The bowler's arm windmilled; the red ball rocketed toward the wicket on a spinning, rising bounce.
But Bikram Johar stepped in and with a mighty swing "hit for six," driving the ball over the boundary to win the match for the Maryland Cricket Club against an outclassed Potomac Cricket Club, from Washington.
For Dr. Johar, 25, a St. Agnes Hospital resident, clearing the boundary -- marked by yellow plastic bags fluttering on spikes -- on the fly was the equivalent of a baseball grand slam and counted for six runs.
Grinning broadly, the batsman waddled back to his teammates in his bulky thigh-high pads, accepting their plaudits with the humility inherent in this most courteous of games.
To the uninitiated, cricket remains a mysterious distant relative of baseball, played by men in white at positions with such esoteric names as silly mid-on and silly mid-off, fine line and backward short-leg.
But to the players of the District of Columbia Cricket League, which includes 16 teams from Washington, Maryland, Virginia and Philadelphia, cricket is a common thread through their diverse cultures, a link with home.
With few exceptions, the cricketers are immigrants from Great Britain and its former colonies who learned the game as boys and continue to play as adults.
Abu Kamal, from Bangladesh, the club treasurer, said most of the teams in the league recruit players who emigrated from the same general area, such as the West Indies, whose players dominate the Baltimore Cricket Club.
"We are one of the few teams that have people from all over, a broad mixture of people," Mr. Kamal said.
Dr. Louis Goldfine, 55, an Englishman who joined the Maryland club in the 1960s, said he received his first cricket bat at age 6, began playing competitively four years later and is still at it.
"I'm a left-handed slow bowler [pitcher]," Dr. Goldfine said, "which means that I can keep on bowling until I get arthritis and have to stop."
John Kalloo, 49, an expatriate Trinidadian of Indian descent, calls cricket "a unique game that does not take a certain type of person, such as the big men who play football or the giants who play basketball. A small man can make a big man look foolish in cricket."
Harshal Sisodia, 13, whose father, Champak, is from India, is torn between cricket and baseball, which he plays in an Owings Mills Recreation Council league.
"It's hard playing cricket and baseball. I've been an Orioles' fan since I was 6, but I prefer cricket. Cricket takes a different attitude," said the teen-ager.
The crack of willow on leather is the anthem of cricket. It evokes images of bucolic Sunday afternoons with spectators dipping into hampers of chilled champagne and fine food, clapping politely and occasionally calling, "well played" or "well hit" as white-clad players cavort on neatly-trimmed, emerald green fields.
The Maryland Cricket Club, founded in the early 1960s, has no such amenities.
It plays its home games at Stella Maris, on Dulaney Valley Road north of Towson, on a pitch laid out in the sun-baked outfields of two baseball diamonds.
Spectators shelter under parasols on the grassy slope overlooking the field.
The other local club, the Baltimore Cricket and Social Club, the league's defending champs, plays its home games at Reedbird Park, off Hanover Street in South Baltimore, said the club's president, John Pinnock.
"Cricket for me is a way to keep in touch with my heritage, a link with home. It is a cultural thing with us," Mr. Pinnock explained.
But to the uninitiated, it's a bit confusing. And cricketers do little to shed light on the subject.
Take this explanation from Lord's, the North London cricket ground that is home to the Marylebone Cricket Club, for example. It says in part:
"You have two sides; one out in the field and one in.
"Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out, he comes in, and the next man goes in until he's out.
"When they are all out, the side that's out comes in, and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.
"Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When both sides have been in and out including the not outs, that's the end of the game."
If that didn't help, try this:
Cricket teams have eleven players -- a bowler (pitcher), wicketkeeper (catcher) and nine fielders, all of whom get a turn at bat.
As in baseball, the object is to score runs, but unlike baseball, batters only run back and forth between two wickets 22 yards apart, rather than around the bases.
The bowler must throw a ball about the size of a baseball overhand with a straight arm, trying to hit a wicket -- three sticks in the ground covered by two cross pieces called bails -- 22 yards away.
A top-flight fast-bowler can fire the ball at up to 100 mph, matching the best major league baseball pitchers.
The batsman stands between the wicket and the bowler, just to the side.
He tries to hit the ball with a bat that looks like a large paddle.
Unlike baseball, the batsman can hit the ball in any direction.
When the ball is hit, the batsman runs toward the opposite wicket, which is beside the bowler, exchanging places with a teammate already stationed there.
They run back and forth as many times as possible before the ball is returned to the wicket.
Each crossing of a wicket counts as one run.
A batted ball that rolls to the boundary or bounces over it counts four runs.
A ball hit over the boundary on the fly is "hit for six" -- six runs, that is, better than a grand slam.
A batsman stays "up" until he is put out, either by his wicket being struck by the pitched ball, by having a fly ball caught, by putting his leg or body before the wicket to block the ball, by a fielder knocking off the bails before a run is complete, or in various other ways, just as in baseball.
A team stays at bat until everyone has been put out. The second team stays up until all players are out or until it scores more runs than the other team.
Cricket, says Geof Best, 40, who came to Baltimore from Barbados 20 years ago and quickly established himself as a good local fast-baller, is "great relaxation" and promotes "a wonderful camaraderie among the players."
But you have to wonder how the Potomac batsman who stared in wonder at one of Mr. Best's blazing fastballs feels about the camaraderie.
The bowl took a wicket so cleanly the batter never had a chance to swing.
Information about the Maryland Cricket Club is available from Dr. Manzoor Qadir,team captain,at 661-2575, or John Trikilis,vice-captain,at 561-3490. Information about the Baltimore Cricket and Social Club is available by calling 367-8898.