The right-handed hurler fires a low fastball, which the batter smashes straight back up the middle. A fielder scoops the ball up and fires it in, where it is gloved and tapped against the wicket for the out.

Tapped against the wicket?Yes, wicket, as in cricket, as in the game that was almost America's national pastime.

Cricket apparently was the game to play here until English immigrants in the mid-1800s introduced the game of rounders, which was simpler, and everyone knows how Americans are attracted to simple. Rounders eventually evolved into baseball, and cricket in this country became a bug that eats wheat in Utah.

But while cricket never quite caught on as a game here, it still has its loyal adherents. There are two active cricket associations in the Salt Lake area, comprised mostly of Australians, Indians, Pakistanis and other subjects of the Commonwealth, and they will be in action this Saturday and Sunday at Derks Field in Salt Lake City's Second Annual International Cricket Tournament. The locals will compete against teams from Texas and Colorado.

And you can bet they will all behave like gentlemen.

If they don't, said Utah Cricket Association President John Dymond, "their teammates will beat them about the head and shoulders. In the locker room, of course."

It wouldn't do, you see, to administer such a beating in public.

It wouldn't be cricket.

Dymond was jesting, of course, but not entirely. In cricket there is a premium placed on sportsmanship. Some things just aren't done, and appropriate behavior is not just encouraged, it's expected. In baseball, anything goes, up to the point when the men in blue slap the handcuffs on. And sometimes beyond.

Asked to describe the qualities of a good cricket player, Dymond responded: "Patience, humility, sportsmanship, perseverance, stamina, intelligence, and probably last would be athletic ability."

Asked for the same list on baseball players, one would probably respond with the last four, in reverse order. Patience and humility? Those are for monks.

But while cricket players may not be baseball players, cricket is more like baseball than cricket devotees would probably admit. If you watch it without an interpreter it may seem incomprehensible, but that's true of most any sport. Ever heard the reactions of people seeing baseball for the first time?

Here's an attempt to briefly describe cricket, using baseball as a reference point:

The cricket field is generally oval-shaped. In the center of the field is the "pitch," a rectangular, mowed stretch of grass 22 yards long and 8 feet, 8 inches wide. At each end of the pitch are three wooden sticks - set into the ground side by side - which comprise the 9-inch wide wicket.

The general object of the game is for the pitcher - called a "bowler" - to bowl the ball - a cork-filled, leather-covered sphere slightly smaller than a baseball - past the batsman and hit the wicket. The batsman, meanwhile, tries to hit the ball. If he hits it far enough, he runs to the other end of the pitch. By running back and forth in the pitch, the batting team scores runs.

The team with the most runs wins.

From there it gets more complicated.

Like baseball pitchers, cricket bowlers have a variety of pitching styles.

"You've got your speed bowlers, just like your fastball pitchers, like Nolan Ryan, and you've got your spin bowlers, which is like a knuckleball," said Dymond, a native of Sydney, Australia.

On the other hand, in cricket the bowler more commonly pitches the ball to the batsman on one hop, trying to fool him with different angles of bounce.

But don't get the idea cricketers are sissies, even if they are all wearing white clothes and speaking in gentlemanly tones. They don't use gloves to field that hard little ball, and they don't wear batting helmets. That's a scary thought, considering that some fastball bowlers can throw up to 100 mph. And just like the brushback in baseball, a cricket bowler might throw a "bouncer," designed to ricochet toward the batsman's jaw and intimidate him into taking up croquet.

They may be gentlemen, but they are competitors, too.

There are 11 players on a cricket team. There are some 20 fielding positions, and which ones the defenders choose to play will depend on who is bowling and who is batting. Positions have such colorful names as backward short-leg, gully, first slip, square-leg and two apparently only played by those with suicidal tendencies - silly mid-on and silly mid-off, so called because you play very close to the batsman and you have to be silly to try them.

The pace of cricket can seem slow to someone nurtured on American sports. For instance, after a bowler throws six good balls, the batsman changes ends of the pitch and hits in the opposite direction. That means all the fielders switch around, and they do it at a fairly leisurely pace. A serious match, however, may last two or three days, so a slow pace is a good idea.

Besides the sportsmanship angle, said Dymond, the biggest difference in cricket is that it is "a very mental game."

Comparing it to "the chess game of sports," Dymond said, "You don't go out there and just pit your athletic ability against somebody else's. You've got to think. Whereas in baseball you have set plays, in cricket, everything's a judgment call. It's pure strategy all the time. It's pure concentration. The only reason a batsman gets out is through a lapse of concentration."

Cricket has also contributed its share of jargon to common usage, with expressions such as "that's not cricket" for something that is not proper; or a "sticky wicket," which originally described wet playing surfaces but has come to mean an awkward situation.

Anyway, if you want to see cricket played, go to the tournament. It benefits a good cause - the Utah Boys Ranch - and it promises a display of skill and sportsmanship.

But if the umpire makes a bad call, don't suggest he be killed.

It wouldn't be cricket.