IT'S NATURAL to assume that Americans feel about baseball the way the English do about cricket. Patriotic, nostalgic, and somewhat unreasonably proud. Both cultures are apt to read grand, philosophic metaphors into the rules and foibles of their game. But can you imagine Kent County Cricket Club commissioning a dance company to inaugurate their new ground?

The 20-minute piece of "visual theatre" devised by the American company Momix for the San Francisco Giants is easy to spot in what is now showing as a two-hour event at Sadler's Wells. It must be the bit where girls and guys wearing zebra-striped Lycra do an extended majorette routine involving baseball bats, whose phallic symbolism is played for all it's worth. The girls pout, wiggle and pose, their men take massive slugs at imaginary balls. If this is America at play, well, thank God for cricket.

As for the remaining hour and 40 minutes of Baseball, the heart sinks on seeing the line-up: 18 vignettes prefaced by the most appalling puns. "Glove at First Sight", "Bat Habits", "The Umpire Strikes Back". Thankfully, some of these routines are very short. None is short enough.

The show opens with the words THE END projected on a screen, prompting a few belly laughs from the back of the stalls. The London audience is perhaps only dimly aware that the sport has been going through a bad patch. An intractable wrangle between players and ballpark owners meant that the World Series was cancelled for the first time this century. So this is part celebration, part valediction.

It is a mystery why this should call for the shedding of clothes. For half the show the seven performers wear no more than flesh-coloured G- strings. Sometimes, the effect is grotesque. After "the end", we have the beginning; the naked silhouettes of two shaggy ape-men shin down creepers and start a fight. One picks up a rock, the other the branch of a tree. Cro-Magnon dolly birds with protruding bottoms cheer them on. The game is born.

Another scene involves a man encased in a giant ball, little arms and legs flailing. Hefty batsmen thwack him remorselessly to send him pratfalling time and time again. If this is the director's idea of comedy, I have laughed more at a pantomime cow. In fact, Moses Pendleton could do worse than use his time in London to see some English pantomime. He might learn something useful about irony.

If previous Momix shows have not been strong on substance, they at least did some clever things with projectors and lights. Woody Allen once said of baseball: "You know, it doesn't have to mean anything, it's just very beautiful to watch." If only we could say the same of this.

'Baseball': Sadler's Wells, EC1 (0171 713 6000), to Sat.

Moses Pendleton interview: see Review, page 27.