make it unique. It is played by two teams of ten players, for forty minutes with a five minute break. The playing field is a rectangle, 50 metres by 25 metres. One of the 25 metre sides is called the "border" line, the opposite side the "nest" line. Players of one team take their places behind the nest line, while the players of the other team stand in the field and behind it. Points are scored only by the team inside the nest. One by one, the team members hit the ball from the nest with the palant, aiming t.o strike it as far as possible into the field and then run, ideally to the finish, which is near the border line, and back. The striker gains points if he can do this before the "field players" catch the ball and throw it back behind the nest line. If a field player catches the ball and manages to hit with it any of the running players from the nest, he has "handcuffed" the player. The other "nest players" may then run out and try to catch the ball and hit the field players with it. This is called "re-handcuffing". Successful re-handcuffing means that the nest players do not lose the nest. But if they don't succeed, they lose the nest and the teams exchange roles.

Like palant, the aim of cricket is to hit the ball and score points by running. But the rules, method and style of play are very different. England's national summer sport is played by two teams of eleven players each on a large field. Teams take turns at batting (an "innings") and bowling, changing places at the end of an innings. Teams have one or two innings each, during which they try to score more "runs" than the other team. Whereas in palant the striker defends his nest, in cricket the batsman defends his "wicket" from the bowler. The wicket is of central importance in cricket, and so is worth describing in some detail. It consists of three sticks, or "stumps" each around seventy centimetres high, placed in the ground so that the ball cannot pass between them. On top of the stumps are laid the "bails", two pieces of wood each eleven centimetres long. The whole wicket is about twenty-three centimetres in width. There are two sets of wickets, placed facing each other twenty metres apart in the centre of the field. The batting side defends the wicket and attempts to score runs by hitting the ball and running to the opposite wicket. The bat used is very different from a palant. It is not cylindrical but 'paddle-shaped', about eleven centimetres broad. The whole bat, including the handle, is a little less than a metre long, about the length of a baseball bat.

While the other members of the batting side wait their tum, the first two batsmen take their places at. their wickets. On the opposing team, the bowler prepares to take aim at the first batsman's wicket. Behind the batsman squats the wicketkeeper, waiting to catch any stray balls. Around the field stand the other players, who are acting as "fielders". Each time the batsman hits the ball, they try to catch it before it touches the ground. If they do so, the batsman is "caught out". He must leave the field, to be replaced by another.

And so play begins. The batsman hits the bowled ball far enough to attempt a run. He races for the opposite wicket, and his partner runs toward him. When each has reached the wicket, one run is recorded to the striker. If there is time, they will run back for a second or more runs, crossing each other's path again. If the batsman hits the ball as far as the edge of the field, or "boundary", the runners stop and four runs are scored. If he manages to hit it over the boundary, he scores six. The fielders meanwhile race for the ball. Even if they do not manage to catch it in the air, they should retum it as quickly as possible to the wicketkeeper. If the batsman is still running when the wicketkeeper receives the ball, the wicketkeeper will hit the wicket with the ball and the batsman will be "run out". Being caught out by a fielder and run out by the wicketkeeper are two of the three principal ways a batsman can be made to leave the field. The other way is the ambition of every bowler: to break the batsman's wicket, that is, to knock the bails from the top of it. And this, in outline, i.s how the game goes, until one side wins by scoring the most runs during all their innings.

If palant is a half-brother to baseball, cricket is a distant cousin settled on a foreign shore. Sharing the same language of bat and ball, they nevertheless operate with entirely different conventions. There is about as much chance of a good baseball player becoming a good cricketer, or vice-versa, as there is of a monkey riding a bicycle. Not that this matters to the spectators, who, with a little knowledge of the rules and style of play, can equally enjoy watching palant, baseball, or cricket. Enjoy the game!

John P. Tobin