Casey: I'll teach you. (launches Raph into the air and into a trash can with one solid WHACK) See? Six runs.
No, really, please do; it seems to be some organized form of Calvinball, though it doesn't seem especially hard for illiterate street kids to grasp. After all cricket is played today mostly in the Third World and there it's an actually popular game in a population over a billion (especially in India, Pakistan, Sri-Lanka, and Bangladesh).
Cricket is a complex and confusing game because it's not really one kind of sport, it's multiple kinds at the same time. Its nearest analogue in international Pop-Cultural Osmosis could be Quidditch from Harry Potter where different players in the same team have different goals and objectives. A cricket athlete must be able to run while wearing more or less heavy padding and a helmet with a visor, they must be able to run back and forth a patch of land while maintaining the same speed with little variation in a certain set of intervals, they must have muscular strength able to hit the bat with a certain force that it can travel a particular distance as per their will, they must have the inflexible discipline to stand at a given point and be ready at all times to either catch a ball with firm hands falling with great force in the air, and hurl the same ball back with a proper force of row. Any slip-up is costly, and yes you must do all this while having a chess novice's knowledge of rules, functions, and actions. As a captain you must have a military general's sense of assessment of your players, what they can do, and expect, and pay attention to terrain, morale, and luck.
This explains the curious nature of cricket. On one hand it's a game that takes a long period of time, on the other hand it's a game with a lot of different things to see and look at in any given moment. So while it's a slow game, it's a very immersive game, and very intense and suspenseful, at least at the highest level it is. A good cricket game is like an Epic Movie with a huge cast of characters, many small things leading to big events, a lot of background action, comedy, and tragedy.
Here's the Outline.
The laws of Cricket are intricate, but at the core, its game mechanics are shared with Baseball and softball, i.e. it involves two teams. 11 players each; who contest each other but play contrary functions in a certain order. One side bats while the other side pitches/fields. The batting team send out batsmen (or hitters in baseball terms) in a certain order based on ability, skill, range to the other side, whose main representatives (bowlers/pitchers) have to reduce, halt, and limit the other side's score to a certain number, so that when it is their turn to bat, they can meet a smaller and more achievable goal to cement their victory.
In essence, in any cricket match, the batting side is on the aggressive, out to score as much as possible, while the bowlers and fielders are on the defensive, out to limit that score to as small a number as possible. This is true regardless of who bats first or second.
The basic unit of any cricket match is "innings", i.e. a single session of play between a batting and fielding side. At the end of one innings, the batting and fielding teams switch positions, i.e. the batting team take to the field, the fielding team go to bat, and the aggressive/defensive goals correspondingly shift to the other foot. In theory, for a team to win a match, they must be able to bat and bowl sufficiently better than the other side, and a winning team should have a Badass Crew who have players skilled at different functions, who can bat, bowl and field well as and when the time comes.
At its core, cricket is a contest of bat and ball. But getting to that simple equation involves a lot of complex strategy, personnel management, and related Mission Creep which gives the game its proverbial reputation for confusion. This is true of course for all sports but in cricket, the backstage and behind-the-scenes, macro-and-micro level stuff is there on the surface to a greater extent than many other sports. So for instance a team batting first should score high enough that when their opponent get the chance to bat, they Can't Catch Up no matter how hard they try. Seems simple enough, but then you have a bunch of things to look at.
The general match layout:
- The game is played with two teams of 11 players a side much like Football/Soccer.note At any time, 2 batsmen are on the field on opposite ends of the pitch, while all 11 members of the fielding team surround them. Any time a batsman gets out, the guy on the other hand just stands there and watches. A fielding team only has to get 10 batsmen out, leaving one at the other end not-out (called the Last Man Standing, a position mostly ceremonial, and sometimes tragic).
- Each match takes place on a large field, circular/oval in shape, with a rectangular pitch in the middle. The actual playing field of the entire match is limited by a large line of rope joined end to end at the extent of the pitch, and this is called the boundary. This is the actual legal playing field where the cricket rules normally apply and are enforced. Just outside the boundary, at opposite ends of the field, are two large white boards to help the batsmen see where the ball is. These are called sightscreens.note
- The pitch is symmetrically divided into two strike zones : the striker's end and the non-striker's end. In cricket, a batsman who can hit the ball, i.e. strike the ball, is the striker, while his partner is on the other end.note
- The area where the batsman ("batsman", always, even if the batsman is female) defends from the bowler. This zone contains three spokes of wood, called the stumps with two smaller bails (like little lego connectors) on top to balance it, stamped into the pitch in front of which the batsman stands guard. The stumps are the physical symbol of the batsman's wicket, and exist to remind him, players and the audience, what the batsman is trying to protect, and likewise place legal limits to his field of play. This is his strike zone. The field from which the batsman hits the ball to different parts of the field is more or less the center of the action for the entire match. This is where bat and ball meet.
- The area where the bowler bowls, or as they say in cricket, makes his delivery. This is symmetrical to the batting side, i.e., it has stumps directly opposite the batsman. The umpire stands behind the stumps on this side, so that he can have a clear view of the bowler's deliveries. Next to the umpire stands the second batsman. This is the non-striker's end. The bowler usually makes his delivery on either the left and right side of the strike zone, it entirely depends on their convenience, but he must inform the umpire and both batsman before doing so, so they can move out of his way.
- Any cricket match will usually have a camera angle showing the strike zone in an over-the-shoulder top-angle view, following the bowler's run-up, as he moves to make his delivery down the pitch from the non-striker's zone towards the striker's zone. The umpire is there to ensure that the bowlers and batsman behave as per rules, and that every delivery is legal from both the batting and fielding side.
- Each game begins with a coin toss, hashed out by the respective Team Captains before the Umpires. The successful captain chooses whether to bat or field first.
- The basic unit of any cricket game is an innings i.e. a single session of cricket where one side bats, and another side fields. At the end of that innings, the positions reverse. The basic sub-unit of an innings is an over, i.e. a short session where a bowler gives six deliveries to the batsmen. At the end of the over, the strike zone shifts from one side of the pitch to the other side, and the batsman at the non-striker's zone gets his turn to bat, while the fielding team switches bowlers so as to better help and balance the latter's physical strain.
- Both the batting and fielding/bowling side have their own respective currency:
- For the bowler it is wickets. When a batsman gets out, he loses his wicket. Since there are a limited number of players, and a limited number of batsmen, there are a limited number of wickets.
- For the batter it is runs. When a batsman scores, he makes a run. To make a single run, the batsman must strike the ball to a far enough distance that he can physically cross the pitch in parallel to the batsman on the non-striker's zone. A single run leads to the pair of batsmen switching sides. The strike-zone in any over stays the same, but the batsman who play in it can change and cross-over. In any innings, there is, theoretically, an unlimited number of runs.
- At the end of the game, whichever team scores the most total runs wins.
More detailed layout
Each game begins with a coin toss, and the successful captain chooses whether to bat or field first. Cricket is a summer sport, ergo (in Britain at least) at around this point it usually starts to rain.
In cricket a batter is normally termed a batsman (not Batman),note the person hurling the ball at him is the bowler, and the remainder of the bowler's team dotted around the field are the fielders. The batting team must always have two players on the field at any one time, so as soon as the tenth player is out they've only got one left and they are all out (although this isn't marked against the leftover player, who is said to have finished not out) and it's time to let the other team have a bat.
Instead of a dugout, the waiting members of the batting side get a nice little house facing onto the field (the pavilion) to relax in, where they can drink tea and eat sandwiches, or sit on the verandah and enjoy the sunshine. If it's sunny. When it's raining, everyone goes into the pavilion and drinks tea. Occasionally, the umpires will come out, wander around the field a bit, decide it's still not sunny enough, and go back in.
There are three standard formats of the game, two of which can be grouped into a larger category, and all having their own international series. In descending order of time required to play, they are:
- First-class cricket, of which Test cricket is a subset.
- List A cricket, also known as one-day cricket, with One Day Internationals (ODIs) being a subset.
- Twenty20 cricket.
Before one can understand the difference between these formats, some basic and shared elements of the game should be first understood: A "game" is called a match, which is composed of a varying amount of innings,note which is made up of overs, (which is basically 6 balls (pitches in baseball)). Each innings also has 10 wickets (10 dismissals), which are similar to outs in baseball, except 10 is required to retire the side.
With the above in mind:
- A Test cricket match has 2 innings for each team, and each innings has unlimited overs, and is played until all 40 wickets are taken. Test matches used to be "timeless", which means the game goes on until the full 40 wickets have fallen (or the team batting last surpasses their opponents' total number of runs). Nowadays, the game is always scheduled for five days; if the 40 wickets have not fallen by then, the game is drawn. This means a losing team can force a draw by staying in the game. Though typically the game ends on day four. Because there's basically no time constraint, the matches are played rather defensively, and aggressive swings will only be taken when the batsman know it's safe (like when the ball is off target). This makes endurance very important in this format. There is a reason why this format is called "Test", as it is a test of endurance, willpower, and perhaps, sanity.
- Strictly speaking, Test matches are restricted to those in which both teams are full members of the sport's governing body, the International Cricket Council. Matches held under Test conditions that involve teams of other ICC members, as well as domestic matches, are considered first-class. Also of note, first-class matches (but not Tests) can be as "short" as three days, but must still be scheduled to allow each team to have two innings. By convention, a player's "first-class" statistics includes performances in Tests, though Test stats are still separately recorded.
- A one-day (or List A) cricket match has one innings for each team, and each innings has limited overs, typically 50 or 40. This is the preferred format for most domestic leagues, though international variants, officially known as One Day Internationals (ODIs), are popular as well. Because of the limited amount of overs, unlike Test matches, the match can end before all wickets have fallen. And a losing team can no longer save a loss by drawing out the game - it's the complete opposite. The limited balls puts the losing team on the clock, and they have to beat the score to avoid a loss.
- The term "List A" officially applies to all limited-overs matches of at least 40 overs per side, but in practice all such matches have at least 50. ODIs are set at 50 overs. As with first-class and Tests, a player's List A stats include performances in ODIs, also separately tracked.
- A Twenty20 (T20) cricket match only has one innings for each team, and each innings can only have up to 20 overs. Following the logical progression from Test to One-day, T20 is designed to be fast paced and quick, and is partially inspired by American baseball (and that is saying something about traditional cricket formats). A match typically lasts for 3 hours, and any delays by the players are reprimanded harshly. Due to the very limited amount of overs, and thus balls, batsmen are forced to be aggressive in their play when compared with the other two formats, and because of this aggressiveness, wickets are taken more frequently, making the game more exciting.
- The latest and fastest format, introduced in 2021, is The Hundred. Even faster than T20 matches, The Hundred limits sides to a single inning of 100 balls or once all ten wickets are taken. It has plenty of pomp and ceremony with wickets and sixes being celebrated in the way you might celebrate winning the World Series, or at least by the standards of Test Cricket. Naturally with a mere 100 balls to play the game, and those balls separated into fives rather than the historically used 6 per over it has as much in common with even One Day cricket as (to continue the baseball simile) the Home Run Derby does to 9-innings baseball. It exists solely for batsmen to show off and commentators to remind everyone how exciting cricket can be in desperate 'please don't switch off' tones.
All players bat, and all players field. The first batsmen in (the top-order) will be the best at that, while the lower order is usually composed of specialist bowlers who just make up the batting numbers, especially at the tail end. (Wicketkeepers also bat but are generally good enough not to bat in the tail). When the latter do manage to cobble together an innings of 20 or 30 runs, especially in partnership with a fellow tail-ender, it's often said that "the tail wagged" to frustrate the opposition's hopes of a quick dismissal. Note that Cricket has no substutes other than the 12th man who'll come on once the lunch break has taken its toll on a player and they need a moment off the field. Unlike baseball you have to balance bowlers and batsmen in your eleven, and there is no chance of subbing the bowler in the way you might pinch hit for a pitcher. All-rounders are those prized cricketers equally at home with either bat or ball in hand, and any team loves to have at least one in the ranks as they essentially fill two roles for the price of one. For some reason they are often larger-than-life personalities, prone to swinging from imperious to anonymous and back on the pitch and partaking in all manner of off-the-field antics, but who invariably maintain their place in the team by coming into vital games at the crucial tipping point and causing destruction with their bowling before scoring a match-winning haul of runs, all while heroically drunk from the previous night's marathon boozing session.
The examples here generally suggest male players, but women play as well in their own competitions; you just don't see it much in the media.
The field of playMatches are played on a large grassed field roughly analogous in size to a baseball field — so a big hit is likewise travelling the same sort of distance at the same sort of altitudes and speed, the fielders who are in deep (far 'outfield') positions have to cover the same sort of distances, etc. There is no set size or shape for the field in the laws of the game — it may be roughly circular or more like a rectangle (Eden Park in Auckland is a hexagonal field) — but an oval field about 150 yards in diameter at its widest is common. Many cricket grounds around the world have taken on a characteristic feel of play over the decades thanks to their various sizes and shapes (in two notable cases including a tree in the middle of the outfield), tendency to be kept with longer or shorter grass and hence to having slower or faster surfaces, plus their differing climates and altitudes altering the flight of the ball and style of player likely to flourish there, and so on.
The perimeter of the field is marked by the boundary rope laid along the ground near the edge of the grass in front of the spectatorsnote . The quickest way to accumulate runs when batting is to smash the ball to the boundary with a mighty hit, as this means you don't have to actually physically run at all — if the ball crosses the line of the boundary rope without having touched the ground at any stage that's a six, which is the nearest thing to a cricket version of a home run and is automatically worth (yes) six runs; if it bounces or rolls over the line, it's a four. If you've ever heard someone use the term "knocked for six" or "hit for six" to refer to being physically or emotionally stunned, knocked off their feet or otherwise struck with great force, this is where it comes from.
Fours and sixes are collectively known as boundaries, after the place they've been dispatched to. One-day cricket is relatively jam-packed with them, as players are encouraged by the limited time to go for rashly huge hits since quick scoring is prioritised and it doesn't matter so much if they're out off a bad stroke. Fours are fairly common; sixes are rarer and always very exciting, especially the ultra-rare instances where the ball is clobbered with an especially hefty blow clear over the pavilion (a marker of truly spectacular hitting at many a ground), or even sent sailing right out of the stadium so it must be retrieved from the road/car-park/gasworks/river, or when it is caught by the hitter's father in the crowd or something equally unlikely. And the ball does need to be retrieved - in test cricket the same ball must be used for at least 80 overs and the wear and tear on it are part of the game. (If it's really lost or excessively damaged, it's replaced with a used ball in similar condition.) Unlike in baseball where a fan who catches a ball keeps it,note in cricket fans are expected to return the ball to play.
The heart of the action is around the pitch, a narrow 22-yard long rectangular strip at the centre of the field, mown so short there's almost no grass to be found; this area is vaguely similar to the infield of the North American bat-and-ball sports and is evolutionarily homologous to it. This area is also known colloquially as the wicket – so a "sticky wicket" (it's not as obscene as it sounds) or "tricky wicket" is a damp, claggy, bumpy or otherwise unreliable pitch, and used as a metaphor means 'an awkward situation'.
The two ends of the pitch each have a pair of widely-spaced parallel white lines painted across them, four feet apart, which mark the batsman's 'safe' ground: an area known generally as the crease. Specifically, the inner line at either end is called the popping crease or batting crease; the batsman generally stands astride it to receive the bowling, and when running must get part of his bat and/or body over this line to be 'safe'. In the centre of each outer line (the bowling crease) is a group of sticks stuck in the ground that is also and most properly called a wicket, one either end of the pitch; these are the target for the fielding team and what the batter must defend, as many ways of getting a player out involve them.
This is where we get the third use of the word: a batsman's intact wicket, used metaphorically, represents his 'in' status – i.e. if you "take X's wicket" you've got X out; when a bowler has "taken 5 wickets" he's put five men out; if X "gave his wicket away cheaply" he's got out sloppily and/or without scoring highly (he hasn't actually presented it to someone); if Y has bowled down the wicket, destroyed the wicket and taken X's wicket that means he's flung the ball down the pitch, skittled the stumps and so got him out.
The physical wicket consists of a trio of round wooden stakes called stumps, 28 inches high, hammered into the turf side-by-side and equidistantly with a total span of 9 inches, plus a pair of smaller wooden sticks called bails that sit in grooves across the stumps' tops and bridge the two gaps. (The whole thing looks faintly like a little gate, and indeed the name derives from a 'wicket-gate'.) Most commonly-seen forms of getting a player out dictate that the stumps must be disturbed enough for at least one of the bails to fall off — merely touching the stumps with the ball is not enough, and it can in the rarest of circumstances actually squeak through the gap between stumps without dislodging a bail. This would generally press the bowler's Berserk Button...as will many other cricketing occurrences.
BattingThe two batsmen stand at opposite ends of the pitch, garbed with large leg pads (think an ice-hockey goaltender) and gloves, batting helmets unless suicidally brave, and a protective cup ("box") unless they have no desire to have children.
Instead of a round bat, the cricket bat is flat on one side (the reverse is more angled than round, too), giving a defined striking surface and making it ideal for hitting people who owe you money without leaving a bruise. The flatness also gives it edges, for cleverly/accidentally nicking the ball just past the close fielders or for when you do want to leave a bruise. (Or kill zombies. Shaun of the Dead had the right idea.) It is wider than a baseball bat, but considerably narrower than the wicket it is defending –- in a match in 1771, one player took advantage of the lack of a regulation size to bring a bat wider than the stumps. This was quickly outlawed by spoilsport officialdom.
One batsman (the striker) faces the incoming bowling, which comes down the length of the pitch, while the other (the non-striker) waits facing him by the other stumps, trying to keep out of the bowler's way.
The striker prepares to meet the incoming ball with the end of his bat resting on the ground to defend the wicket there (rather than held up at shoulder height as in baseball), or more usually tapping nervously as he anticipates his swing. He tries to fend the ball away from his stumps with his bat, and preferably hit it far enough for him to swap ends of the pitch with his partner and so score a run (which counts only to the striking batsman's tally, not the non-striker's) one or more times before the ball arrives back near either set of stumps with the bowler or the wicketkeeper (backstop, essentially), the specialist fielder who stands behind the striking batsman's wicket to catch missed balls and is the only member of the fielding side to wear gloves. After this it's not prudent to try for another run as you'll certainly be run out: see 'Getting out', below.
The ball can be batted in any direction, through 360 degrees of the compass and either up in the air or along the ground. Now you know why there are so many field positions...
One of the principal differences from baseball, say, is that instead of sprinting around four bases, the two batsmen run up and down the pitch from one crease to the other to score, passing in the middle. They carry their bats with them from end to end. This is so the batsman may defend his honour while running. Another difference of course is simply that after you score a run, instead of leaving the field, you can keep running back and forth — after all, one 'run' in cricket is much swifter a process than making it back home in baseball/softball — until the two batsmen agree it's not worth risking another, at which point whoever is left facing the bowler receives the next ball. In practice, the batters usually run one or two, and occasionally three, before the ball gets back from the outfield to the bowler or wicketkeeper's hand. (If the fielding team screw this up and send the ball somewhere else, the batsmen can start running again if they think it's safe. These extra runs are called overthrows). Of course, while the distance between the two ends of the pitch is shorter than between the bases of a baseball/softball field, the batsmen have to wear quite heavy protective gear while batting (at minimum a pair of padded legs guards, a thick pair of gloves and a codpiece called a "box" to protect the unmentionables, but also, depending on the weather and pace of the bowling they're facing, an extra pad strapped to the side of their body facing the bowler, and a reinforced helmet- being struck by a cricket ball hurts and can potentially cause serious injury or even death). This means they effectively have to do their running in armour. Sometimes for hours.
Thanks to this (relatively) easy scoring, team totals almost always reach triple figures; anything lower is regarded as catastrophic at the upper echelons of the game, while 200-300 is a solid team score and 400+ is really putting down a target. Since high scores take a long time to accumulate, limited-overs tallies rarely approach 300 from 50 overs or 200 from 20 even in the accelerated environment of these kinds of matches.
A team's total is often described en route in terms of partnerships, i.e. the tally accumulated while the current pair of batsmen have been at the wicket. So a "century partnership" is when a single pair score 100 runs between them without the loss of either's wicket; an "unbroken partnership" is when they continue to the end of that innings' allotted time without being separated. The tallies acquired between each player's dismissal are likewise referred to as being "for the nth wicket", e.g. the opening pair of batsmen might "put on 80 for the first wicket", while the 11th man comes in for the "last-wicket partnership".
When you ask the score of the match (game), people will unhelpfully tell you something like "They're 170 for 5 right now" instead of just telling you the scores of the two teams. It means that the team at bat have scored 170 runs while losing 5 wickets, and is written 170-5 or 170/5. To make things more confusing, in Australia (but not New Zealand) it will be "5 for 170" instead, presumably because their toilets run anti-clockwise (counter-clockwise/widdershins).
The other main difference from other bat-and-ball sports is that you don't have to run. The batsman is never obliged to attempt to 'get to the next base'. This is probably the most important thing a baseball fan would need to know in order to grasp the difference in dynamic between that sport and Test cricket, as it is almost never mentioned explicitly. Simply put, if a batter hits the ball weakly, swings and misses, diverts it into his own stomach, blocks it dead in front of him with the proverbial "straight bat", or merely watches it fly wide of the stumps in a contemptuous fashion, he just stands there. He can do this for as many balls as he wants, progressively infuriating the bowler; and indeed many old-school cricketing greats made careers out of this practice, usually finishing the innings with figures like 46 runs scored in 312 minutes off 227 balls. This has caused consternation to many a cricketer's teammates, too, as this seems to happen much more after the lunch breaks.
Limited-overs and especially Twenty20 cricket (see 'Game formats', below) are designed to cut down the practice, as you don't have all day to waste there plus each run tends to be more valuable, so batsmen must often chance a run even off a less-than-satisfactory hit. In cricket a batter doesn't have to keep his feet still and can advance to meet an incoming delivery, so he can steal a yard or two by moving quickly forward onto a ball as it bounces, and by nudging it only a few yards he can be off and halfway to a scrambled single (one run from a ball) before the nearest fielders (who may not have expected him to run) have started to move in to retrieve it. On the other hand, if he's deceived by the ball's flight and/or spin, he can easily find himself stranded out of his safe ground and turn around just in time to see his bails being removed from his stumps.
A textbook example of the way multi-day matches can lend themselves to inaction is the England v West Indies 1st Test match in May 2012. The first WI innings began with just 13 runs being scored from the opening 8 overs (48 balls) while the batsmen tried to get used to the conditions, the surface and the movement of the ball. With 12 of those runs coming from three hits for four, the batsmen did not actually run to score until the 48th ball, which saw the first single of the match finally taken. (Up until this point the batsmen had not changed ends — so with the same two bowlers alternating overs from opposite ends, either batsman had received four complete overs, 24 deliveries, from a single bowler each.) Many of the 44 non-scoring balls were left altogether by the batsmen, not even attempting a shot. The lone single meant that they swapped positions for the ninth over, and the batsman now facing a different bowler was promptly bowled by him a handful of balls later without adding to his score.
A batsman getting out for zero is said to have scored a duck (possibly because '0' looks rather like an egg), an amusingly embarrassing scenario only amplified if it happens on his first ball, known as a "golden duck", the much rarer "diamond duck", which is when a batsman gets out off the first ball of the innings — or if he suffers the mortifying fate of a "pair", ducks in both innings in a match. There's also the embarrassing "diamond duck", in which the batsman is dismissed after facing no deliveries - this is usually the result of the non striking batsman being run out (this is also called a "titanium duck" if said batter was one of the openers). And there's the even more mortifying "king pair", golden ducks in both innings. An individual player scoring a fifty or half-century will generally pause to acknowledge the crowd and teammates' applause with upraised hand and/or bat, while one player scoring 100 runs in an innings — a century — is always a rapturously-greeted achievement that often sees the centurion remove his helmet, shake hands with his colleague at the crease and bask in the acclaim of the spectators for ten seconds before getting back down to business. Double-centuries are much rarer, and may see even the fielding team join in the congratulations; triple- or quadruple-centuries are surpassingly rare at Test level especially.
The world record is held by West Indian great Brian Lara, who scored 501 not out in 1994 for his English county side Warwickshire. Lara also set the world Test record of 375 the same year, eclipsing Sir Gary Sobers' mark of 365 not out that had stood since 1958; when this was finally broken in turn in 2003 by Matthew Hayden's 380, Lara went out again in 2004 and scored 400 not out to set a still unbroken second record.
BowlingThe bowler sends the ball down six consecutive times from the same end of the pitch (one over), in theory aiming for the batsman's stumps each time: that is, he's not trying to strike the batsman out, but principally looking to hit the wicket with the ball, causing it to fly apart with stumps cartwheeling in all directions. That, or to smack the legs of the batsman when they're directly in front of the stumps (see section on getting out, below), or even to tempt him into making an unwise shot, resulting in getting caught out.
After six such deliveries of the ball the over is, um, over and it's time for another bowler to have a crack from the opposite end. This means that if the batsmen didn't run off the last ball or if they scored an even number of runs, the non-striker will now be facing the new over: he comes on strike. As it's perfectly possible for one man to remain in while a whole succession of his partners get out, and the quality of batters tends to decrease down the team -– the openers are invariably among the best, while extreme tail-enders at No.11 can look like they have trouble working out which way up to hold the bat –- the latter stages of an innings can see two batsmen of contrasting ability at the crease (in); so in this case the better one may look to "farm the strike" by going for single runs (or 3s, if they're prepared to sprint like crazy) off the last ball of each over so as to swap ends to face the next over too and protect his weaker colleague.
No bowler can bowl consecutive overs, so there must invariably be at least two bowlers, and except in very bizarre circumstances there will be four or more, usually taking turns as one after the other tires or conditions change to suit a different style of bowling, such as pace, swing, reverse swing, seam, off-cutters, leg-cutters, off-breaks, leg-breaks, googlies, chinamen or doosras. These are all real bowling terms. A captain often rotates 4-6 bowlers over the course of an innings depending upon the appropriateness and/or success of each. If one really gets into a groove though he may end up bowling virtually 50% of the total on his own, anything up to 80-100 overs in the course of a long innings. Shorter forms of the game tend to discourage this by restricting the number of overs that a bowler can bowl in an innings: for example in a 50-overs match each bowler can bowl at most 10 overs, so a team needs a minimum of five bowlers.
In the Victorian early days of the sport, bowlers really used to use an underarm 'bowling' action, though nowadays the arm is brought over the shoulder almost vertically — originally under- and side-arm bowling were the norm, and ladies' teams actually changed first to overarm bowling on account of the fact that they kept whacking their hands on their skirt hoops painfully. Bowling underarm is frowned upon nowadays... especially when it's the last ball of the innings and the other side needs to hit a six to win, as it's functionally impossible to generate enough power on a ball arriving low with hardly any momentum. Underarm bowling has actually been banned in one-day cricket; it's still technically legal in Tests, but nobody ever does it. The most famous incident occured in 1981, causing quite a stir. note
Whatever the angle of his or her arm, the bowler doesn't throw the ball like a pitcher; in fact, "throwing" is outlawed in this position, as the law says that the bowling arm must be kept almost straight while it delivers the ball rather than flexing at the elbow.note This naturally greatly reduces the velocity the bowler can release the ball at, so he is allowed a run-up like a javelin thrower to gain momentum. The length and pace of this depends on the type of bowler: a slow or spin bowler may take relatively few steps, but a really fast bowler will come thundering in from forty yards away like an angry windmill and send the ball down at over ninety miles an hour. He must release it before his leading foot crosses the bowling crease (the line level with the stumps at the non-striker's end of the pitch), so if he oversteps a no-ball is promptly called by the umpire, adding one extra (sundry) to the batting team's score -– plus enabling the batsman to have a quick free hit as he can't be out off a no-ball (except by being run out; see below), plus meaning that ball has to be bowled again. Like a tennis server, the bowler doesn't have to remain behind his line once the ball's on its way, so in the case of a fast bowler he may well careen halfway down the pitch or more with his follow-through, ending up glaring intimidatingly into the eyes of the batsman from a few feet away. This is not completely inadvertent.
The idea is not to hurl the ball directly at the batsman -– although this can happen, which is known as a full toss, an enjoyable Double Entendre in Britain. Rather, the bowler aims to bounce the ball once on its way to the striker. Varying the speed of his deliveries, the spin and swerve on the ball and taking advantage of the vagaries of the surface where the ball pitches (lands) allows the bowler to have many more weapons in his armoury than a pitcher, as he looks to bamboozle the batsman into either missing the ball entirely, deflecting it to the wicketkeeper (who is already in line and generally closest) or mis-hitting it to the other fielders, who will catch the batsman out if they take it before it bounces.
The ball does have to go near the batsman, to give him a fair chance; if an umpire deems the ball has been bowled too far wide of the stumps to be reasonably reached (a yard or so, or less if it's behind the batsman's legs), it's inventively called a wide, which like a no-ball adds one to the extras tally and requires a re-bowl.
There are a number of other ways to get a batsman out here, but catching and stumping (detailed below) see the wicketkeeper as the bowler's chief partner-in-crime. (This is the origin of the British slang for the dominant and submissive parties in a homosexual relationship, "the bowler" and "the wicket keeper".) He has to be equally as alert to sly deliveries as the batsman is, since if the ball flies past the bat and then past him too, it may end up far enough away for the batsmen to take a run or more regardless – these cheeky non-hitting runs are known as byes (possibly from what the batsman used to shout as he set off) and also go onto the extras column. In particularly embarrassing cases the ball may go all the way through to the back boundary for four byes.
The fourth and last source of extras is a variant on the third – if the batsman judges the ball is not going to hit the stumps he can deflect it away with his leg-pads without using his bat, and score leg-byes if this creates the chance to change ends. This requires confidence, as a bad judgement call can result in the batsman being given out leg before wicket if the umpire decides the ball was on line for the stumps after all.
Much like a score of 50 or 100 runs are celebrated a bowler who gets a hat-tricknote or either a 5 for or 10 for (Also known as 5 and 10 wicket hauls which is when one bowler gets either 5 or 10 players out alone. Usually a team has around 4-5 bowlers for 10 wickets so it's a big deal, especially in a test match when a successful batting side might declare early reducing the number of wickets available to get.
Bowling stylesThe many styles of bowling delivery possible mean that different bowlers specialise in different forms.
Fast Bowlers mostly use the pace on the ball to beat the batsmen. They may deliberately bounce the ball high towards a batsman's head to unnerve him (called a bouncer -– not popular with umpires; numbers of these per innings are limited by a sort of gentlemen's agreement, as being cracked repeatedly on the skull by a small cannonball at up to 100mph is not fun), or in extreme and allegedly unintentional circumstances fling it directly at his head (a beamer, very much frowned upon), or try to aim the ball to bounce directly under his bat (called a yorker –- incredibly hard to play if done correctly, but delivered wrongly can result in easy runs). Fast bowlers will also often use curveballs (called swing in cricket) to deceive an opponent –- however, the mechanics of why the ball curves are different from baseball: cricket balls are deliberately kept shiny on one side (by the bowler rubbing it vigorously on his trousers, usually near the groin, which looks decidedly dubious) and rough on the other to create additional motion in the air.note Most teams will begin a match with two fast bowlers in an attempt to get early wickets if they can establish a good line and swing; however once the batsmen are settled in and comfortable the extra pace does not bother them so much, so the bowlers will often by replaced by tricky spin bowlers. The fast bowlers will then come back at the end with a view to quickly wiping out the other team's tail-enders. Usually, older balls that have been in play for about 40 overs or so, can develop the phenomenon of “reverse swing” where the ball swings away from the shinier surface instead of towards it. This is because constantly rubbing one side of the ball will end up creating deformities in the leather - deformities absent on the other side, hence the reversal in direction of the swing. This phenomenon was discovered first by Pakistani fast bowlers in the eighties, but the rest of the cricketing world hadn’t caught on to this mechanism yet, and falsely accused the Pakistanis of ball tampering. Nowadays, reverse swing is often used to “clean up tail enders”. A dying but still enduring tradition of the "bowler's union" lives on in cricket, which has some surprising class-connotations (specialist batsmen tended to be rich snobs, while specialist bowlers were working class) - a fast bowler will have no qualms about flinging bouncers rising into the ribs or head of a specialist batsman, but he will, by unspoken gentleman's agreement, tend not to do it to a tail-ender. Bowlers gotta stick together, you know. There was also the added impetus of that bowler remembering where his nasty bruise came from when it's *your* turn to bat...
Medium Pace Bowlers are like fast bowlers but without the raw pace, instead they will often vary their delivery more and try and outwit their opponent. A medium pace bowler is more likely to use seamers, which bounce the ball on its stitched seam to create unpredictable effects and and cutters, which the ball is spun while maintaining its pace. As they are often the most precise bowlers, medium pace can sometimes be used in the middle of the game to slow down an opponent's run-scoring rate; however they are generally less likely to take wickets than a fast or spin bowler.
Spin Bowlers are the slowest bowlers on the pitch (much slower than a pitcher) but deliberately spin the ball in the air, causing it to change direction when it bounces and confuse the batsmen. Spin bowling comes in four main types. Two are exclusively bowled by right-handers: off spin and leg spin. Lefties have left-arm orthodox spin (often called "orthodox" or just "left-arm spin") and left-arm unorthodox spin (very rare at high levels; historically called "chinaman", though this usage has waned in recent years). It can also be classified by the bowler's action—off-spinners and left-arm orthodox spinners use finger spin, while leg-spinners and chinaman bowlers use wrist spin. However, Muttiah Muralitharan (often called "Murali"), the all-time leader in wickets taken in both Tests and ODIs, bowled off spin as his stock delivery with an action much closer to wrist spin. Bowlers will usually specialise in either finger spin or wrist spin.
"Off" and "leg" denote the left and right halves of the cricket field from the bowler's point of view. These are named from the direction the on-strike batsman is oriented when he's receiving a ball, given that his body is sideways-on to the approaching bowler -– the leg side (also known as the on side) is the half the batsman's legs are on, which his bottom is pointing towards, while the off side is the half the batsman's bat is on, which his nose is pointing towards. Leg-spin bowling angles in from his leg side, off-spin from the off side. Many fielding positions are named in the same way, so a player fielding on one side of the batsman may be at mid-off while a teammate in the equivalent position across the field will be at mid-on. One of the more perplexing aspects of cricket nomenclature is that these field halves are purely defined by the orientation (so to speak) of the batsman — but naturally a left-handed batsman will face the opposite way, with his legs to the left and bat to the right from the bowler's perspective, so the 'off-' and 'on-'/'leg-' sides swap accordingly; a fielder at what was mid-off will, without moving, have assumed the position of mid-on to a left-hander.
An off-spinner grips the ball normally and spins it with his fingers on release so it turns right on bouncing, in towards a right-handed batsman's body (terminology for spinners becomes confusing when left-handers are involved, so we'll stick to the basics). Off-spin is hard to read and will often put the batsman on the defensive. Leg-spinners (also called wrist spinners) deliver the ball in a similar way but also twist their wrist as they release the ball, causing it to angle leftward on the bounce, away from a right-handed batsman. A batsman who fails to read this sort of spin will often make a bad hit and give the fielders an easy chance to catch him out. A wrist spinner can also deliver a googly, an evil delivery that uses a complex wrist motion to cause the ball to turn in the opposite direction, as well as deliveries that use top or bottom spin to bounce unexpectedly high or low. This varied arsenal of deliveries makes leg-spinners some of the most dangerous bowlers a team can field; however the high difficulty of the skill means that although they take many wickets, they also concede many runs. An underperforming leg-spinner can be disastrous for a team — making using them a high-risk, high-reward strategy. Conversely, an off spinner can deliver a doosra, a ball that spins leg to off, bowled with the action of an off spinner, that deceives a batsman just like a googly does. It was named after the Hindi/Urdu for “second”, by its inventor, Pakistani off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq.
Left-arm orthodox spinners are mirror images of off spinners. The rare chinaman bowler is the mirror image of a leg spinner. Because the vast majority of batsmen are right-handed, almost all left-handers who take up spin bowling use a finger spin action, since the stock delivery will break away from most of the batsmen they will face.
Just to make things extra confusing, the captain of the fielding team will usually rearrange his fielders to reflect the kind of bowler he is using — i.e. whether the bowling tends to create chances of catches on the boundary or close in to the wicket, in front of or behind the batsman, etc. — as well as what hand the batsman uses, or how good the batsman is. In some cases this can result in the fielders constantly moving around as the batsman or bowler changes.
FieldingThe fielders may appear to be scattered randomly around the playing surface, but in fact there is a long-established and fairly scientific method to the madness, with each position properly defined. There are far more theoretical fielding positions than a team could possibly cover all at once: many are typically only filled in an attacking field, with more fielders in close to the wicket when the ball is new, the bowlers are hungry and the batsmen are nervous; while others are more typically occupied in a defensive field when the bowlers are tired, the batsmen have got their eye in and the ball is flying to the far corners of the ground with regularity.
The names of many positions are reasonably indicative of their location, provided you've grasped what different sectors of the pitch are called: the square leg family is a good example. "Square leg" is, as its name suggests, on the striker's leg side and square to the line of the stumps (i.e. at right-angles to the long axis of the pitch) — with a fine view of the batsman's rear although quite some way back; this in fact is where one of the umpires stands, while the other stands behind the non-striker's stumps. Deep square leg is on the same angle but further out; short leg is closer to the batsman's backside, with forward short leg and backward short leg equally close but angled in front of and behind the line of the stumps respectively. Fine leg in turn is further round behind the stumps, forming a fine angle to the long axis of the pitch, with deep fine leg on the same line but again much further out towards the boundary. Long leg tends to be on the boundary even further round behind the stumps, while the near-mythical longstop would be at the same sort of distance but directly behind the stumps, if only any team would admit to fielding one – having a man in this position heavily implies that your wicketkeeper sucks calamitously, and so it's more discreet to put someone approximately there and pretend they're at "extremely fine leg"...
Many fielding positions, on the other hand, have titles whose meaning is buried deep in the quicksand of jargon. These positions have names that range from the mildly bizarre (gully; cover point; third man) to the literally "silly": there is a whole set of places with names like silly mid off that generally involve standing closer to the batsman than prudence would dictate.
- In fact, fielders in "silly" positions (especially silly mid on) will occasionally bring out a baseball catcher-type mask to avoid ending up with a broken nose or eye socket. See this video to get an idea of exactly how silly these positions are. It is worth noting that the victim in the above video is the former captain of the Australian national side. A cricket ball weighs about 5.5-5.75oz and is rock-hard, so it's a bit like being hit by a ball bearing. Ponting must have been having an off day, normally he would have caught that.
Also, all this nomenclature can be subjective, depending upon where you draw the borders for any given position: one man's silly mid on is mere inches away from another's forward short leg (oo-er), if one considers the latter to be a closer-to-the-bat position than others might. Still another person, if they come from a different country or region or simply if they prefer a different classification, might call the same area "short midwicket". Don't worry about any of this.
Since the batsman has a 360-degree field to strike into rather than a 90-degree one, doesn't have to hit the ball within 3 attempts or be out and doesn't have to hit the ball into the air to score runs, plus no one (except the wicketkeeper) uses gloves, it's much harder to get a player out than in, say, baseball; hence the need for up to 5 days to complete a single match. This is not a slur on catching talent — a talented fielder can run 20 metres, and catch a flying ball with one hand without slowing down without needing a glove.note They just don't necessarily get the chance very often.
- That "talented fielder" was India's Sachin Tendulkar, who also happened to be the best batsman in the world at the time the linked video was shot (albeit one in the gradual process of retiring, finally calling time on his career in 2013). He is acknowledged as one of the finest players in history, and in March 2012 uniquely scored his hundredth century in international cricket. No biggie. The Indian government made him a member of the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) the following month, and he served for six years.
Getting outThere are exactly ten-ish ways to get the batsman out, though in reality only five are seen with any frequency:
- A fielder catching the ball after it strikes the bat and before it hits the ground — caught out. If the bowler makes the catch off his own bowling it's listed on the scorecard as "caught and bowled", otherwise "caught [by] Fielder Y, bowled Bowler Z". Wicketkeepers tend to amass the most catches thanks to their proximity to the bat; this is commonly known as "caught behind".
- In casual games, especially those involving kids, it's pretty common to include a rule called One Hand, One Bounce. Basically, if it bounces once but is caught one-handed, the batsman is out.
- The bowler hitting the wicket with the ball and causing it to fall apart, i.e. displacing at least one bail – referred to as bowled. (The specific phrase "bowled out" usually refers to a team losing all its wickets, by whatever means they fell, e.g. "Pakistan were bowled out for 340".)
- The rules state that if the ball hits the stumps but does not dislodge the bails, the batsman is not out. During the 80s, the Australian team played a tour match in India on April Fools' Day, in which they superglued the bails on, and then just stood back and let the ball hit the stumps.
- Another anecdote concerns a spin bowler whose appeal for LBW was given not out, with the umpire telling him "I didn't think the ball was going fast enough to dislodge the bails."
- A batsman who mis-hits the ball so that it hits the wicket is said to have "played on", but it still goes on the scorecard as bowled.
- Being tagged out at the base. However, since cricket doesn't have bases and the British don't like personal contact, it actually involves throwing the ball at a wicket causing it to fall apart, while a batsman is out of his safe ground. This is called a run-out, as it usually occurs while the batsmen are running, and frequently results in contentious decisions (now settled at the game's higher levels by an extra official watching a video replay) as the batsman dives full-length for the crease with outstretched bat at the same instant as the ball strikes the stumps. Crucially, this can happen at either end of the pitch, if the fielding team make a successful shy at either the striker or non-striker's wickets –- this can produce acrimony among the batsmen if one tries to push for a run and the other doesn't, or if one turns back midway so both are momentarily trying to get to the same safe ground, as if the fielders successfully "put down the stumps" at this instant then either man is arguably the fall guy and they'll have to argue it out between them who walks back to the pavilion. Run-outs can follow truly dazzling pieces of fielding as the most talented (or lucky) fielders can occasionally score a direct hit on the stumps from as far afield as the boundary. Strangely though, on the scorecard a batsman is listed as simply "run out", with no bowler or fielder credited.
- Being stumped, which is when the batsman wanders away from where he's supposed to be (effectively steps out of the batter's box, i.e. out of his safe zone), and is then tagged out by the wicketkeeper striking the stumps with the ball held in hand. This usually happens when the batsman steps forward to meet a delivery, misses it, and the wicketkeeper catches the ball and instantly breaks the wicket with it before the batsman can get foot or bat back in his crease. The distinction between a run-out and a stumping is that the former is done when a run is being attempted, the latter when not (and can be done only by the wicketkeeper). This is sometimes important as the batsman cannot be stumped off a no-ball and cannot be given "run out" if it would have been a legal stumping otherwise. The mechanics of actually breaking the wicket is the same in both cases and, rarely, a batsman has been stumped by a 'keeper who was out of arm's reach but threw the ball at the wicket. (At least once, a player has been effectively stumped by a slip fielder after he threw down the wicket when a batsman missed the ball and couldn't get back in time. It was ruled a run out.)
- The batsman can be given out hit wicket when he hits the wicket with his own bat or body -– either by accident or if he's just tired of playing. This rarely ever crops up, but it led to one of the all-time great pieces of sporting commentary in 1991, when legendary England all-rounder Ian Botham desperately tried to avoid getting out in this way while off-balance at the crease by attempting (unsuccessfully) to hurdle his stumps — the BBC's Jonathan Agnew was moved to comment on radio programme Test Match Special that he "just didn't quite get his leg over", a British Double Entendre for you-know-what so potent (doubly so when applied to the somewhat notorious reputation-possessing Botham, who was rather a Trope Codifier for all-rounders) it reduced him and his venerable co-commentator Brian Johnston to convulsive giggles for the next few minutes, leaving the latter unable to speak amid tears of laughter, and brought traffic to a halt all around the country as drivers likewise failed to keep their composure.
- Hitting the Ball Twice, which sound like things a bowler would do to a wicketkeeper he really liked, but are really much more prosaic. Self-explanatory, and practically non-existent in the history of the game at the top level. (The latter means the batsman is not allowed a succession of hits, i.e. cannot propel a stationary ball further away; if the ball is still moving though and going on to hit the wicket, he can hit it for a second time to divert it away from the wicket—but only to do that; the batsman is not allowed to run on a ball hit twice.)
- There are also two ways a batsman can get out by being an idiot: Obstructing the Field (which only two batsman in the history of Test match cricket has ever been dismissed for, Len Hutton, England vs South Africa, 1951), and Mushfiqur Rahim, Bangladesh vs New Zealand, December 2023 note
- Timed out, (which no batsmen in the history of test match cricket have ever been dismissed for - the nearest was a guy called David Steele, who once got lost trying to find the cricket pitch at Lords and ended up in the basement toilets. Well, we did say "being an idiot".) However, it has happened in limited overs Cricket in November 2023, when Sri Lanka's Angelo Mathews was timed out for not getting a new helmet fast enough after breaking the strap getting ready to bat on the crease.note
- The only form of getting out that is seen with regularity aside from the first four above is leg before wicket (LBW), which basically involves the batsman blocking a ball that would have otherwise hit the wicket with his leg and the opposition hence appealing for his dismissal. Working out whether the ball was heading on line for the stumps or not though may involve a television replay, an extraordinarily powerful computer, some tarot cards, and up to several million people around the world providing their two pence-worth of opinion. Just to make it more complicated still, the ball hitting the batsman's leg can be treated as an ordinary hit and used to score leg byes as described above, if the umpire thinks it wasn't LBW, and can be really painful depending on whether you've got decent (or any) pads on.
It is traditional for the bowler to appeal by politely asking "How was that?" of the umpire — in practice, by the bowler and any other enthusiastic (i.e. all) team mates screaming "HOWZAT!!!" (invariably pronounced "OWZAAAAH!" or in Australia "ZHAAAAART!") at the umpire if they think they have an LBW shout. Or if the ball was vaguely bowled in the direction of the wicket and hit the batter's legs. Or bat. Or the ground at their feet. Or missed them entirely. This overoptimism backfires if they annoy the umpires with it, as the umpires are likely to get their own back when LBWs actually happen.
- The rule can be summarised as follows - the batsman is out if a legal delivery which has pitched on the wicket in line with, or off the batsman's off-stump (or would have, if it hasn't yet pitched), hits any part of the batsman (excepting his gloves, if they are on the bat), and would have gone on to hit the stumps. This means that if the ball pitched off the wicket outside the batsman's leg-stump (essentially, behind him) he can't get out LBW. The requirement that the ball first pitch in line or off the off-stump is the one that catches most people who think that any obstruction of the wicket counts as LBW and thus gets confused at how sometimes batsmen get lucky (or get off, ooo-er...) don't get out.
- Some feel that with the advent of video technology, the rule should be simplified to "if the ball hits the batsman and was otherwise going to hit the stumps", as the part about where the ball pitched was because it was too difficult for the umpire to judge with the naked eye.
- Some others feel that the rule should be changed to allow LBW when the ball pitches off the leg stump. In their view, this would put leg-spinners (and left-arm spinners) on a equal footing with other bowlers with respect to the LBW law, since they would now be able to get LBW calls on more of their stock deliveries. However, others point out that the leg-stump provision was put in place to discourage Bodyline-style tactics.
- The tenth of the ten ways is when particularly tired batsmen who are bored of humiliating their crap opposition may simply be retired out to let one of their mates have a go. Only ever happened twice in a Test, and both in the same match (when Sri Lanka were whomping Bangladesh); slightly more common in lower-grade games. Also sometimes in warm-up matches because they wouldn't be much use if only the openers got any time at the crease.
It is also possible to "retire hurt", if a batsman is injured during a game. This is an interim status so long as the innings is going on, since a recovered batsman may return later when a subsequent wicket falls, but if unable to do so then the innings ends when the last partnership of fit players is broken.
There was, until recently an eleventh-ish way of getting out, known as Handled the Ball. This involved the batsman touching the ball with a hand that wasn't holding the bat at the time (the batman's hands are considered part of the bat when holding it). It was very rare, but just occasionally happened when a batsman panicked and swatted the ball away from the stumps. Handling the ball is still illegal, but is now counted as a form of Obstructing the Field, so that one might get just a little less rare in the future.
When the batsman is given out, the umpire raises the index finger, tallying another wicket down. Responding with the next finger over or with both of them up and the hand the wrong way just ain't cricket.
Game formats, and deciding resultsAs previously mentioned, there are several distinct forms of cricket match, which vary by length and hence tactics. All are played over the course of each season, with separate competitions using the separate varieties. Clubs (teams) may vary some of their players for each form, depending on which format(s) the player excels in.
Multi-day matchesAs noted, the 'standard' form of the game features two innings per side, played out over a leisurely four (county) or five (international) days. Something exciting happens about once every two hours. At other times, the commentators – especially on Test Match Special on the radio – will usually be talking about the cake that a listener has sent them, or J.W.B. Blenkinsopp's exploits in the equivalent encounter in 1936, or what species the bird that's hopping across mid-off is. Spectators can safely doze off in the sun, or wander off to the bar or for a picnic, for up to several hours without being in danger of missing much significant action, particularly in the opening days of the match.
The winning team is the one who accumulate the highest aggregate score for their two innings, in one of two ways:
— if the team batting the last innings fails to overhaul the target aggregate before they are all out, the other side is said to win by whatever number of runs the second team fell short — e.g. "Team X beat Team Y by 64 runs";note
— if the chasing team does succeed in reaching their target, play stops immediately and they are said to win by however many wickets they still have in hand out of their 10 — e.g. if they have lost seven players before reaching the target then "Team Y beat Team X by three wickets".note
A match can end after a mere three innings, if one team scores more in one go than their opposition manage in two attempts — they may bat second and rack up so many more runs than the first team managed, the opponents end up coming in for their second innings and failing to catch up on aggregate even after batting again. The result will be given in the form "Team Y beat Team X by an innings and 19 runs".note
In a case where the team who batted the opening innings of a match next proceed to dismiss their opponents for an embarrassingly low percentage of their total, they can twist the knife by "enforcing the follow-on" — flaunting their vast superiority by making the demoralised opposition bat again straight away. If the team following-on fail to catch up even after their second go around, then an "innings victory" as above will be the result; the hope for the side doing the enforcing is that even if they do have to come back to bat again themselves, the target set after the hapless opponents have finished their second innings should be rather negligible.
- A team following-on and winning has happened only four times at Test level. On three occasions, the losing side was Australia: once against India - who batted so well in the second innings they were able to declare - and twice against England — including an astonishing 1981 encounter since dubbed the "Botham Test" after the aforementioned all-rounder's exploits. The fourth time saw New Zealand overcoming England by the narrowest of margins - one run.
Crucially, the system for deciding results is open to tactical abuse as, given the difficulty of completely bowling out the other team twice over, there is so much opportunity to draw (tie, though that term means something specific in cricket: see below) a match. This is an English game, after all, with none of that competitive North American insistence on an unambiguous result with winners and losers. If the full 4 or 5 days are played without both teams being completely dismissed (got out) twice — which is a common enough occurrence, especially if the weather eliminates chunks of playing time — the match ends in a draw with honours even, regardless of the discrepancy in the two sides' scores at this point. It is quite possible for one side to have scored, say, 400 and 300 runs in their two innings, but for the second team to gain a draw after scoring 250 in their first and hanging on at — for instance — 180-7 (180 for 7 wickets) in their second when time runs out.
So if a side enters the last day or hours having been comprehensively outplayed and still hundreds of runs in arrears on aggregate, they can abandon all attempt at actually catching their target and simply "play for the draw", grimly clinging on to their last wickets and stonewalling everything thrown at them, hardly daring to go for a run, while the crowd either grips the edge of their seats or gives up and goes home, depending upon allegiance. In extreme circumstances, one side may see its final pair of batsmen, usually specialist bowlers with only the haziest grasp of batting mechanics, pinned to the crease like terrified limpets while their furious opposite-numbers unleash an ever more titanic bombardment as the final minutes of play tick away, until either the stumps or the bowlers' sanity are finally shattered. Successfully pulling off this trick shows how the game can reward dogged tenacity as much as flair, as the apparently outclassed side will withdraw from the fray battered and bloodied but with a share of the spoils.
If you hear anybody talking about Timeless Tests, they were a genuine attempt many years ago to make draws impossible by having the match go on for however long was necessary to produce a result. This had the effect of neither side taking any risks whatsoever and they tended to drag on for nine or ten days, and indeed one was still a draw anyway because one team had to leave to catch their ship home. That was the last of Timeless Tests.
If a team is winning, it can just stop batting and end their innings early. This is officially known as declaring, and their score will read something like "324-6 declared" as opposed to "324 all out". This is most often done as a pre-emptive counter to the above strategy, when the captain of a batting team that is doing particularly well feels his side have already established enough of a lead, and hopes to force a result by giving themselves enough time to hopefully bowl the opposing team out before time expires. After all, there's little point in setting a mammoth target like 638 by lengthily compiling 500-odd runs in your second innings, if by the time you're all out it's late on the final afternoon and the opposition only need to bat out a dozen overs to secure a draw... So the captain may choose to call a halt as soon as an incumbent batsman has reached their century, perhaps, or the next wicket fallen, or simply a round-number gap opened up or a certain time of day is reached (often 20-30 minutes before the scheduled end of a session, not enough time for the opposing batsmen to gather momentum, but enough to take a quick wicket or two if the bowling side is lucky). Exactly how soon the declaration is made, though, is a trial of confidence; or as TOW puts it, "A captain considering declaration must balance the risks of declaring too early (thus setting too low a target for the opposing team) against those of declaring too late or not at all (thus causing a draw by leaving insufficient time to complete the match)."
If a team manages to rack up such a vast score at the start of a match they feel able to declare in their first innings, then obliterate the opposition for such a meagre tally they are also able to force the follow-on, then do so again for an innings victory... well, that's about as close to a Curb-Stomp Battle as cricket gets. In the case of a draw, both teams will line up in a scrum for a penalty kick-out.
Although in most sports "draw" in British English and "tie" in North American English refer to the same thing, i.e. a shared result, there is also a distinct tie result in cricket, although such an occasion is rare. This is when both sides have ended up on precisely the same total score at the close of the final day's play, or, in a one-day match (see below), after the last ball of the second team's innings. Since hundreds of runs are usually scored per innings, exactly matching a team's aggregate in a multiple-day match is particularly improbable — especially so in Test cricket, where there have only ever been two matches that ended in a tie (Australia vs West Indies in 1960, and Australia vs India in 1986), requiring an unlikely combination of scores like the West Indies tallying 453 & 284 to tie with Australia's 505 & 232.
- There are also two equally-rare cases of a drawn Test where both sides happened to be on level aggregate scores when time ran out, without the last batsman having been dismissed. In November 2011 the West Indies (590 and 134) drew with India (482 and 242-9), which saw the teams on 724 each after the final over; prior to the last ball either team could have won, or the game been drawn, or tied. The sole previous occurrence saw Zimbabwe vs England totalling 610 each in December 1996.
One-day cricketIf you cannot handle the sheer exhilaration, tension and shifting fortunes of four or five days of concentrated play, there are the one-day matches too. Here both teams have just a single innings and bat for only a limited number of overs — often fifty, but sometimes sixty or forty depending on the competition and what period of history we're talking about. If the second team batting fails to catch the first team's score by the end of their allotted overs then the first team wins; if the second team do catch up then play stops there and they win. Simple. Thus, the game can turn into a race against the clock as the second side attempt to beat the other team's score before they run out of overs.
This is regardless of how many players get out — a side that bats carefully and amasses 100 runs for the loss of no wickets at all (100-0) will still lose to a side who bat in a cavalier yet faster-scoring fashion and score 101-9.
Used for knock-out cup competitions in Britain, as well as a separate One-Day Championship league.
The newest trend in the "limited-over" game is the especially whizz-bang twenty-twenty format (known as Twenty20 or T20), where each team bats for only (you guessed it) twenty overs – the idea is to encourage dramatically big hitting and kamikaze running as there is such a brief time available for scoring. A match can be completed within a single afternoon. This version of the game has grown rapidly huge commercially in India (a hotbed of world cricket) in particular, where the nascent yet lucrative IPL (Indian Premier League) has revolutionised aspects of the sport, but the British game has also added T20 competitions to the annual calendar, and the format is rapidly gaining popularity in Australia as well, especially the local league.
- There are still people who do not accept limited overs matches (especially Twenty20) to be 'real' cricket. Do not get involved in a discussion on this subject unless you really want to talk about how great Test Cricket is for several hours — especially with anyone who has played Test Cricket, is 'of a certain age', or is a TV or radio commentator.
If it rains during a limited-overs game, instead of just calling the whole thing off you get into something called the Duckworth-Lewis–Stern Method,note a technique for reading chicken entrails that will find out what should happen next. The idea is that this sets the batting side a revised target, based on a.) the reduced number of overs it's still possible to fit in after the weather delay, and weighted according to b.) the number of wickets they have left — i.e. it tries to predict what score the team would have reached given how fast they were scoring so far and how many wickets they have in reserve, and essentially asks them to keep scoring at the resultant calculated rate. For example, if the set target was 250 off 50 overs, and rain reduces play so there's only time for 40 overs, the DLS target might be 200 off 40 as would seem proportionate — but such a simple figure is unlikely in practice, and the sophisticated weightings applied would be more likely to produce a target like 181 or 207. No-one really understands how this works, apparently not necessarily even the players, therefore it can be often controversial and applied incorrectly: most recently when a West Indies captain called his team in, thinking they'd win by one run, but instead lost by two runs to England — having not realised that his side losing a wicket to the last ball before the stoppage had altered the weighting.
Since the method is headspinningly unfathomable even to top-level professional exponents of the sport, don't worry yourself about it any further.
In the rare instance of a tied one-day game in a knock-out competition, a result can be forced by a bowl-out/bowl-off — a relatively recent innovation akin to a penalty shootout in football (soccer), where five bowlers from each team take turns bowling at an undefended wicket once or twice each, with whichever side gets the most hits winning. This sounds not unlike Blatant Lies but is actually genuine.
Even more recently, however, this has mostly been replaced by a "Super Over", where each team is given one more over to score as many runs as they can. During the final of the 2019 World Cup both England and New Zealand had scored 241 runs after 50 overs. The game went to a Super Over, and after 6 balls each, both teams scored 15 runs each, meaning they were still tied. In the end England won the game (and the cup), due to the fact that they had scored more boundaries throughout the match than New Zealand. Such an event will never occur again: shortly afterwards, the governing body the ICC announced that, if that Super Over ends in a tie, as many pairs of additional Super Overs as needed to produce a result will be used.
International competitionMost countries that play international cricket matches against each other do so on an irregular basis, jetting off a couple of times a year on foreign tours that will take in a series of Test matches, 50-over One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and now Twenty20 games against their host country, plus usually an assortment of one-day games against that country's provincial/regional/county teams, perhaps the national B-team, and maybe an invitational side or two. Given the propensity for draws in multi-day cricket, it's quite possible to end a Test series 0-0, which, despite sounding like a complete non-event, surprises nobody and sends everyone home happy at least.
The oldest and fiercest international rivalry is between England and Australia: manifested in the biennial (on average) battles for The Ashes, where one of the planet's great sporting wars is waged for probably its smallest trophy, across five Test matches.
The cricketing version of baseball's World Series (to some degree) or association football's World Cup is (also) called the World Cup and involves countries you don't know anything about (Sri Lanka) in matches against countries that don't exist (West Indies), with the numbers made up by countries that are actually more like states or provinces (England). Most of the 'big names' are Commonwealth nations, i.e. former members of the British Empire who learned the sport from their former colonial masters and now often play it better than them, but there is increasingly a global spread.
- The World Series is something of a poor analogy, since it's only the North American championship (the name is a classic example of Gilded Age American bombast that either embarrasses or confuses most Americans today). A better analog is the World Baseball Classic, organized in the early 2000s by the US Major League Baseball and Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball (the best two in the world), and the sixteen or so countries in its finalsnote are the elite of international baseball, and not unsurprisingly, they are mostly part of the American Totally-Not-An-Empire in the Americas and East Asia that flourished from the 1880s through...well...more or less now, actually.
There are currently only World Cups for the One-Day International (50-over) and Twenty20 (20-over) forms of the game. A Test World Cup was tried once, but rather predictably failed...we think. Some people say the matches might still be going on.
Probably worth mentioning here is that there are currently only 12 countries (sort of) who are recognised to have 'Test Status'. It basically means that first-class matches (games at the top level of the sport) between the nations in question are recognised as Tests for official statistics, and that their teams for the one-day form of the game enjoy automatic entry into the World Cup. They are (in order of gaining Test Status)
- Australia: Along with England enjoys a status as the first Test-playing nations. Currently ranked #4 in ODI, #2 in Test, and #2 in Twenty20s. They are still #1 in Women's cricket. (as of Jan 2020)
- England: Includes Wales but not Scotland (who have their own team) or Northern Ireland (who form an all-Ireland team with the Republic of Ireland). Of England's sporting teams, probably the most consistently competent and surprisingly good at the short forms of the game. However, being an England team, they are just as capable of a spectacular Epic Fail as any of the others.
- South Africa: Suspended from international competition between 1970 and 1991 due to apartheid, but quickly became a formidable team once the ban was lifted.
- West Indies: Not a single nation but an alliance of several Caribbean nations and British Overseas Dependencies. The ones that are independent countries used to be one country, but the country never really gelled and the team has always included the dependencies anyway. See the other wiki for the full list. Nicknamed the "Windies".
- New Zealand: Seems to vary heavily between world-class and awful. Much, much stronger in the shorter forms of the game.
- India: Included Pakistan and Bangladesh before partition. The growing powerhouse of the sport, and home to the aforementioned Indian Premier League T20 competition that includes major international players as well. Currently ranked #1 in Tests, #2 in ODIs and #5 in Twenty20 cricket. *as of Jan 2020)
- Pakistan: Included Bangladesh before it gained independence.
- Sri Lanka: Not added to the roster until 30 years after Pakistan, but a notable cricketing power.
- Zimbabwe: Suspended for several years in the 2000s due to Robert Mugabe's...shall we say...strained...relations with the Commonwealth, but returned in August 2011.
- Bangladesh: Added in 2000.
- Afghanistan: Added in 2017. Not as surprising an addition to the Test ranks as one might think, given the cultural influence of India and Pakistan, to say nothing of spending most of the 19th century alternately being invaded by and fending off Redcoats.
- Ireland: Also added in 2017 (on the same day). Cricket was historically somewhat divisive in Ireland because of its English associations, but recent successes and the general improvement of relations between Ireland and Britain have increased interest in the sport.
Outside of the Test-playing nations, other countries that have qualified for major tournaments include:
- East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia): Qualified for 1975 World Cup
- Canada: Qualified for 1979, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups
- Kenya: Qualified for all world cups between 1996 and 2011, even made the semi-finals in 2003; Was proposed as a test nation, unfortunately they were hit with corruption scandals and contractual disputes that meant the proposal fell through.
- Netherlands: Qualified for 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups, 1998 to 2000 women's World Cups, 2009, 2016 and 2016 men's T20 World Cup.
- Namibia: Qualified for 2003 World Cup.
- Scotland: Qualified for 1999, 2007 and 2015 World Cup and 2007, 2009 and 2016 men's T20 World Cup.
- United Arab Emirates: Qualified for 1996 and 2015 World Cups, and 2014 men's t20 World Cup.
- Denmark: Qualified for 1993 and 1997 women's World Cups.
- Hong Kong: Qualified for 2014 and 2016 men's T20 World Cup.
- Nepal: Qualified for 2014 men's T20 World Cup.
- Oman: Qualified for 2016 men's T20 World Cup.
- Thailand: Qualified for 2020 women's T20 World Cup.
- Papua New Guinea: Qualified for 2021 men's T20 World Cup.
- United States: Qualified for 2024 men's T20 World Cup; this one is due to them cohosting with the West Indies.
Sadly, the United States, as an associate country, has varied in and out of the ICC's good graces over the years, as the now-dead United States of America Cricket Association was put out if its misery in 2017 for complete mismanagement of the game in America and their finances (the organization was suspended in 2015 beforehand); the new USA Cricket hopes to do a lot better with the game than the USACA couldn't do in its fifty years of existence, which the creation of Major League Cricket in 2023 could change.
In summary...So, really it's not much like baseball at all. However, it's still similar, in that:
The uniforms (kits) are patently ridiculous. (Australia's involves a sweater vest and optional fisherman's hat.)
- Test kits are all white, while One Day and Twenty20 uniforms are garish colours. Luckily, none nowadays are as bad as the West Indies' pink and New Zealand's beige pyjamas from the '70s and early '80s.
There is a complex method for scoring the game at home that involves cryptic abbreviations and massive amounts of beer (flat piss/bitter).
It generates all manner of vaguely relevant statistics, ideal for nerds to obsess over for ever.
The game lasts much longer that it needs to, ranging from the Twenty20 matches that last a couple of hours too long, but can have cheerleaders if you like that sort of thing, to Test cricket, which lasts days too long).
The batsman is sometimes hit by the ball. But because the English are real men, this is a perfectly legitimate thing for the bowler to do. Bowlers frequently target lower-order batsmen in particular with short-pitched, steeply rising deliveries, sometimes called 'up the throat', that would be easily avoidable were the batsmen concerned any good, with the result that many are hit (as they don't get out of the way) or panic and get out. If hit there is no penalty. They cannot use this tactic too much or it is considered intimidating in an unsportsmanlike fashion.
- This tactic led to one of the most infamous events in the game when England used it for the first time against Australia in 1932, named afterwards the "Bodyline" Series after the moniker this style of bowling acquired. It caused a diplomatic incident between the two countries and led to a change in the rules regarding fielding.
- The incident was dramatised in the miniseries Bodyline, starring Hugo Weaving as the English captain, because of course it did.
- As a footnote, the 'Windies' used the same tactic against the same England team in 1933, and England still won. And had a massive whinge. Only after that series were the rules changed.
- Not that it matters since, as with all sport, any game the English can play, Australians can play better. In fact, Australia are ahead 123 to 100 in matches played.
- Sadly, an Australian batsman died in 2014 as a result of being hit in the neck by a bouncer.
Instead of ball boys there are bat boys, which sounds really awesome but is pretty much the same. You will never ever hear the name actually used during any game.
Casual versions of cricket, referred to as backyard cricket, beach cricket, street cricket, etc., often have their own variations. Probably the most common is that instead of formal teams, there are two batsmen, plus a bowler and fielders. When a batsman is dismissed, he/she is replaced by the person who made the dismissal (either the bowler, or the fielder who took caught or ran out the batsman).
The ball is usually a tennis ball, often with one side covered in electrical tape to aid swing bowling. A garbage bin or section of a fence often substitutes for stumps. Other common house rules include:
- "Tip-and-run", "tippety run", etc: If the batsman makes any bat-on-ball contact, he/she must run.
- Automatic Wicketkeeper: If the batsman edges the ball, and it hits the rear fence on the full, he/she is out
- The batsman must retire upon reaching a certain number of runs
- No LBW rule applies, due to the arguments that usually result
- Over the fence is "six and out".
- "One hand, one bounce": If the ball bounces once (or bounces off an object), it is out if caught one-handed.
- Batsmen can't be out on the first delivery they face (especially younger players)
Understanding a single word of all the above, and thus having the faintest idea of what's going on at any point during the game, is not actually a requirement for enjoying cricket as a spectator. Trust us, this game is far better than it is made to sound!
Like all good sports cricket has (as you may have come to realise) its own highly bizarre language of convoluted terms. The Other Wiki has a very good list here.
David Morgan-Mar (of Irregular Webcomic! fame) has also provided a comprehensive, comprehensible and highly informative cricket page here.
Another great site for everything and anything cricket related is http://www.cricinfo.com
Incidentally, a more accessible version of cricket is Beach Cricket (or Backyard Cricket), played all over Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies — and in Britain too, only there's not nearly so many sunny beaches. It requires a cricket bat (of any material: can just be a stout piece of wood), a tennis ball or similar, fellow players and/or a dog to retrieve the ball, and pretty much anything can be substituted for the wickets. (Wheelie bins are particularly popular, at least in Australia. They make a satisfying "thunk" when you hit them.) The goal is to make sure everybody gets a turn at both batting and bowling, though fat Uncle Brian will usually sit out the fielding.
To sum up, let's consult this best-selling tea towel's guide to the rules of cricket!:
- Cricket, as explained to a foreigner: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 a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game.
Best bet is to watch the epically unhelpful yet hilarious Mitchell & Webb spoof trailer for cricketing 'movie' The Full Number Of Overs That Are Scheduled To Be Bowled That Day — er, just try not to take it at face value...