Cricket. What’s It All About?

Those of you with English or Australian friends or colleagues may have watched with amazement throughout December, across Christmas and into 2011 as they stayed up late into the night to watch the Ashes. This is the regular competition between Australia and England where there are five cricket matches (or ‘tests’) lasting five (yes, five) days. The winning teams get a small urn of ash and bragging rights.

Observing this bizarre (to some) ritual, we felt that the time was right to try to explain the rules of cricket. This is not a challenge that we undertook lightly but we will give it our best shot.

For the beginners, cricket is a team sport originating in England and popular mainly in areas that formerly made up the British Empire. The major international countries are England, Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. The US wisely declared independence before the game could be introduced…

The language of cricket is particularly idiosyncratic and tends to reflect the somewhat complicated and eccentric nature of the game itself.
The game is played between two competing teams each comprising eleven players, on a large expanse of ground known as the pitch. Back in the day this was often the village green. The teams are usually comprised of players with a mixture of abilities, some who specialise at batting, some at bowling, and sometimes players that excel in both capacities. There is also one highly specialist player who acts as ‘wicket-keeper’. In the centre of the pitch is a length of grass called ‘the wicket’. At each end of the wicket there are three sticks placed adjacent to each other in an upright position: these are the ‘stumps’. They are separated by a gap not greater than the diameter of a cricket ball. On top of each set of stumps are placed two smaller sticks, or ‘bails’. A chalk outline is drawn in front of each set of stumps called the ‘crease’. Each match has two referees or ‘umpires’.
Easy to follow so far?

The length of games can vary in duration of time (maximum five days) and number of balls bowled (minimum 120 for each side). One side will ‘bat’ first, the other side will bowl to them. Batsmen play in pairs, each equipped with a bat, one at each end of the wicket.
The object for the batting side is to score the maximum number of ‘runs’ (points) before the bowling side have dismissed them. The object for the bowling side is to dismiss the batsmen as economically as possible (i.e. minimum runs scored). Once the process is complete the roles are reversed and the side that were batting then bowl and the bowling side then bat. This reversal may happen only the once (typically in ‘one-day’ or ‘limited overs’ cricket) or twice as seen in international test match cricket.

Runs can be scored in a number of ways: each time that the batting pair is able to run between the wickets after a ball has been bowled (and before the stumps are or potentially can be touched with the ball) a run is scored. If the ball travels outside of the playing area, and it has touched the ground prior to leaving the playing area, four runs are scored. If the ball does not touch the ground on its way out, six runs are scored.

Additionally, runs can be accrued through the failure of the bowler to correctly deliver the ball; either through an incorrect bowling action, when this is deemed a ‘no-ball’, or through the ball being delivered too wide for the batsman to strike it, known as a ‘wide’. The number of runs accrued can be affected by where the ball ends up; a no-ball which crosses the boundary will count for 4 runs. Additionally, any balls judged to be foul have to be bowled again by the same bowler before his turn or ‘over’ of six correctly delivered balls is deemed complete.

Dismissal of the batsmen can occur in a number of ways. The batsman facing the bowler can be ‘bowled’ out, i.e. the ball will hit the stumps without him stopping it with the bat. If the batsman strikes the ball with the bat and it is caught by the bowler or a member of his side (without bouncing) who are spread around the ground to field the ball before it hits the ground, then he is out. A batsman can also be ‘stumped’ by the wicket-keeper (the player who stands immediately behind the batsman to retrieve balls coming through from the bowler). This can occur if the batsman steps in front of the crease leaving no part of his anatomy or the bat behind, and the wicket-keeper is able to remove the bails from the wicket with the ball. A batsman can also be out ‘leg before wicket’ or ‘lbw’: this is one of the more complex and contested decisions and usually involves the ball striking the batsman’s leg-protectors or ‘pads’ when the probable onward trajectory of the ball would have hit the wicket has the player’s anatomy not intervened.

Either player can be ‘run-out’ if the wicket towards which they are running during the course of play is struck with the ball prior to their reaching the safety of the crease. This usually takes sharp work from the fielders and can be quite a drama if one batsman is indecisive when his counterpart runs.
As we mentioned earlier, the language of cricket can be viewed as somewhere between complex and arcane. We do not intend to even try to explain the vast array of terms, but we would like to whet your appetite with some of the terms that identify the positions taken by the fielders. These include leg slip, long stop, fly slip, long leg, silly mid on, cow corner, short backward square leg, gully and sweeper.

You may have wondered at the apparent madness of your English or Australian friends / colleagues recently but if they understand cricket, maybe they deserve some respect (or time in a clinic…).