Saturday, 2 October 2010

How to play Pencil Cricket

There’s no cricket being played by me at the moment, so rather than let the blog fill with cobwebs I thought I’d keep it ticking over with a few random (but cricket-related) articles, of which this is the first. Looking at my Google Analytics data I can see a handful of people have sought out this blog in the understandable search for information on how to play Pencil Cricket, so allow me to illuminate the uninitiated as to how this procrastinator par excellence is played…

To play Pencil Cricket you need as a bare minimum four things: something to record a score, something to randomly generate events, an understanding of how to record a cricket score, and a furtive imagination with regards to all matters cricket. By far the most important ingredient is imagination!

The game as taught to me by my contemporaries at school involved a pad of paper and a specially modified pencil. Using a penknife the paint was stripped off the six sides of the pencil, and several rows of events were written onto the sides. I can’t remember precisely what these rows said, but would imagine it was something along these lines:

First row: dot ball / dot ball / dot ball / runs / runs / runs 
(if runs are scored roll again and go to row two)

Second row: 1 run / 1 run / 2 runs / 3 runs / 4 runs / Extras 
(if extras are scored roll again and go to row three)

Third row: 6 runs / Bye / Leg bye / No ball / Wide / HOWZAT! 
(if there is an appeal roll again and go to row four)

Fourth row: Caught / Bowled / LBW / Stumped / Hit Wicket / Not Out 
(if not out no runs are scored)

From this it should be fairly clear how the game progresses. With a separate pencil and a ruler you set out something approximating a scorebook, with a batting analysis and a bowling analysis. You then pick your two XIs, roll the pencil (a sloping desk, such as those we had at school, helps) and note down the results as you would if you were scoring a proper cricket match.

Now I said earlier that imagination is the key, and this is certainly true when you come to the most pivotal part of playing: picking your teams. You should hopefully have a decent bank of players in your mind’s eye with distinctive styles of play, whether it’s Warne, Flintoff, Bradman or WG Grace. You can pick any XI you want, preferably with some element of back story, then attribute to each name a certain style of play which you might invent or otherwise base on a known player. I recently played out a game between a Winnie the Pooh XI vs an Alice in Wonderland XI, and when the Cheshire Cat was bowling to Eeyore I had in mind what might have taken place had Shane Warne ever bowled at Geoffrey Boycott. You may also want to imagine what the commentators would make of all that’s going on - the more you can imagine, the more you are actually creating your own cricket match to follow, which is after all the whole point of the exercise.

Obviously, the format has lots of scope for customisation, and I think the version played at my school was more complicated than most. There are commercially sold versions, including one called “Owzthat” that simply has two dice - a batsman dice with 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and “Owzthat”, and an umpire’s dice with caught, bowled, LBW, stumped, “not out” and “no ball” on it. It all comes down to how accurate you want to simulate a game of cricket.

I myself have taken to using an Excel spreadsheet and using the random number generator to determine the events. This is more complicated still and removes the flaw whereby a number 11 is as likely to make a big score as anyone else, and it also allows for a more realistic run rate. The only problem is the closer you get it to the full reality of a test match, the greater the need to put aside lots of time to actually complete a game…

The picture on the right should illustrate how this works – the large numbers at the bottom of each column are randomly generated between 1 and 14, and if the number in the first column is 1 to 12, you record the event described. If it’s 13 you record the corresponding event in the extras column according to the random number in that column, and if there’s a + next to it you use column three’s number to determine the runs in the first column to add on. If it’s 14 in the first column, then it gets a little more complicated. Under the box I’ve set various thresholds for wickets depending on where the batsman lies within the batting order, so that top batsman are more likely to stay in for longer than tail-enders. If this threshold is met you then move to the third column for the method of dismissal, and if 14 comes up in this column you then move on to the rarer forms of dismissal. This way you can make rare events possible without making them too commonplace.

My version's rather geeky and long-winded so I won't embarrass myself by explaining it any further. Next time you've got a large amount of time to kill, on a plane of ferry journey for example, pick two XIs and play a match between them - see the bowler running in, visualise the batsman's stroke, hear the bowler's cries of "HOWZAT?!" and imagine the noise of the crowd as the Umpire's finger goes up. It can be a surprisingly absorbing way to pass the time.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Do I think Manfred von Richthofen would have been a seam bowler or a spinner...?


Peter Baugh said...

I know this over three years ago.... but "...and if there’s a + next to it you use column three’s number to determine the runs in the first column to add on.." That's the only bit I didn't understand. Isn't column three "How Out"? I don't understand what "column three’s number" is....

Many thanks

Pencil Cricket said...

It's the number under column three, which you apply to column one. So in this case column three says 2, which translates to a dot ball, so no runs are added.

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