Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Million Dollar Arm


I have maintained for a long time that no true American can ever really understand cricket. I’m kidding, of course … but not completely. Several times in my life I have tried to figure cricket out, reading the rules and the object of play and so forth, and once in a while I’ve thought I’ve actually got it. But ask me about it a week later, and I come up with a blank, like I do when I feel I’ve understood quantum theory. You see, it somehow seems that cricket should be a little like baseball. In both games you hit a ball with a stick. But after that, the games are completely different.

Cricket is a slow game. How slow? It makes baseball, a game some Americans feel is a slow sport, seem like roller derby. Games can go on a long time. How long? Mountain ranges have been worn away during some test matches. But in many places where the Union Jack once flew, they are crazy about cricket. The 1.2 billion people in India are cricket mad. Which is the source of this based-on-fact movie.

An American sports agent, J.B. Bernstein, came up with the notion of finding a few cricket players who might learn to translate their bowling skills into pitching in the major leagues. He traveled through India and found two likely prospects, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, young men who could hurl the pill faster than 80 mph, and brought them back to Los Angeles, where they trained at USC. Ten months after picking up the leather spheroid for the first time (ironically, neither of them were cricket players!), they were offered contracts with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It’s a feel-good movie from Disney, so don’t expect a lot of pathos beyond the ordinary ups and downs of this type of movie. The guys were from small villages in the back country, so the cultural clashes of moving to the big city are fun to watch. The supporting characters in India are amusing, maybe even a little racist at first but soon proving they are just as smart as the American. It’s well-acted, by Jon Hamm, Suraj Sharma (star of Life of Pi), and Madhur Mittal. The Indians had to learn to pitch, just like the real guys.

I was surprised to learn that the movie really did stick to the facts. I had never heard the story of how the first two men from India were signed to play ball here … and they fudged only a little. They give you the impression that these dudes actually made it to The Show, but they never got out of minor league ball. It was still quite an accomplishment, though, and they did well enough in the small towns. I’d give this a marginal recommendation, for some night when you just want to be amused.