This is not an attempt to describe how cricket is played: refer to Cricket Rules for that, and despair. Instead you'll find here a brief history and background to cricketing tropes as used in fiction. In the interests of being understandable to people who don't know what cricket is (Americans), baseball / softball terms are used for explanations.
Cricket originated in England and spread as one of the more benevolent exports of The British Empire, today mostly played in the countries of The Commonwealth. It is no longer a game associated with whites (any more): cricket is immensely popular in post-colonial India, Pakistan, the Caribbean, and post-apartheid South Africa.
Despite jokes about Americans fighting a war to get away from cricket-lovers, the game was quite popular in the United States until around the time of the Civil War, and the first official international cricket match was played between the USA and Canada in 1844 on a field in Staten Island. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that George Washington himself was a cricket enthusiast! note Raymond Chandler, British-educated author of quintessential Americana, was a useful bowler of leg-breaks while at Dulwich College, and during The Golden Age of Hollywood the Hollywood Cricket Club was a much-appreciated reminder of home for many British actors; its membership rolls included such luminaries as Boris Karloff, Laurence Olivier, Cary Grant, and David Niven. Currently, North America cricket is played in the more English bits of Canada, some older cities such as Philadelphia, in areas with a high concentration of South Asian residents (such as Silicon Valley and the greater Los Angeles area) and in the Caribbean. And in the fall of 2016, even as the Chicago Cubs were winning their first World Series victory in more than a century, Uncle Sam was winning an international cricket tournament.
Cricket in Western fiction at least is always associated with traditional English values of decency, fair play, and the Stiff Upper Lip. If someone is described as a cricket player or fan, that implies civilised middle to upper class behaviour, in contrast to those dreadful soccer fans who spend the match beating each other up. Pass the tea and scones. Cricket does not have class barriers, even in Victorian Britain. Lord Peter Wimsey can take the field alongside the village blacksmith and nobody will raise an eyebrow. On the field all are equal,note and if a working class fast bowler takes the opportunity to bruise a few noble ribs, it's just a game old chap, no hard feelings. Cricket has generally followed society on race issues rather than lead, although both Australia and England, refused to play against apartheid era South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s and the ICC participated in the international boycott of South Africa until the start of The '90s.
Despite the association in America of Cricket and Old England, it is important to emphasize that the idea of cricket as an old and "quaint" sport doesn't match reality. Australia has fielded a highly-successful international team since the first official Test match against England in 1877, and the sport is enjoyed passionately by people from all walks of life in the Land Down Under. The biggest cricket-playing nations in the world in terms of viewership and enthusiasm are in the Indian Subcontinent — India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh. In these nations cricket is a street sport, played by poor kids in villages, cities, and other parts, and is far far removed from aristocratic and white-imperialist imagery. One of the greatest cricket teams in history, in both Test Cricket and One-Day Cricket is the West Indies, which was the joint team put forth to represent the Caribbean nations. There cricket was and is extremely Serious Business, being both a source of national pride for the countries involved and something of a rallying point for regional identity. There aren't many sports which could be taken equally seriously, and written about with comparable levels of passion and knowledge, by both a Trinidadian Marxist intellectual and a former British Tory Prime Minister.note West Indies have declined in recent decades, owing largely to competing interests in American sports but it's still a big deal there, and most of the lists of greatest players of all time, especially for fast bowlers and stylish batsmen, will include West Indians. It's also important to emphasize that England has never won the World Cup in cricket until 2019, and historically while producing a number of great batsmen, bowlers, and all-rounders and many great fields, are about the same level as their Football counterparts are (i.e. they are over-represented, and over-advertised because of the market share and media clout they have owing to their historical and economic status but their records don't quite match to reality).
His Lordship, of course, will not be paid for playing even if other members of his team are. English cricket distinguished between amateurs and professionals until post WWII. Even today cricketers do not get paid nearly as much as star players in most other sports, although the new IPL 20/20 competition is changing this. Cricket has a somewhat odd attitude to physical force. It is accepted, even expected, that the faster bowlers (pitchers) can within some limits try to hit the batsman in groin, body, or head. And the batsman won't get a free run for being hit, either. But any other physical contact, or conduct that might cause injury, is Not Cricket.
Specialist batsmen have the highest status in cricket rather than the more hard-working and usually less glamorous bowlers (specialist pitchers). Like baseball or softball, fielding in cricket involves standing around in the hot sun waiting for a ball to come in your direction, but for much longer periods of hours or even days. In both England and India, aristocratic batsmen were reputed to command their servants to perform their fielding duties for them but that is no longer the case in international cricket. The English firmly believe that they play cricket in a more chivalrous and genteel manner than anyone else, and hence can be excused for being beaten by more aggressive foreigners. As one might expect in international sport, this is despite England producing a number of successful cricket captains who were every bit as ruthless and conniving as their counterparts elsewhere. True English fans will dismiss the likes of Douglas Jardine as unrepresentative exceptions. Other nations more or less consider cricket another sport the English invented and popularized to the rest of the world (alongside Tennis, Football, Rugby) only to be outclassed by the people they taught the game to. England and Australia have a century old cricketing rivalry for The Ashes. Matches between India and Pakistan, two countries which were at war as recently as 1971, are also Serious Business and since The Oughties, extremely rare owing to weak diplomatic relations and problems in Pakistan with terrorism. Their actual records if you are curious head to head have Australia and Pakistan having a higher W/L ratio to their respective competitors in terms of matches won but it varies by special tournaments and series.note
Despite a rich history and widespread popularity, cricket rarely plays a significant part in books and almost never in film or TV. It's also because it's a fairly complex game with multiple genres if you will, each of which is different because of the rules in place, which makes each one unique. This is because it takes so damn long for anything to happen. A first class cricket match, equivalent to a US NFL or MLB game, or a European soccer league match, is played over four days of six to ten hours each, although 3-Day games also exist. International (Test) matches are five days, and is generally considered among cricket buffs and by sportsmen to be Nintendo Hard and the true form of the sport (and hence the name "test matches"). This is because of the physical strain of having to play nine hours of a single day for the fielding team, and an equally long time for the batsmen, from morning to late-evening. Or whenever the umpire decides the light is too dark for the batsmen to see the ball. What's worse, and more frustrating is that in the long-form version of cricket, you can spend all that time and not even get a result either because of a draw where no result was achieved, or because it started to rain and the entire match got cancelled (which happens a lot whenever test matches take place in England and the West Indies especially, less so in countries where the rain is more fixed to certain clear seasons).
The one-day form (guess why it's called that) is not taken as seriously by older players and critics, and the newer and more accelerated Twenty20 cricket in which a match "only" takes three hours is considered by both FC, Test, and one-day fans, as proof of civilisation descending into barbarism. In general, the shorter versions of the game are more result-friendly, i.e. no chance of a draw (the nearest thing is the rare tie). There are also rules in place in the shorter-form that make it more batsmen-centric and less bowler-friendly, more or less nerfing the latter for the benefit of the former. In recent times, a number of critics have expressed worries that the shorter version of the game is more or less leading to a decline in quality bowling, and especially fast bowling. Fast bowling is the most physically strenuous form of bowling, and has historically been the form of bowling that is the most stylish and entertaining to see (since even when the bowler doesn't get the batsman out, the possibility that he could reach very high speeds provides additional suspense and thrill) and certainly the form that has produced some of the best cricketers in history. In Test cricket, victory depends on bowlers since the only way to get a result is if one side succeeds and/or fails in bowling out the other side's team in two separate innings before they reach a target to win/draw. In the shorter-form victory depends on one side's batsmen outscoring and outhitting the other side, which has led many, including old-time nostalgics, and more recent cricket fans (i.e. the ones who like ODI as well) as feeling that this is the real decline of cricket.
Cricket is therefore used in the background or as a personal trait to convey atmosphere and character rather than being the focus. In the UK, it used to be that the best way to watch the cricket is to mute the TV and turn on the radio. This is because of Test Match Special, which is essentially regular sports commentary crossed with Last of the Summer Wine. Given the nature of the sport, you'll likely hear the commentators passing the time with such subjects as various flavours of scones, matches from decades ago, and the species of the bird that's walking across the field. It's an experience like no other. Another reason is because of breaks in commentary for the transmission of The Shipping Forecast for Britain's coastal waters, itself an English institution.
A few cricketing names and expressions will be recognised everywhere cricket is played, although to anyone else they will probably be taken for Stock British Phrases.
- Sir Donald Bradman, aka The Don. A legendary
batterbatsman, the cricketing equivalent of Babe Ruth or Pelé. His career Test batting average, 99.94—meaning that on average, he scored just shy of 100 runs each time he went to bat,note is one of the most famous sporting statistics. For perspective, the player who's second on the all-time list (fellow Aussie Adam Voges) is just shy of 62, and most full-time batsman are well content with a career average of 45. A study done on sports statistics showed that this average is so far off the mean that a baseball batter would have to have a career batting average of .392 (significantly higher than the actual MLB career batting average record, Ty Cobb's .366) and a basketball player would have to score 43.0 points per game throughout their career. Allegedly, this is the reason The ABC's postal address is PO box 9994.
- Clean bowled. When the ball goes straight through the batsman and strikes the stumps without being touched. Like ten pin bowling, this also generates a satisfying clatter as the wooden stumps are dislodged. By analogy, anything that goes right through despite your attempts to stop it. The satisfying clatter is also known as the "death rattle".
- Dispatched to the boundary. In the active sense, the batsman hits the ball through the fielders to the edge of the playing area, scoring four runs. By analogy, something that was easily dealt with. In the passive sense, a fielder is dispatched to the boundary either because they have made a mistake or are generally hopeless, and thus are being placed as far away as possible in the hope of keeping them out of the action. This second usage is fading away as in modern cricket the best fielders are often on the boundary, not the worst.
- Hit for six. Hit into the crowd on the full, for the maximum possible six runs. Direct equivalent to a baseballer hitting it out of the park (but in terms of conversational metaphor, is used more like 'home run'). The big difference between baseball and cricket though is that the ball cannot be kept by a spectator and must immediately be returned; balls can be hit for six multiple times.
- Lord's. Lord's Cricket Ground, in London, England. The most revered cricketing playing field in the world. Every cricketer dreams of playing at Lord's one day.
- Maiden over. An over in which no runs are scored.
- MCC, Marylebone Cricket Club in London. The owner and operator of Lord's, which for decades set the Laws of Cricket and controlled the game.note Even in England, MCC members are assumed to be stuffy-minded ineffective establishment grumblers of the most conservative type.
- MCG, or the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia. The equivalent to Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium in the Americas, having been on the same site since 1854, in all but the official sense the national stadium in Australia, as that country's most high profile cricket and Australian Rules Football matches often take place there, along with high-profile concerts and its use as the main venue for the 1956 Olympic Games and 2006 Commonwealth Games, and almost anything where a ball and grass is needed. Owned by the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC - both the acronym and the stereotypes are the same as the other MCC).
- Not Cricket. Unfair, against the rules, unchivalrous.
- Rabbits. Poor batsmen, usually specialist bowlers, who seem to be scared stiff any time a ball goes near them. (This is the source of the nickname given to the narrator of the Raffles stories, Bunny).
- Exceptionally poor batsmen, even for bowlers, ones who look as though they barely know how to hold a bat, are called weasels, as they "go in after the rabbits".
- Night Watchmen. Rabbits (but usually quite good as rabbits go) who come in the last ten overs of the day after a batsman gets out. Most likely to get out in the first five overs on the next day, but some have lasted to make centuries.
- In the possessive category of sporting rivalry between batsmen/bowler. It refers to a batsman who consistently gets out to a certain bowler, which commentators, wags, and others japing about the batsman having fear of the bowler, (e.g. "Darryl Cullinan is Shane Warne's bunny"). The all-time record is Glenn McGrath and Michael Atherton. The former got the latter out 19 times but some qualify this by noting the placementnote .
- Take guard. Before a new batsman faces the first ball (pitch), he or she carefully lines up the position of the stumps and bowler. By analogy, preparing yourself for some upcoming challenge.
- Sledging. To verbally abuse other players on the field. Can range from horrid racism to genial abuse. It is generally considered Not Cricket, though it has produced some brilliant zingers:
- Australia's Glenn McGrath: Why are you so fat Eddo?Zimbabwe's Eddo Brandes: Coz everytime I fuck your wife, she gives me a biscuit.
- McGrath didn't take it well; it's something of a recurring theme, though ultimately sort of justified; his wife Jane died of breast cancer in 2008, having had recurring bouts of it since 1997.
- A sticky/tricky wicket. Unlike baseball, the ball usually bounces once before reaching the batsman. The strip of grass between bowler (pitcher) and batsman on which the ball bounces is called the wicket. (Yes, that's also the word for the set of poles that the bowler/fielders try to hit with the ball.) If this is damp, uneven, dusty, etc. the ball will deviate in strange ways, making batting much harder. By analogy, being on a sticky or tricky wicket is not a good thing.
- A good innings. For a batsman, depends on how many runs they make (and in what fashion) during a particular stay at the crease. But the term can be applied to life in general: someone who has had a long, fulfilling life can be described as having had "a good innings".
- Stumped: If the ball gets past the batsman, the batsman is out of his crease, and the wicket-keeper takes the ball and hits the wicket with it, the batsman is out "stumped". By analogy, means utterly confused and/or clueless. This has of course become general English-language usage, even by people who have no idea that cricket exists, let alone what a stump is.
Fictional cricketers and cricket fans include:
- The Doctor, particularly The Fifth Doctor. And in the Past Doctor Adventures novel Spiral Scratch, the Sixth Doctor's last words before regenerating are saying that he's "had a good innings, you know." (GAL). The Fourth Doctor lso had his moments.
- You know I think I'm wasted as a Timelord; with a talent like mine I would have made a great slow blower (complete with arm action).
- Arthur Dent (ENG)
- Casey Jones appears to be a cricket fan in the first Ninja Turtles movie. At the very least he carries a cricket bat and seems to know the rules. (AMR)
- Lord Peter Wimsey (ENG)
- The Raffles series has AJ Raffles, professional cricketer, marvelous spin bowler, and amateur cracksman. (ENG)
- Sergeant Wilson (ENG)
- Most of the characters in Lagaan (IND)
- The title character in Seducing Dr. Lewis (CAN)
- Sir Harry Flashman, who scored the first hat trick in cricket by catching out Pilch, Mynn and Felix (through luck, trickery, and outright cheating) in an amateur match in 1842. (ENG)
- Captain Britain and Dr. Faiza Hussain (ENG)
- Will and Rob Willis (ENG/USA), two promising young player fans.
- Both Mike Jackson and Rupert/Ronald Psmith are quite accomplished cricketers, and cricketing plays a significant role in their early stories. (ENG)
- Sgt. Gavin Troy and Sgt. Ben Jones (ENG (MID))
- Phryne Fisher, a fan rather than a player (AUS)
- The Abbotsford Anglers (AUS)
- Many of the leading characters in the Village Tales series, notably including the Duke of Taunton (ENG (ETON/OXF)), his late, as of Evensong brother Lord Crispin (ENG (ETON/OXF)) (nicknamed "Spin" for a reason), their cousin the Duke of Trowbridge and Warminster (ENG (ETON/OXF)) and his son Lord Corsham (ENG (ETON/OXF)), Taunton's nephew Rupert (ENG (ETON/OXF)), Taunton's old right-hander (his vice-captain at Eton, OUCC Authentics, and OUCC Blues) the Nawab of Hubli (PAK/ENG (ETON/ OXF)), Taunton's butler Viney (ENG) (vice-captain to His Grace in the Woolfonts Combined CC First Eleven), and Taunton's friend and neighbour the Irish-born former England wicketkeeper and current TMS summariser Brian "The Breener" Maguire (IRE/ENG). The Woolfonts village side could give trouble to most Test sides.
- Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, Earl of Asherton (ENG), who provides the page quote.
- Peter and Edmund Pevensie (ENG/NAR), at least in The Movie.
- John Steed (ENG)
- Wallace Footrot (NZ)
Famous and exceptional cricketers include:
- Curtly Ambrose (WIN)
- Hashim Amla (SAF)
- James "Jimmy" Anderson (ENG)
- Shakib Al Hasan (BAN)
- C. Aubrey Smith (ENG)
- David Boon (AUS)
- Allan Border (AUS)
- Sir Ian Botham (ENG)
- Sir Geoffrey Boycott (ENG)
- Sir Donald Bradman (AUS) (he of the 99.94 batting average)
- Stuart Broad (ENG)
- Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, and Trevor Chappell (all AUS)
- Learie Constantine (WIN)
- Kapil Dev (IND)
- M.S. Dhoni (IND)
- Rahul Dravid (IND)
- Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff (ENG), now a presenter of Top Gear (UK)
- Gautam Gambhir (IND)
- Chris Gayle (WIN)
- WG Grace (ENG) (Sure he belongs here. After all, he was God).
- Sir Richard Hadlee (NZL)
- Sir John Berry "Jack" Hobbs (ENG)
- Sir Leonard "Len" Hutton (ENG)
- Sanath Jayasuriya (SL)
- Mahela Jayawardene (SL)
- Mitchell Johnson (AUS)
- Jacques Kallis (SAF)
- Imran Khan (PAK), who became Pakistan's Prime Minister in 2018
- Virat Kohli (IND)
- Brian Lara (WIN)
- Dennis Lillee (AUS)
- Clive Lloyd (WIN)
- Lasith Malinga (SL)
- Glenn Maxwell (AUS)
- Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) (But don't say that to Australians!)
- Glenn McGrath (AUS)
- Sunil Narine (WIN)
- Kevin Pietersen (ENG)
- Ricky Ponting (AUS)
- Sir Vivian "Viv" Richards (WIN)
- Kumar Sangakkara (SL)
- Virender Sehwag (IND)
- Graeme Smith (SAF)
- Steve Smith (AUS)
- Sir Garfield "Garry" Sobers (WIN)
- Dale Steyn (SAF)
- Ben Stokes (ENG)
- Sachin Tendulkar (IND)
- Fred Trueman (ENG)
- Victor Trumper (AUS)
- Chaminda Vaas (SL)
- AB de Villiers (SAF)
- Adam Voges (AUS)
- Shane Warne (AUS)
- Steve and Mark Waugh (AUS)
Cricket was their hobby, but they are better known for other things:
- George Washington (ENG/USA), General, statesman, and founding father-cum-first-president of the latter country.
- Peter Davison (ENG), actor best known for playing the Doctor in Doctor Who.
- And indeed Anthony Ainley (ENG), best known as his arch-enemy, the Master.
- Paul Cornell (ENG), writer and creator of Faiza Hussain (above). Taught the game to a group of Americans at a convention.
- G. K. Chesterton (ENG), author and spiritual philosopher.
Tropes applicable to cricketers in general
- The Chessmaster: Cricket captains are required to be this, owing to the 360 degrees field of play, large ground size, and variations in bowling styles. Unlike in baseball where every possible field position is occupied, nine fielders alone cannot cover every single possible field position on a cricket field, thereby cutting off every possible stroke. A captain must therefore strategize the best possible field positioning for a bowler (left vs right handed, pace vs spin, offensive note vs defensive note as well as for the batsman facing him. The fact that he must keep swapping out his bowlers to prevent fatigue in test matches, or avoid the 10 overs per bowler limit in one day games must also be factored in to his strategy.
- Crippling Overspecialization: Pace bowlers often fall victim to this. Due to the physical conditioning required for fast bowlers being different from what cricketers in general need, these guys often must neglect batting prowess and fielding ability. You therefore find most good fast bowlers at tail ender positions in the batting lineup where nothing is expected of them, and are often dismissed easily by opposing fast bowlers. When fielding, these guys are often seen patrolling the outfield where their ability to run fast to cut off boundaries, and their ability to hurl the ball in back to the pitch are all thats expected of them.
- Dangerous Backswing: a reckless/careless batsman can get himself out by accidentally hitting his own wicket.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Beamers - high speed full tosses aimed at a batsmans head are often very difficult if not impossible to dodge. If a bowler delivers one, he is given only one warning, failing which he is ejected from the game by the umpires.
- The Bodyline technique note is also banned for the same reason - it forces the batsman to prioritize avoidance of serious injury over preserving his wicket.
- Five-Man Band: Although teams consist of eleven, members do serve special roles that take on these characteristics
- The Leader: The team captain. However, from a sporting perspective, this role is better filled by the best technical batsman on the team note .
- The Lancer: The vice captain. Also applies to the most aggressive batsman on the team. This guy focuses more on flashy big strokes that result in fours and sixes and thereby falls under the performer side against the technical batsmen. This guy also has a tendency to be Hot-Blooded and throw his wicket away. Can become a real nightmare when he graduates into a technician.
- The Big Guy: This role is usually filled by the pace bowlers on the team, as pace bowling requires extra strength and stamina.
- The Smart Guy: The spin bowlers of the team. Unlike the pacers who use raw strength and speed to dismiss batsmen, these guys rely much more on deceiving batsmen. Spin bowling also requires a deeper understanding of pitch conditions to exploit them.
- The Heart: This role is usually fulfilled by a more defensive batsman who acts as a fulcrum or anchor for an innings. He usually comes in after a few batsmen are dismissed in order to stabilize the innings and support the more aggressive stroke players.
- The Sixth Ranger: Usually the teams wicket keeper. He plays a vital role behind the stumps and takes on the role of The Heart or The Cheerleader when a team is fielding.
- Guile Hero: Spin bowlers. Leg spinners particularly so.
- Jack-of-All-Stats: The all rounders - players capable of scoring a century while batting and taking five wickets while bowling, on a consistent basis.
- Lightning Bruiser: Pace bowlers. Big strong strapping guys who must also be capable of sprinting in fast before hurling the ball.
- Stone Wall: Defensive batsmen often take on this characteristic. Instead of going for the flashy strokes that yield lots of runs, but can be risky, these guys excel at defensive blocking strokes meant to dent a bowler, score at a lower pace, but eventually frustrate the bowler into bowling bad deliveries - balls very easy to score fours or sixes out of - either by the defensive batsman himself or his more aggressive batting partner. Test cricket more or less requires batsmen to play this way.
- A good close in fielder who lets nothing get by him, can also serve this role on defense. He can cut off runs, frustrating a batsman or pressuring him into playing more rash strokes - and getting out. In some cases, the mere presence of a sharp fielder at a particular location can deter a batsman from hitting the ball anywhere in his direction - thereby constraining his stroke play and giving the fielding team an advantage over him.
- Technician vs. Performer: Batsmen generally come in two types - either a perfectly orthodox, more defensive type or a flamboyant unorthodox aggressive type. Both have their weaknesses and strengths - the "technician" is far better at preserving his wicket and playing in difficult conditions against any types of bowling, but the "performer" is capable of single-handedly winning a game if his aggression pays off. Of course, the truly dominant batsmen of the modern era - such as Tendulkar, Ponting or Lara - can do both with equal skill.