A Brief Guide to Cricket

Cricket is an intricate, centuries-old game from England with many similarities to baseball. It is enjoyed by millions of fans in countries from South Asia to the West Indies to Australia, and recently made its professional debut in the U.S.

With the play of teams from Jamaica, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and the United States in Miami, FL on May 20–23, 2010, cricket finally came to U.S. soil as a professional sport. And since the USA Cricket Association (USACA) plans to expand on this event in an effort to give cricket even wider exposure to North American audiences, curious new U.S viewers should take the opportunity to become familiar with this intricate, baseball-like game.


Cricket originated in the 16th century in England, possibly through Flemish influences (krick, cricc and similar words relate through Middle Dutch and Old English), and may have “gone professional” as early as the 1660s.

Throughout the 1700s cricket gained in popularity even as it underwent several major evolutions, including changes to the way the ball was thrown (bowling), the shape of the bat (from crooked, hockey-stick-like to straight) to the design of the wicket (from single to three-stump). By the end of the 18th century the majority of the rules governing cricket were in place.

Cricket then expanded overseas during the 19th century as it followed the growth of the British Empire, and took root in the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. International play began in the middle of the century, and strong rivalries were established before its end (especially an event known as The Ashes that began between England and Australia in 1882).

The International Cricket Council (ICC) was founded in 1909, and international play continued to flourish and spread after the First and Second World Wars, especially as the Subcontinent fragmented into the separate countries of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh during the late 1940s through early 70s. South Africa was banned from international matches after 1970 due to its apartheid policies, but rejoined the cricket community in 1992. Zimbabwe was elevated to full membership in the ICC that same year.

Field and Equipment

Cricket fields are typically round or oval-shaped, between 150 and 160 yards in diameter (outfield), with a 30-yard oval inset (infield) and a pair of 15-yard circles (close-infield) set within that oval. Centered inside the bounds of the close-infield (which looks rather like a rounded number eight) lies the close-cropped pitch, where the bulk of the game’s action takes place. The central portion of the pitch is 66 feet long and 10 feet wide, though there are an additional 4 feet or so of “overhang” at the ends of the pitch (similar to NFL endzones) and roughly 2 feet along the sides (rather like NFL sidelines).

Stuck in the ground at the ends of the pitch stand three stake-like stumps topped by two wooden crosspieces called bails. Standing 28.5 inches high and 9 inches wide, these five pieces combine to form the wicket.

Cricket Field

Four lines (creases) are painted around the wickets, forming a kind of “batter’s box” for the batsman at one end, and constraining the bowler’s approach area at the other (similar to a pitcher’s mound, though not raised).

The cricket bat is a wooden blade 4.25 inches wide and 38 inches long with a cylindrical handle, the ball is similar to a baseball, but is somewhat heavier and has raised seams. In addition a cricket ball is used repeatedly throughout a match and will become scuffed and altered in ways never allowed in baseball, where the ball is replaced routinely. Batsmen wear various pieces of padding (gloves, shin guards, crotch protection, helmets, etc.) for protection, as the way the ball is thrown in cricket, it is more likely to strike the batsman than a pitch thrown in baseball. Fielders are also allowed to wear some protective gear, but are not allowed to use gloves, except for the wicket-keeper.

Lastly, cricket employs two umpires (sometimes a third umpire is “in the booth” during televised matches), one standing behind the bowler, the other 15–20 yards to the side of the batsman (a position known as “Square Leg”), and two scorers, one for each team.

Game Play

A cricket team has eleven players, and an innings (this is the spelling for both singular and plural) is the term for the cumulative play of all eleven players on the batting side. Ten of the eleven players on the batting side usually take a turn at bat during an innings, though the innings can end before that for various reasons (the batting side’s captain can close the innings for tactical reasons, weather can end it, or the batting side wins the match by achieving a higher score during a fixed period––see over below). Each team will have one or two innings per match, depending on the type of match.

The goal of the bowler is to dismiss the batsmen, with the assistance of his fielders. A dismissed batsman is out, meaning he must leave the field and be replaced by the next batsman. When ten batsmen are out the batting team is dismissed and the innings is over. Since there are always two batsmen in play, the side is dismissed with ten outs (all out) and the final batsman (number eleven) is called “not out.” An innings can also be closed due to bad weather or time running out (in certain timed matches), leaving additional batsmen “not out.”

The bowler attempts to get the batsmen out by throwing the ball down the pitch six times in what is called an over (the umpire shouts “Over” when the sixth ball of a set has been bowled). When an over is complete a new bowler replaces the previous one, though at the other end of the pitch. The fielders and umpires also switch ends/sides, though the batsmen do not.

Bowling in cricket differs from baseball pitching in that the bowler runs up to the front of his legal boundary ahead of the wicket (popping crease) to build up momentum, and the bowling motion itself is a stiff-armed, overhead motion with minimal flexing of the elbow. If the bowler deviates from this, steps outside the appropriate creases (no ball) or throws the ball too high or wide of the batsman (wide), an additional run is awarded to the batting team. Bowling is similar to pitching in that there are many spins, curves, speeds and feints used to deceive the batsman or cause hits to be easier to field.

Fielding is done by the bowler’s other ten teammates who are arrayed variously about the infield and outfield (as determined by the captain), except for the protective-gear-wearing wicket-keeper who crouches behind the wicket, like a catcher in baseball.

When the ball is bowled the batsman attempts to hit it into the field in order to score runs. A run is scored when each batsman (starting from each end of the pitch) runs to the other end of the pitch and touches the ground behind the popping crease (they can use their body or bat for this). More than one run can be scored, but the batsmen need to be careful that they get back to their creases before a fielder throws the ball back in order to knock a bail off the wicket, thus getting a batsman out. Runs can also be scored if the ball crosses the boundary: four if it hits the field before doing so and six if it travels over it without touching the field first (akin to a home run).

Additionally, if the ball gets past the both the batsman and the wicket-keeper the runners can attempt to score an extra run called a bye (like a passed ball in baseball). Similarly, if the batsman is hit by a throw as he attempts a legitimate shot, and it gets away from the fielders, the runners can attempt to score an extra run called a leg bye. However, if the umpire determines the batsman tried to block the ball in order to avoid being bowled out, he may dismiss the batsman due to the leg before wicket (LBW) rule.

If the ball is caught in the air by a fielder (like a pop-fly in baseball), or he gets it back to the wicket in time to knock down a bail, the batsman is run out. Likewise the wicket-keeper can “tag” the batsman if he catches the ball off the bowler’s throw and knocks off a bail as the batsman tries to get back inside his creases (the batsman will often go outside these bounds due to his momentum). This is referred to as stumping the batsman. The wicket-keeper can also dismiss a batsman by catching the ball in the air after it nicks the edge of the bat, akin to a foul-tip in baseball. If the ball gets by the batsman and strikes the wicket, knocking off a bail, the batsman is out (bowled out), as is also the case if he knocks a bail off the wicket while batting (hit wicket).


Cricket matches can end as:

A tie––when the side batting last has completed its innings and the teams’ scores are equal; this is rare.

A draw––when a team does not complete its innings by the scheduled end of play.

No result––is similar to a draw, but used in a different type of match from the kind that award draws.

Abandoned––when conditions prevent the game from starting (that is the first bowler does not throw the first ball of his over).

Awarded––is called if the umpires believe a team refuses to play, and had thus forfeited.

Conceded––occurs when an incorrect score is accepted by the “losing” team who leave the field; this is also very rare.

The majority of matches, however, end as a win by the team which scores more runs. This is expressed in a one-innings match (called limited overs cricket) by stating that if the team that batted last scored fewer runs, it lost by x runs, where x is the difference between the number of runs scored by the teams. E.g. a 190 to 200 result would be stated as the lower-scoring team having “lost by 10 runs.”

If the team batting last scores enough to win (say the team with 200 runs had batted last), that team is said to have won by x wickets, where x is the number of unfallen wickets. So in this example, if the winning team, batting last, had lost seven wickets, the result would be reported as having “won by three wickets.”

In a two-innings game (called first-class cricket), the aggregate score is used to determine victory, so if team B (280 runs in the first innings) bats second and outscores Team A (190 runs in the first innings), even after Team A scores an additional 80 runs in the second innings, then Team A “won by an innings and 10 runs” and does not need to bat again.


Cricket is a complex, multi-faceted sport, and this overview was in no way intended to be exhaustive, in the same way a brief article on baseball would exclude many of that game’s more obscure aspects (imagine trying to explain the infield fly rule to an Englishman!) But the material above should allow the casual first-time viewer to follow along with at least a basic grasp on this centuries-old, internationally-popular game.

Additional Reading

The Laws of Cricket: http://www.lords.org/laws-and-spirit/laws-of-cricket/

ICC Playing Handbook: http://icc-cricket.yahoo.net/publications/playing_handbook.php

England and Wales Cricket Board (EBC): www.ecb.co.uk/


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