Cricket can be an intimidating sport if you haven’t grown up with it. After all, a single match can last for five days! But playing can be good fun, and even watching might enthrall you after you’ve figured out how it all works.
There are different types of professional cricket matches, with some running as one-day events and others as five-day events. New Zealand’s team is generally among the 10 best in the world, but they’re not quite at the top of the list.
The basic skills needed in cricket are similar to those in baseball. You have to hit the ball with a bat when you are on the scoring side and be able to throw and catch the ball on the defensive side. However, the bats are a different shape, and there are no padded gloves.
You Call That a Bat?
To most North Americans, the rules of cricket are rather mysterious. A game can run anywhere from an afternoon to several days, and one player can score over a hundred runs in the course of a game! Here’s a brief overview that may help you follow the conversation in the local pub:
Innings: In cricket the teams do not switch between offense and defense throughout the game. In most cases, there are only one or two innings per team. That is the team’s turn to score runs. So one team scores all of its runs for the match, then the other team tries to score more runs when its turn comes up. An innings (even the singular form ends with s) ends when 10 out of the team’s 11 batsmen are out, or “dismissed.” The batting lineup does not repeat as in baseball.
Bowler: There is no “pitcher” in cricket. The person who throws the ball is a bowler. He must throw overhand and his arm must be straight when he releases the ball. Usually the bowler bounces the ball off the pitch, because this makes it harder to hit.
Overs: When a bowler has thrown six legal pitches, this is called an over. At this point he has to let another bowler take over. The new bowler stands at the opposite end of the pitch from his predecessor, and he bowls to the other runner. Bowling usually rotates between two players, and they can be relieved and replaced when they become tired.
Scoring Runs: Two runners are playing at any one time. One is the batsman (the one batting at the time) and the other is a nonstriker. They stand at either end of a long strip of earth with a wicket at each end. This is called the pitch. When the batsman hits the ball, the two runners will both run, exchanging places at either end of the pitch. If they reach the opposite ends, a run is scored. If they manage to run back and forth several times, they can score multiple runs on one hit. Runs can also be scored by hitting the ball to the boundary of the playing field.
Wicket: This is a set of three wooden stumps, topped by two crossbars called bails. The batsman stands in front of his wicket to bat. If the bowler gets the ball past the batsman and knocks over the wicket, the player is out. There are no “three strikes” in cricket! When the defensive team gets a batter out, by any means, they are said to have “taken a wicket.” If a wicket is knocked over while the runners are still running, the player who was supposed to arrive at that end will be “run out.” The wicket can be knocked over by the ball, or by a player’s hand holding the ball.
Fielding: The 11 fielders are placed around the elliptical field to catch the balls after they are hit. One is placed behind the wicket, and he is known as the wicket keeper. Only the wicket keepers can wear gloves to protect their hands when catching the ball. All other fielders use bare hands. The bowler is the only other player with a set position. The other nine fielders may position themselves anywhere on the field (with certain restrictions).
Game Timing: There are two ways for cricket matches to be set up. One involves limiting the time each team plays. The other is to play for a specific number of overs.
Test Matches: In first-class international cricket competitions, matches are played over five days, with each day broken into three two-hour sessions. There is a lunch break between the first two, and a tea break between the second and third. Each team has two innings to play each day. If the last day’s innings aren’t finished by the end of the allotted time, the match is called a tie, even if one team was significantly in the lead! Finally, everyone wears white so the red ball is easier to see.