First, let's get the jokes out of the way. Yes, some games go for five days and end in a draw, batsmen can score hundreds of runs, and players break for lunch and tea. But U.S. readers quick to poke fun at cricket should know that the version of the sport most suited to American tastes (shorter, faster, more colorful outfits) holds its quadrennial World Cup right next door in the Caribbean this month. It's the perfect opportunity for adventurous U.S. sports lovers to get to know a game beloved by millions from Antigua to Zimbabwe (not to mention a billion or so Indians).
Up until a month ago, reigning champion Australia was a good bet to take a record third successive cup. Then it hit a rough patch and lost its No. 1 ranking to a just peaking South Africa.
Challenges could also come from India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and perhaps even the West Indies, should its hit-or-miss team fire at home. The games, which will be held at nine locations around the Caribbean, last about eight hours apiece, with each team facing a maximum of 300 balls (50 overs) per game. Although it lacks the alternately subtle and fiery interplay that makes the best five-day cricket something akin to physical chess, good one-day cricket is full of excitement and big hitting.
Watch for Australia's Ricky Ponting, India's Sachin Tendulkar and the West Indies' Brian Lara all among the best batsmen in history facing down bowlers who can threaten the 100-m.p.h. mark. If you're just not sure you can get into the sport, head to Barbados or Jamaica anyway: cricket in the West Indies is another word for party.
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