Since nearly the entire civilized English-speaking world, except for the USA and most of Canada, is familiar with cricket and does not need this basic explanation, it is assumed that most of those who can profit from this explanation are citizens of the USA or Canada. And since those in the USA and Canada are often familiar with its cousin, baseball, it seems useful at times to make comparisons or contrasts to baseball in this explanation. Occasionally, when a cricket term is explained, its corresponding baseball term is given in parentheses and stars afterwards (*like this*). These terms correspond, but they are not equivalent, and the baseball term should not be used as a replacement for the cricket term when discussing cricket.
When a cricket term is first explained, it is put in quotation marks (""), which are generally not used when the term is further repeated.
This account has been simplified in order to give the basics of the game of cricket. Some of the statements are not 100% correct, because the idea is to state the general principles, not the exceptions and special cases. Sometimes warning is given of this by phrases such as "generally" or "with a few exceptions not worth going into here", but there are many minute exceptions and special cases in the Laws (*rules*) of Cricket, and to constantly qualify every sentence in this description would interfere with the explanation of basic principles that is the purpose of this little essay. When exceptions are important, they are noted, but when they are unusual or irrelevant to the point at hand, they are generally ignored. No attempt whatsoever has been made to go into the abominations of one-day and limited over cricket and the intricacies of the regulations governing these.
Note: the typographical convention explained in the first paragraph is used in the third, and means that one does not use the phrase "the rules of cricket". "Rules" are made to be broken! Having said that, here is a basic description of how cricket is played:
At the center of the cricket grounds (or field) is a rectangular area, called the "pitch", which is 22 yards (20.12 m) long by 10 feet (3.04 m) wide. It is best if the pitch is completely smooth, because the ball delivered to the batsman ("batter") bounces ("pitches") before it reaches him, and an uneven surface can make it impossible to bat methodically, and can even be unsafe. The ideal pitch is of dense, closely cropped grass, like a golf green, as this allows some give when the ball pitches, and allows a spinning ball to be delivered that will change directions upon pitching. In areas where soil or climate conditions do not allow a good grass pitch, it can be of packed earth, some artificial surface, such as concrete, covered by matting, or some other appropriate surface.
At each end of the pitch, 22 yards apart, are placed two wooden "wickets", 9 inches (22.86 cm) wide and 28 inches (71.1 cm) above the ground, each having three "stumps" and two "bails". The stumps are pointed at the bottom for driving into the ground, and each has a rounded top with a groove cut into it so that the two wooden bails can be placed across the tops of the three stumps. The stumps are thick enough that a cricket ball will not pass between them without hitting one of the stumps. Since the bails are merely resting on the top of the stumps, without being attached, a very small disturbance of the stumps will knock one or both bails off, although it is possible for a very slight disturbance to leave the bails intact.
When the wicket is disturbed and at least one bail is knocked off, the wicket is "broken". If one bail is off, the wicket can be broken again by knocking the other one off. If both bails are off, but one or more stumps are still standing in the ground, the wicket can be broken again by knocking a stump completely out of the ground.
Four feet (1.22 m) in front of each wicket (that is, in the direction of the other wicket), a line called the "popping crease" is marked across the pitch. Although the actual marked line is required to be only 12 feet (3.66 m) long, it is considered to extend invisibly to the boundaries of the playing area. When a batsman has either a part of his body or of the bat in his hand touching the ground behind the popping crease, he is said to be "in his ground" or to have "made his ground" (*he's safe*).
The outer boundaries of the playing area, which are not necessarily the same as the fence or other edge of the field, are agreed upon before a cricket match (*game*), or set by grounds custom.
Cricket is scored in runs. Two batsmen are on the field at the same time during play, one at each wicket. If the ball is in play and one of the batsmen is out of his ground, he is usually liable to being put out. But if an opportunity arises while the ball is in play for the two batsmen to change ends and each makes good his ground at the opposite end, a run is scored. If the batsmen are able to make more than one run, this is allowed, as long as each makes his ground before turning for the next run. Running can continue until they decide to stop running or one of them is "run out" (same term as in baseball) or play is stopped for some other reason. It can be readily seen that when the batsmen make an odd number of runs they end up at the opposite ends of the pitch from where they were before, and when they make an even number of runs they end up at the same end as before.
A batsman is run out by having the wicket at his end broken while he is out of his ground. The wicket must be broken either by a ball thrown by or deflected from a fieldsman (*fielder*) or by a fieldsman's hand or arm when the ball is in that hand. If the batsmen have begun to run for each other's wickets and have not yet met and passed each other--"crossed"--, the batsman running _from_ the broken wicket is run out. If the batsmen have crossed, the one running _to_ the broken wicket is run out.
A match of cricket is played between two sides (*teams*) of eleven players. There are also two umpires on the field. One side bats while the other fields, just as in baseball, and similarly one side attempts to score runs while the other side tries to stop them, and the side with the most runs wins. Although there are rules governing substitutions, substitutions are very restricted; it is not very inaccurate to say that all 22 players play the entire match, although of course members of the batting side who are not actually batting are getting some rest on the side of the field.
Although two batsmen are on the field at the same time, only one of them is batting at a given time. He stands in front of his wicket and receives the ball from the bowler (*pitcher*) at the other end of the pitch. The bowler is required to "bowl" the ball, not throw it, which means that his elbow is not allowed to straighten just before he releases the ball. Most bowlers take a "run-up", a running start before delivering the ball; when the bowler releases the ball, his front foot cannot land completely in front of the popping crease at his end of the pitch; some part of the foot must be behind this line.
When the batting side has its innings (*inning*), two batsmen go in initially, one at each wicket; when one batsman is dismissed, or given out (*put out*), he is replaced at his wicket by a new member of the batting side who hasn't already batted in that innings. Each batsman continues batting, scoring as many runs as he can with his partner at the other wicket, until he is dismissed. Since two batsmen are needed to make runs, once ten members of a side have been dismissed, the last batsman is left without a partner; he is said to be "not out" and the innings of that side is over.
Each side has two innings (plural same as singular), and when each side has completed its two innings, the side with the most runs wins. This is not as simple as it sounds, because cricket matches almost always have a previously agreed time limit, generally in days, with the hours of play for each day specified in advance. If both sides do not complete their innings within the time specified, the match is a draw, regardless of the score. (In cricket, a draw and a tie are not the same thing. A draw is a match that is not completed; a tie is a match that is completed with the scores even.) Therefore to lose a cricket match you have to have your two complete innings and still not get as many runs as your opponents. If the number of runs needed for a side to win is too many for them to make, they can still play to achieve a draw and deprive their opponents of the win by avoiding being "all out" before "stumps" (the end of the match, when the umpires pull the stumps from the ground).
Match lengths are generally agreed upon in advance as a certain number of days, with the hours of play on each day specified, as well as the breaks to be taken for lunch and tea. The most important international matches ("tests") between sides supposedly representing the best their countries have to offer are generally scheduled for five days. A schoolboy match on an uneven pitch might on the other hand be completed in an afternoon. Delays caused by weather do not change the time scheduled for the end of the match. So a match scheduled initially for five days may end up having to be played in fewer.
The provision that a side must get the other side completely out twice to win a match makes for interesting strategy. A side playing in a 5-day match who find themselves batting extremely well might find themselves still batting on their third day, with prospects of continuing on into a fourth. But even if they bat all five days and score a thousand runs, the match is still a draw if the other side never gets to bat. Therefore, the Laws allow the captain of a side to "declare" his innings over, even if ten batsmen haven't yet been dismissed, once he is satisfied with his run total at that stage of the match. Then he can send in the other side to bat and begin the business of getting them all out. Often when a match has been shortened by rain or other delays, both captains will use declarations in an attempt to reach a result before the end of the match.
Knowing when to declare the end of his second innings requires real skill on the part of the captain. Once he declares, his side cannot make any more runs in that match. So he must not declare too soon, or he may not have a big enough lead to keep the other side from winning in the time remaining. But if he waits too late to declare, he may not be able to get the other side all out, and thus the match will be a draw. In between these two extremes is the area of the "sporting" declaration, in which any of the three outcomes (four, counting a tie) is possible. Sometimes more than one outcome is still possible coming into the very last balls of play, and when this happens at the end of a five-day buildup of tension, cricket can produce the most intense excitement of any sport on earth, in spite of its reputation for being dull.
(And of course, to be honest, when the outcome of a match is obvious several days before it is over, a cricket match can indeed be incredibly boring. But even then the knowledgeable fan can get enjoyment from seeing a well-played hit or a difficult defensive play. In my opinion, the greatest similarity between base- ball and cricket that separates them from other sports is that knowledge of the Laws/rules and strategy of the game is essential to a real enjoyment of the sport. To someone who knows nothing of the rules of basketball or football, a game can still be exciting because of the action involved. But to someone who knows nothing about cricket or baseball, there is no way on earth to make either game exciting.)
This gives the basics of the overall aims and strategies of cricket. Now we turn our attention to what is happening on the field.
A bowler delivers the ball from his end of the pitch six times to the batsman at the opposite wicket. This group of six deliveries is called an "over". During an over, if no runs are scored (a "maiden over") or runs are scored only in even numbers of runs, the bowler may face the same batsman for all six balls. Or if an odd number of runs is scored, he may face one of the two batsmen on the field and then the other. Or he may face more than two batsmen in an over, if one is dismissed and replaced by another member of the batting side. So there is no concept in cricket corresponding precisely with an "at-bat" in baseball: two batsmen are really batting at the same time, with the one who happens to be at the end opposite the bowler at a given time receiving the deliveries. The time when two batsmen bat together is called their "partnership", among other terms; a partnership lasts usually from one dismissal to another.
(By the way, when a batsman is dismissed, this does not always involve the breaking of a wicket, but a dismissal is usually referred to as the "fall of a wicket". The more usual cricket language for the last clause above would be "a partnership lasts from the fall of one wicket to the fall of the next." The partnership between the falls of two wickets is often referred to as the "x-th wicket stand", where x is the second of the two wickets.)
Bowlers deliver the ball to the batsmen in different ways. By variations in the "pitch" and "flight" of the ball (where the ball bounces on the pitch and how it moves through the air), the bowler attempts to establish a sequence leading to dismissal much in the same way a baseball pitcher plans a sequence that will end with leading a batter to get out. Fast (or "pace") bowlers take a long runup to get speed on their deliveries, since they aren't allowed to snap their elbows and throw (wrist action is allowed). Classic bowling theory sends these bowlers in at the start of the match, when the ball is new and shiny and whips through the air. Later, when the ball has been scuffed up a bit, slower bowlers come in who use spin and angles to try to dismiss the batsmen.
There are several ways for a batsman to be given out. (Strictly speaking, he is not *put out* because he is not out by action of the fielding side: he is out when the umpire rules him out because of some action on the field. Therefore he is "given out" by the umpire, not "put out" by the fielding side. Of course in normal conversation nobody can ever remember this distinction.) Another interesting aspect of being dismissed is that the umpire does not give a batsman out unless he is appealed to by the fielding side. The umpire may see something that he knows could justify the batsman's dismissal, but he does not say anything about it unless someone on the fielding side sees this too and appeals. Some plays in baseball are like this; for example, the appeal to the first- or third-base umpire as to whether a batter "went around" on a swing. Those umpires don't speak unless they are asked, even if they know the home-plate umpire's decision was wrong.
The bowler's basic goal is to get the ball past the batsman and break the wicket behind him with it. If this happens on a fair ball, the batsman, on appeal, is given "Out, Bowled" by the Umpire. The bowler gets credit for the wicket in the scorebook.
But if it happens on a ball unfairly delivered, the batsman is not out. This could happen because the bowler threw the ball, because the bowler delivered the ball too far forward or sideways, because the bowler didn't give fair warning to the batsman of how he was going to deliver the ball, because the fieldsmen were improperly placed, or for several other technical reasons. Usually it's because of the placement of the feet on delivery. The umpire at the bowler's end is standing directly behind the wicket at that end, and watches the bowler's feet on each delivery. If the bowler delivers the ball illegally, the umpire immediately calls and signals "No Ball!" This should be done as quickly as possible, because if the batsman hears this soon enough, he knows he doesn't have to worry about being bowled on that delivery, and can take as reckless a swing at the ball as he wishes. If the umpire is slow in calling the "no-ball", which is what the delivery is called, the batsman doesn't get the fullest advantage of the bowler's mistake. The no-ball is not counted as one of the six balls in the over, and another ball has to be bowled to make six fair deliveries per over.
The delicate job of the batsman is to balance the protection of his wicket from the bowler, which to be most successful would require a purely defensive attitude, with the need to score runs, which requires an offensive attitude. Depending on the situation in the match, the requirements for this balance may shift. A team that is behind and playing for a draw in its last innings would play more defensively. A team that has a chance to win and is trying to make runs at all costs in its last innings would play more offensively.
The batsman is allowed to use only his bat in protecting his wicket. If he sticks his leg in front of the ball and stops it from breaking his wicket, he is, on appeal, out "L.B.W." (leg before wicket). Since no batsman is ever so silly as to blatantly stick his leg out in front of the ball, the actual L.B.W. rule for determining when a batsman has illegally guarded the wicket with his body is quite complicated, but the basic principle is clear. (For one thing, the umpire must be quite sure that the ball would have gone on to break the wicket, if not stopped.) The batsman cannot be out L.B.W. from a no-ball.
The batsman often will want to move forward of the popping crease to play a delivery, and he is allowed to do so; there is no equivalent to the batter's box in baseball. As long as he is not actually attempting to make a run, the batsman cannot be run out simply because he has left his crease to play a delivery. However, there is a special rule that allows the wicket-keeper (*catcher*) to dismiss the batsman if he gets the ball after delivery with no other fieldsman touching it, and breaks the batsman's wicket before he gets back to his ground. In this case the batsman is not run out, but "Out, Stumped". The wicketkeeper gets credit for the wicket.
The other umpire, the one not behind the bowler's wicket, stands to the side of the pitch, approximately even with the batsman's popping crease, and it is his responsibility to judge whether the batsman should be given out, stumped. He also judges runouts at his end, and a few other matters, but the umpire behind the bowler's-end wicket is the equivalent of the "home-plate" umpire in baseball. Under normal circumstances he is the one who determines when the ball is in play, when a batsman is out bowled, L.B.W., or most other ways, not all of them discussed yet, and otherwise manages the match. But he and the other umpire reverse roles at the end of each over, as described below. So while there is a "chief umpire" at any given moment in a match, throughout the course of the match the two umpires are equal.
The one method of getting the batsman out that is pretty much exactly like baseball is Out, Caught. If a fieldsman catches a struck ball before it touches the ground, the batsman is out. Unless the ball was a no-ball. The fieldsman and the bowler get credit for the wicket.
There are several other ways of getting out: taking too long to come in to bat, obstructing the field, handling the ball, and accidentally breaking your own wicket under certain circumstances. But these are less common. So, assuming that the batsman has managed to avoid getting out by any of these ways, he has still done only half his job. The other half is to make runs.
The most obvious way for him to do this is for him to hit the ball with the bat and to run back and forth with his teammate while the fielding side try to break a wicket with one of them out of that ground. But one reason that baseball batters must envy cricket batsmen is that cricket batsmen don't have to run when they hit the ball. If they judge that they can't make a run after hitting the ball, they can just stay in their grounds until the ball is dead and await the next delivery. But if they do want to run, there are no foul balls in cricket. A ball hit anywhere on the field can be run on.
This means that the fielding side have to cover a lot of area with 11 men, two of whom (the bowler and the wicket-keeper) are relatively tied down. There are many more than 11 named fielding positions in cricket, and they can't all be covered. It is the job of the captain of the fielding side to determine which positions should be covered, according to the style of bowling and the batsman's strengths and weaknesses, to maximize the chance of putting a batsman out and minimize the number of runs scored. As in batting, fielding can be aggressive or defensive, depending on the match situation.
If the batsman hits the ball clear over the boundary on the fly, (a *home run*), six runs are added to the score and credited to the batsman. This is called a "boundary 6" or just a "six". The batsmen do not have to run the six runs, unlike in baseball, where the home-run hitter must still touch all the bases. If the ball is hit to bounce or roll over the boundary, this is a "boundary four", and four runs are scored without having to be run.
But there are other ways of scoring runs without hitting the ball. In cricket, not only do you not have to run when you hit the ball, you do not have to hit the ball to be able to run. Runs can be made any time when the ball is in play. However, if the runs are not made with the bat, they do not count as part of the batsman's score. They are called "extras", and count for the side's total, but not the batsman's.
If the ball is delivered and the batsman does not play it, but because the wicket keeper misses it or for some other reason a run seems possible, the batsmen are allowed to run. The ball is not dead at this point. Any runs scored in this way are extras, scored as "byes".
If the ball accidentally strikes the batsman's body and is deflected, within certain restrictions, it is still live and runs may be scored. These are extras, scored as "leg-byes". These are scored separately from byes, because byes are considered to be the wicket-keeper's fault, while leg-byes are just considered to be one of those things that happens.
If the bowler bowls a no-ball, the batsman can attack the delivery aggressively, knowing that he cannot be out bowled, caught, L.B.W., stumped, or any other important way except run out if he tries for a run. If he hits the ball, any runs are credited to his score. If he does not play the ball and runs are scored some other way, such as what would normally be a bye or leg-bye, these are scored as "no-balls", another kind of extra. If no runs are made at all, a one-run penalty for the no-ball is scored as an extra.
If the bowler delivers a ball that is fairly delivered, but out of the batsman's reach, this is called a "wide" (similar to a *wild pitch*). Although the batsman does not have the protection on a wide that he does on a no-ball against being dismissed--he can be stumped on a wide, for example--, this is still seen as depriving him of the ability to play a shot, and a one-run penalty, scored as a "wide" is added to the score, and another ball is added to the over so that he still receives six fair deliveries in the over. If the wide eludes the wicket-keeper and runs are made, they are scored as "wides", not as byes or leg- byes.
At the end of the over, the two batsmen remain in their creases and another bowler begins deliveries from the other end of the pitch. The man who was bowling before takes a fielding position, the wicket-keeper moves from one end of the pitch to the other, and the fieldsmen move to the opposite side of the field from their previous position. So everything has changed around, except that a different batsman is facing the bowling. When one batsman is strong and the other is weak, often they try to make a single run early in the weaker batsman's over, and then score only in even runs for the rest of the over, so that the stronger batsman is facing most of the bowling. If the stronger batsman can make a single on the last ball of his own over, he can continue batting without the other batsman having to bat at all.
Bowlers do not leave the game or enter the game like baseball pitchers. They are always on the field, either fielding or bowling. They can stop bowling for rest or tactical reasons, allow- ing another bowler to take over their end. The captain decides when to do this. After they stop bowling, they may come in and bowl again later, from either end. The only restrictions on bowlers changing are that they must bowl in whole overs - no changing bowlers in the middle of an over - and they cannot change ends and bowl two consecutive overs. This is different from baseball practice, but it's a little-known fact that in baseball a pitcher can be moved to a fielding position and then brought back into the game later as well, following the usual rules governing changing players' positions. But in baseball it's never done; in cricket it's routine. Eleven fieldsmen play, and only eleven.
Now you should have a pretty good understanding of the basic definitions in cricket and of what the players are trying to do out there. Now watch some cricket with a friend who can answer your more detailed questions. Enjoy!