Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of eleven players on a field at the centre of which is a 20-metre (22-yard) pitchwith a wicket at each end, each comprising two bails balanced on three stumps. The batting side scores runs by striking the ball bowled at the wicket with the bat, while the bowling and fielding side tries to prevent this and dismiss each player (so they are “out”). Means of dismissal include being bowled, when the ball hits the stumps and dislodges the bails, and by the fielding side catching the ball after it is hit by the bat, but before it hits the ground. When ten players have been dismissed, the innings ends and the teams swap roles. The game is adjudicated by two umpires, aided by a third umpire and match referee in international matches. They communicate with two off-field scorerswho record the match’s statistical information.
Cricket is one of many games in the “club ball” sphere that basically involve hitting a ball with a hand-held implement; others include baseball, golf, hockey, tennis, squash, badminton, and table tennis. In cricket’s case, a key difference is the existence of a solid target structure, the wicket (originally, it is thought, a “wicket gate” through which sheep were herded), that the batsman must defend. The cricket historian Harry Althamidentified three “groups” of “club ball” games: the “hockey group”, in which the ball is driven to and fro between two targets (the goals); the “golf group”, in which the ball is driven towards an undefended target (the hole); and the “cricket group”, in which “the ball is aimed at a mark (the wicket) and driven away from it”.
Basic gameplay: bowler to batsman
During normal play, thirteen players and two umpires are on the field. Two of the players are batsmen and the rest are all eleven members of the fielding team. The other nine players in the batting team are off the field in the pavilion. The image with the overlay below shows what is happening when a ball is being bowled and which of the personnel are on or close to the pitch. The photo was taken during an international match between Australia and Sri Lanka; Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka is bowling to Australian batsman Adam Gilchrist.
While the umpire (1) in shot stands at the bowler’s end of the pitch, his colleague stands in the outfield, usually in or near the fielding position called “square leg“, so that he is in line with the popping crease (7) at the striker’s end of the pitch. The bowling crease (not numbered) is the one on which the wicket is located between the return creases (12). The bowler (4) intends to hit the wicket (9) with the ball (5) or, at least, to prevent the striker (8) from scoring runs. The striker (8) intends, by using his bat, to defend his wicket and, if possible, to hit the ball away from the pitch in order to score runs. In the photo, the two batsmen (3 & 8; wearing yellow) have taken a position at each end of the pitch (6). Three members of the fielding team (4, 10 & 11; wearing dark blue) are in the shot. One of the two umpires (1; wearing a white hat) is stationed behind the wicket (2) at the bowler’s (4) end of the pitch. The bowler (4) is bowling the ball (5) from his end of the pitch to the batsman (8) at the other end who is called the “striker”. The other batsman (3) at the bowling end is called the “non-striker”. The wicket-keeper (10), who is a specialist, is positioned behind the striker’s wicket (9) and behind him stands one of the fielders in a position called “first slip” (11). While the bowler and the first slip are wearing conventional kit only, the two batsmen and the wicket-keeper are wearing protective gear including safety helmets, padded gloves and leg guards (pads).
Some players are skilled in both batting and bowling so are termed, all-rounders. Adam Gilchrist, pictured above, was a wicket-keeper/batsman, another type of all-rounder. Bowlers are also classified according to their style, generally as fast bowlers, medium pace seam bowlers or, like Muttiah Muralitharan pictured above, spinners. Batsmen are classified according to whether they are right-handed or left-handed.
Of the eleven fielders, three are in shot in the image above. The other eight are elsewhere on the field, their positions determined on a tactical basis by the captain or the bowler. Fielders often change position between deliveries, again as directed by the captain or bowler.
If a fielder is injured or becomes ill during a match, a substitute is allowed to field instead of him, but the substitute cannot bowl or act as a captain. The substitute leaves the field when the injured player is fit to return. The Laws of Cricket were updated in 2017 to allow substitutes to act as wicket-keepers, a situation that first occurred when Mumbai Indians‘ wicket-keeper Ishan Kishan was injured in a match on 18 April 2018.
The captain is often the most experienced player in the team, certainly the most tactically astute, and can possess any of the main skillsets as a batsman, a bowler or a wicket-keeper. Within the Laws, the captain has certain responsibilities in terms of nominating his players to the umpires before the match and ensuring that his players conduct themselves “within the spirit and traditions of the game as well as within the Laws”.
The wicket-keeper (sometimes called simply the “keeper”) is a specialist fielder subject to various rules within the Laws about his equipment and demeanor. He is the only member of the fielding side who can affect a stumping and is the only one permitted to wear gloves and external leg guards. Depending on their primary skills, the other ten players in the team tend to be classified as specialist batsmen or specialist bowlers. Generally, a team will include five or six specialist batsmen and four or five specialist bowlers, plus the wicket-keeper.
Clothing and equipment
The wicket-keeper and the batsmen wear protective gear because of the hardness of the ball, which can be delivered at speeds of more than 145 kilometers per hour (90 mph) and presents a major health and safety concern. Protective clothing includes pads (designed to protect the knees and shins), batting gloves or wicket-keeper’s gloves for the hands, a safety helmet for the head and a box for male players inside the trousers (to protect the crotch area). Some batsmen wear additional padding inside their shirts and trousers such as thigh pads, arm pads, rib protectors and shoulder pads. The only fielders allowed to wear protective gear are those in positions very close to the batsman (i.e., if they are alongside or in front of him), but they cannot wear gloves or external leg guards.
Subject to certain variations, on-field clothing generally includes a collared shirt with short or long sleeves; long trousers; woolen pullover (if needed); cricket cap (for fielding) or a safety helmet; and spiked shoes or boots to increase traction. The kit is traditionally all white and this remains the case in Test and first-class cricket but, in limited overs cricket, team colors are worn instead.
The innings (ending with ‘s’ in both singular and plural form) is the term used for each phase of play during a match. Depending on the type of match being played, each team has either one or two innings. Sometimes all eleven members of the batting side take a turn to bat but, for various reasons, an innings can end before they have all done so. The innings terminates if the batting team is “all out”, a term defined by the Laws: “at the fall of a wicket or the retirement of a batsman, further balls remain to be bowled but no further batsman is available to come in”. In this situation, one of the batsmen has not been dismissed and is termed not out; this is because he has no partners left and there must always be two active batsmen while the innings is in progress.
An innings may end early while there are still two not out batsmen:
- the batting team’s captain may declare the innings closed even though some of his players have not had a turn to bat: this is a tactical decision by the captain, usually because he believes his team have scored sufficient runs and need time to dismiss the opposition in their innings
- the set number of overs (i.e., in a limited overs match) have been bowled
- the match has ended prematurely due to bad weather or running out of time
- in the final innings of the match, the batting side has reached its target and won the game.
The Laws state that, throughout an innings, “the ball shall be bowled from each end alternately in overs of 6 balls”. The name “over” came about because the umpire calls “Over!” when six balls have been bowled. At this point, another bowler is deployed at the other end, and the fielding side changes ends while the batsmen do not. A bowler cannot bowl two successive overs, although a bowler can (and usually does) bowl alternate overs, from the same end, for several overs which are termed a “spell”. The batsmen do not change ends at the end of the over, and so the one who was non-striker is now the striker and vice-versa. The umpires also change positions so that the one who was at “square leg” now stands behind the wicket at the non-striker’s end and vice-versa.
Umpires and scorers
The game on the field is regulated by the two umpires, one of whom stands behind the wicket at the bowler’s end, the other in a position called “square leg” which is about 15–20 metres away from the batsman on strike and in line with the popping crease on which he is taking guard. The umpires have several responsibilities including adjudication on whether a ball has been correctly bowled (i.e., not a no-ball or a wide); when a run is scored; whether a batsman is out (the fielding side must first appeal to the umpire, usually with the phrase “How’s that?” or “Owzat?”); when intervals start and end; and the suitability of the pitch, field, and weather for playing the game. The umpires are authorized to interrupt or even abandon a match due to circumstances likely to endanger the players, such as a damp pitch or deterioration of the light.
Off the field in televised matches, there is usually a third umpire who can make decisions on certain incidents with the aid of video evidence. The third umpire is mandatory under the playing conditions for Test and Limited Overs International matches played between two ICC full member countries. These matches also have a match referee whose job is to ensure that play is within the Laws and the spirit of the game.
The match details, including runs and dismissals, are recorded by two official scorers, one representing each team. The scorers are directed by the hand signals of an umpire (see the image, right). For example, the umpire raises a forefinger to signal that the batsman is out (has been dismissed); he raises both arms above his head if the batsman has hit the ball for six runs. The scorers are required by the Laws to record all runs scored, wickets taken and overs bowled; in practice, they also note significant amounts of additional data relating to the game.
A match’s statistics are summarised on a scorecard. Prior to the popularisation of scorecards, most scoring was done by men sitting on vantage points cuttings notches on tally sticks and runs were originally called notches. According to Rowland Bowen, the earliest known scorecard templates were introduced in 1776 by T. Pratt of Sevenoaks and soon came into general use. It is believed that scorecards were printed and sold at Lord’s for the first time in 1846.
Spirit of the Game
Besides observing the Laws, cricketers must respect the “Spirit of Cricket,” which is the “Preamble to the Laws,” first published in the 2000 code, and updated in 2017, and now opens with this statement:
“Cricket owes much of its appeal and enjoyment to the fact that it should be played not only according to the Laws, but also within the Spirit of Cricket”.
The Preamble is a short statement that emphasizes the “Positive behaviors that make cricket an exciting game that encourages leadership, friendship, and teamwork.”
The major responsibility for ensuring fair play is placed firmly on the captains but extends to all players, umpires, teachers, coaches, and parents involved.
The umpires are the sole judges of fair and unfair play. They are required under the Laws to intervene in case of dangerous or unfair play or in cases of unacceptable conduct by a player.
Previous versions of the Spirit identified actions that were deemed contrary (for example, appealing knowing that the batsman is not out) but all specifics are now covered in the Laws of Cricket, the relevant governing playing regulations and disciplinary codes, or left to the judgement of the umpires, captains, their clubs and governing bodies. The terse expression of the Spirit of Cricket now avoids the diversity of cultural conventions that exist on the detail of sportsmanship – or its absence.
Bowling and dismissal
Most bowlers are considered specialists in that they are selected for the team because of their skill as a bowler, although some are all-rounders and even specialist batsmen bowl occasionally. The specialist bowlers are active multiple times during an innings, but may not bowl two overs consecutively. If the captain wants a bowler to “change ends”, another bowler must temporarily fill in so that the change is not immediate.
A bowler reaches his delivery stride by means of a “run-up” and an over is deemed to have begun when the bowler starts his run-up for the first delivery of that over, the ball then being “in play”. Fast bowlers, needing momentum, take a lengthy run up while bowlers with a slow delivery take no more than a couple of steps before bowling. The fastest bowlers can deliver the ball at a speed of over 145 kilometers per hour (90 mph) and they sometimes rely on sheer speed to try and defeat the batsman, who is forced to react very quickly. Other fast bowlers rely on a mixture of speed and guile by making the ball seam or swing (i.e. curve) in flight. This type of delivery can deceive a batsman into miscuing his shot, for example, so that the ball just touches the edge of the bat and can then be “caught behind” by the wicket-keeper or a slip fielder. At the other end of the bowling, the scale is the spin bowler who bowls at a relatively slow pace and relies entirely on guile to deceive the batsman. A spinner will often “buy his wicket” by “tossing one up” (in a slower, steeper parabolic path) to lure the batsman into making a poor shot. The batsman has to be very wary of such deliveries as they are often “flighted” or spun so that the ball will not behave quite as he expects and he could be “trapped” into getting himself out. In between the pacemen and the spinners are the medium paced seamers who rely on persistent accuracy to try and contain the rate of scoring and wear down the batsman’s concentration.
There are ten ways in which a batsman can be dismissed: five relatively common and five extremely rare. The common forms of dismissal are bowled, caught, leg before wicket (lbw), run out and stumped. Rare methods are hit wicket, hit the ball twice, obstructing the field, handled the ball and timed out. The Laws state that the fielding team, usually the bowler in practice, must appeal for a dismissal before the umpire can give his decision. If the batsman is out, the umpire raises a forefinger and says “Out!”; otherwise, he will shake his head and say “Not out”. There is, effectively, an eleventh method of dismissal, retired out, which is not an on-field dismissal as such but rather a retrospective one for which no fielder is credited.
Batting runs, and extras
Batsmen take turns to bat via a batting order which is decided beforehand by the team captain and presented to the umpires, though the order remains flexible when the captain officially nominates the team. Substitute batsmen are not allowed.
A skilled batsman can use a wide array of “shots” or “strokes” in both defensive and attacking mode. The idea is to hit the ball to best effect with the flat surface of the bat’s blade. If the ball touches the side of the bat it is called an “edge“. The batsman does not have to play a shot and can allow the ball to go through to the wicketkeeper. Equally, he does not have to attempt a run when he hits the ball with his bat. Batsmen do not always seek to hit the ball as hard as possible, and a good player can score runs just by making a deft stroke with a turn of the wrists or by simply “blocking” the ball but directing it away from fielders so that he has time to take a run. A wide variety of shots are played, the batsman’s repertoire including strokes named according to the style of swing and the direction aimed: e.g., “cut“, “drive”, “hook”, “pull”.
The batsman on strike (i.e. the “striker”) must prevent the ball hitting the wicket, and try to score runs by hitting the ball with his bat so that he and his partner have time to run from one end of the pitch to the other before the fielding side can return the ball. To register a run, both runners must touch the ground behind the popping crease with either their bats or their bodies (the batsmen carry their bats as they run). Each completed run increments the score of both the team and the striker.
The decision to attempt a run is ideally made by the batsman who has the better view of the ball’s progress, and this is communicated by calling: usually “yes”, “no” or “wait”. More than one run can be scored from a single hit: hits worth one to three runs are common, but the size of the field is such that it is usually difficult to run four or more. To compensate for this, hits that reach the boundary of the field are automatically awarded four runs if the ball touches the ground en route to the boundary or six runs if the ball clears the boundary without touching the ground within the boundary. In these cases, the batsmen do not need to run. Hits for five are unusual and generally rely on the help of “overthrows” by a fielder returning the ball. If an odd number of runs is scored by the striker, the two batsmen have changed ends, and the one who was non-striker is now the striker. Only the striker can score individual runs, but all runs are added to the team’s total.
Additional runs can be gained by the batting team as extras (called “sundries” in Australia) due to errors made by the fielding side. This is achieved in four ways: no-ball, a penalty of one extra conceded by the bowler if he breaks the rules; wide, a penalty of one extra conceded by the bowler if he bowls so that the ball is out of the batsman’s reach; bye, an extra awarded if the batsman misses the ball and it goes past the wicket-keeper and gives the batsmen time to run in the conventional way; leg bye, as for a bye except that the ball has hit the batsman’s body, though not his bat. If the bowler has conceded a no-ball or a wide, his team incurs an additional penalty because that ball (i.e., delivery) has to be bowled again and hence the batting side has the opportunity to score more runs from this extra ball.
Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played on a cricket field (see the image, right) between two teams of eleven players each. The field is usually circular or oval in shape and the edge of the playing area is marked by a boundary, which may be a fence, part of the stands, a rope, a painted line or a combination of these; the boundary must if possible be marked along its entire length.
In the approximate center of the field is a rectangular pitch (see the image, below) on which a wooden target called a wicket is sited at each end; the wickets are placed 22 yards (20 m) apart. The pitch is a flat surface 3 meters (9.8 ft) wide, with very short grass that tends to be worn away as the game progresses (cricket can also be played on artificial surfaces, notably matting). Each wicket is made of three wooden stumps topped by two bails.
As illustrated above, the pitch is marked at each end with four white painted lines: a bowling crease, a popping crease, and two return creases. The three stumps are aligned centrally on the bowling crease, which is eight feet eight inches long. The popping crease is drawn four feet in front of the bowling crease and parallel to it; although it is drawn as a twelve-foot line (six feet either side of the wicket), it is, in fact, unlimited in length. The return creases are drawn at right angles to the popping crease so that they intersect the ends of the bowling crease; each return crease is drawn as an eight-foot line, so that it extends four feet behind the bowling crease, but is also in fact unlimited in length.
Match structure and closure
Before a match begins, the team captains (who are also players) toss a coin to decide which team will bat first and so take the first innings. Innings is the term used for each phase of play in the match. In each innings, one team bats, attempting to score runs, while the other team bowls and fields the ball, attempting to restrict the scoring and dismiss the batsmen. When the first innings ends, the teams change roles; there can be two to four innings depending upon the type of match. A match with four scheduled innings is played over three to five days; a match with two scheduled innings is usually completed in a single day. During an innings, all eleven members of the fielding team take the field, but only two members of the batting team are on the field at any given time. The order of batsmen is usually announced just before the match, but it can be varied.
The main objective of each team is to score more runs than their opponents but, in some forms of cricket, it is also necessary to dismiss all of the opposition batsmen in their final innings in order to win the match, which would otherwise be drawn. If the team batting last is all out having scored fewer runs than their opponents, they are said to have “lost by n runs” (where n is the difference between the aggregate number of runs scored by the teams). If the team that bats last scores enough runs to win, it is said to have “won by n wickets”, where n is the number of wickets left to fall. For example, a team that passes its opponents’ total having lost six wickets (i.e., six of their batsmen have been dismissed) have won the match “by four wickets”.
In a two-innings-a-side match, one team’s combined first and second innings total may be less than the other side’s first innings total. The team with the greater score is then said to have “won by an innings and n runs”, and does not need to bat again: n is the difference between the two teams’ aggregate scores. If the team batting last is all out, and both sides have scored the same number of runs, then the match is a tie; this result is quite rare in matches of two innings a side with only 62 happening in first-class matches from the earliest known instance in 1741 until January 2017. In the traditional form of the game, if the time allotted for the match expires before either side can win, then the game is declared a draw.
If the match has only a single innings per side, then a maximum number of overs applies to each innings. Such a match is called a “limited overs” or “one-day” match, and the side scoring more runs wins regardless of the number of wickets lost, so that a draw cannot occur. If this kind of match is temporarily interrupted by bad weather, then a complex mathematical formula, known as the Duckworth-Lewis method after its developers, is often used to recalculate a new target score. A one-day match can also be declared a “no-result” if fewer than a previously agreed number of overs have been bowled by either team, in circumstances that make normal resumption of play impossible; for example, wet weather.
In all forms of cricket, the umpires can abandon the match if bad light or rain makes it impossible to continue. There have been instances of entire matches, even Test matches scheduled to be played over five days, being lost to bad weather without a ball being bowled: for example, the third Test of the 1970/71 series in Australia.
Bat and ball
The essence of the sport is that a bowler delivers (i.e., bowls) the ball from his end of the pitch towards the batsman who, armed with batis “on strike” at the other end (see next sub-section: Basic gameplay).
The bat is made of wood, usually salix alba (white willow), and has the shape of a blade topped by a cylindrical handle. The blade must not be more than four and one-quarter inches (108 mm) wide and the total length of the bat not more than 38 inches (965 mm). There is no standard for the weight which is usually between 2 lb 7 oz and 3 lb (1.1 and 1.4 kg).
The ball is a hard leather-seamed spheroid, with a circumference of 22.9 centimeters (9.0 in). The ball has a “seam”: six rows of stitches attaching the leather shell of the ball to the string and cork interior. The seam on a new ball is prominent and helps the bowler propel it in a less predictable manner. During matches, the quality of the ball deteriorates to a point where it is no longer usable, and during the course of this deterioration, its behavior in flight will change and can influence the outcome of the match. Players will, therefore, attempt to modify the ball’s behavior by modifying their physical properties. Polishing the ball and wetting it with sweat or saliva is legal, even when the polishing is deliberately done on one side only to increase the ball’s swing through the air, but the acts of rubbing other substances into the ball, scratching the surface or picking at the seam are illegal ball tampering.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the global governing body of cricket. It was founded as the Imperial Cricket Conference in 1909 by representatives from Australia, England, and South Africa. It was renamed as the International Cricket Conference in 1965 and took up its current name in 1989. The ICC has 105 members: 12 Full Members that play Test matches and 93 Associate Members.
The ICC is responsible for the organization and governance of cricket’s major international tournaments, most notably the Cricket World Cup. It also appoints the umpires and referees that officiate at all sanctioned Test matches, One Day International and Twenty20 Internationals. It promulgates the ICC Code of Conduct, which sets professional standards of discipline for international cricket, and also co-ordinates action against corruption and match-fixing through its Anti-Corruption and Security Unit.
- In the July meeting of 1989, the ICC renamed itself to the International Cricket Council and the trend of the MCC President automatically becoming the Chairman of ICC was terminated.
- In 1990, UAE joined as an associate.
- In 1991, for the first time in ICC history, the meeting was held away from England – in Melbourne. South Africa was re-elected as a Full Member of the ICC in July, after the end of apartheid.
- In 1992, Zimbabwe was admitted as the ninth Test-playing nation (Full Member). Namibia joined as an Associate member. Austria, Belgium, Brunei, and Spain joined as Affiliates.
- In 1993, the Chief Executive of ICC was created with Sir David Richards of the Australian Cricket Board the first person appointed to the position. In July, Sir Clyde Walcott, from Barbados, was elected as the first non-British Chairman. The emergence of new technology saw the introduction of a third umpire who was equipped with video playback facilities.
- By 1995, TV replays were made available for run outs and stumpings in Test matches with the third umpire required to signal out or not out with red and green lights respectively. The following year, the cameras were used to determine if the ball had crossed the boundary, and in 1997 decisions on the cleanness of catches could be referred to the third umpire. This year also saw the introduction of the Duckworth-Lewis method of adjusting targets in rain-affected ODI matches.
- In 2000, Bangladesh received Test status (Full Member).
- In 2005, ICC moved its new headquarters in Dubai.
- In 2017, Afghanistan Cricket Board and Cricket Ireland were confirmed as Full Members of the International Cricket Council after a unanimous vote at the ICC Full Council meeting at The Oval.