Olden sport finds new life in ABQ

May 25—A very old sport is making a dazzling premiere in Albuquerque.

The first-ever cricket tournament is proving popular at Balloon Fiesta Park this weekend. Hosted by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Cricket Club of the Southwest, organizers were expecting it to draw 12,000 people.

Opening ceremonies were Thursday, and play will continue through today. There are 336 athletes on hand from across the country as well as India and Panama, according to the city of Albuquerque.

Though the sport has fans across the globe, it remains relatively obscure in the U.S. So, for fans who might be taking in a game on the tournament's final day, here's a primer on the olden game.

Cricket, the second most popular sport in the world after soccer, is truly an international game. India, Australia, England, Pakistan and the West Indies are among the major players, though many other countries enjoy the game. Cricket dates back to the 1600s, a couple centuries before baseball came on the scene, and has had generations of great players from all over the world.

Despite its American reputation of being a slow game, it's a game of blazing fastballs and slow, twisty hard-to-hit spin bowling, or pitching, and giant home runs that get awarded six runs. That's why scores are so high. An elite batsman, wielding a flat bat, can earn a century, 100 runs, in a single inning. The record is held by former Trinidadian cricketer Brian Lara, with 400 runs, achieved in a game against England in 2004.

The fast ball is delivered by a fast bowler at speeds similar to baseball. Fast bowlers get to take a running start to do so. Imagine if a pitcher was able to take a running start. Worse, the fast bowler can bounce the ball if he so desires, so it can suddenly rise upward sharply in front of the batsman and change direction at frightening speeds. Even so, a skilled batsman can send the 5.75 ounce ball far away with just a flick of the wrist at such speeds. Baseballs are slightly lighter and larger in size but not by much.

Fielding is similar to baseball, with fly outs and throw outs, but there's no gloved hand. Cricket players make spectacular catches with their bare hands.

And there's that term, "wickets." The wickets mainly refer to the three sticks the batsman guards. The three sticks have a couple small pieces of wood balanced on top. Once any of this is hit, tipped or knocked off, the batsman's out.

Speaking of speed, running between wickets or bases is just as daunting as running bases in baseball after a hit. Two batsmen at opposite sides of the 66-foot pitch switch places and if they make it safely, it's scored as a run. If there is just one run, then the bowler will be throwing to the batsman who was just at the opposite end. A batsman doesn't retire until he is put out, and he doesn't have to run when he hits the ball like in baseball, so long "wicket-stands" are part of the game. There are no strike outs. But a batsman can be bowled out. That's when the sticks go flying off the wickets.

Each side plays two innings in traditional cricket in what's known as Test matches, the ones that last for days. Some of the international teams competing in Test matches only need one inning to wipe out their struggling opponent, burying them in runs.

For Americans perplexed by the idea of following a single game over four or five days, as Test matches have been known to last, imagine the possibilities. In a long game, on a new day, your struggling team finds new life and looks to turn things around and achieve victory. It's exhilarating and definitely worth the wait.

The game from the old country took the colonies by storm, but not the good old USA. Still, it's never too late for cricketers to dream.

The U.S. has a T-20 cricket league, which plays a game with a slightly different format than international Test matches. Instead of two innings for each side, teams in T20 games play for 20 overs. An over is six balls delivered by the bowler or pitcher. That could be a spin bowler, or a fast bowler. As always, the side that scores the most runs wins the match. Be ready.