Personally, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Cover and Point, though I can explain reverse swing and give you at least seven ways a batsman can be declared out. I’m one of those people who like cricket, but only when England are playing. The sort of fair-weather fan that used to watch the Test Matches all summer long when it resided on terrestrial, but has no interest in taking out a Sky subscription to see the defence of The Ashes. I’m casual to say the least, but still interested enough to done my virtual pads and head out to the middle to take guard against Codemaster’s latest rebranding of their series, International Cricket 2010.
When faced with a semi-unfamiliar sport, stepping straight into a game is a daunting experience, and yet Trickstar’s lessons are well pitched and gently welcome newcomers, even if they are a little lengthy. From the basics of simply connecting with a ball to more advanced notions such as footwork, placement, tactics, and even some bowling tips that border on psychological warfare, they do a wonderful job of educating the uninitiated in all aspects of cricket. Indeed, many other major sport franchises would do well to take heed.
Nothing, however, can prepare you for your first ball faced in anger. No sooner was I guarded against a pacey Australian opener, than I was marching back to the pavilion. Quack.
Batting focuses heavily on timing. As the batsman, you need to take both the pace and type of delivery approaching you and select your shots and footwork respectively. Mistime your swing, select an incorrect shot, or even chose the wrong footwork, and you’ll hear the clatter of your wicket behind you or send the ball careering towards the slips. Though this may sound overwhelming, it soon becomes second nature as you get a feeling for the game. Breaking in each new batter with a series of safe, defensive shots allows you to get into a rhythm with the bowler’s deliveries, helping to crack the timing required to start hitting freely. The more technical points, such as footwork, also resolve themselves with time at the crease, and soon you’ll know intuitively which combinations to avoid and which will bring a succession of runs, even if it is through experimentation.
By the end of my initial innings, I may have not been smacking the ball around the park with all the pomp of Pietersen in full flow, but the early terror of facing a pace attack had subsided. In a strange reflection of that which I was playing, I began each subsequent match nervously; attempting to find my feet; prodding singles; building up confidence before lashing the ball away for successive boundaries. Patience and rhythm are the key.
Bowling is a far easier prospect than batting, but results are based on consistency and variety. With each ball, the type of delivery is chosen and then, in the short time the bowler takes to complete his run-up, length, spin and timing of the release all need to be applied. As with the batting this may sound complex but after a few overs it becomes extremely natural, with a level of involvement that stops the action becoming a mundane, repetitive act, instead requiring a degree of focus each time.
At times it does feel like a thankless task, being knocked to all angles of the field, but such is life in a sport where the score so routinely reaches triple figures. As suggested during the tutorial stage, a plan is required: bowl down a handful of similarly styled deliveries, and then just when the batsman is getting comfortable switch tact and chuck in something unexpected. Hopefully that will force him into a rash decision and leave the door open for a wicket. It’s not easy, mind; especially against the tougher AI opposition, wickets need to be worked for.
It’s a testament to the many iterations of cricket games that Codemasters have produced such involving batting and bowling components. Not only that, but that they both try and portray the subtler aspects of their real world counterparts. Sadly, the third pillar of the game, fielding, is a somewhat different affair; there is little or no input from the player controlling the fielding side once the ball has left the bowler’s hand, apart from pressing A if a catching opportunity presents itself. Though in fairness, running after a ball hit through mid-off is hardly the most gripping of pursuits, and I’d be probably be complaining equally if constantly forced to do so. Even so, the manner in which some fielders field the ball, becoming jarringly locked in a canned animation as they reach down to scoop it up, can break the flow of an otherwise smooth game.
What International Cricket 2010 delivers is the leather-on-willow equivalent to the beautiful game’s Pro Evo: an authentic recreation of the game, if not necessarily replete with all the licensed teams. Both the English and Australian sides are present, along with a host of regular Test Match Special commentators to talk you through the various Twenty-20, One Day Internationals and Test Matches that are on offer. As too with Pro Evo, there are prettier sporting games out there. Stadiums seem very angular and functional, whilst flat textures and lighting do nothing to enhance the look of either players or surroundings.
As an authentic recreation of the game, it is impressive, managing to capture the subtleties associated with the two core facets of the sport – patience for batsmen, discipline for bowlers – and makes each delivery into a mini-tactical battle against the opposition. Furthermore, through Trickstar’s presentation I learned an awful lot more about the finer points of the sport as a whole, which will no doubt be of interest to other casual followers. As an out-and-out game, however, the translation of such a sport has its definite drawbacks, namely the incredibly long time spent doing one task and the highly repetitive nature of said task. For the all-I-watch-are-The-Ashes fans, that will be too much to overlook.
Add a couple of overthrows if you believe that cricket is the reason that the summer was invented, but this one’s been firmly smacked high through Cover for…