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Cricket – A Guide for U.S. Travelers

What is Cricket & How to Quickly Understand the Rules of the Game

A Guide to Cricket for U.S. Travelers

Cricket has never been a major sport in the U.S. Find out how to understand this unusual sport should you travel to a “cricket crazy” country.

As a resident of a non-cricket-playing country, you may think that cricket is a difficult sport to understand. In general, cricket has simple (although sometimes unusual) rules.  

Second Most Popular Sport in the World

Cricket is the second most popular sport around the world after soccer. It has over 2.5 billion followers and 104 cricket playing nations. But in the US, many Americans are not sure of the rules, or even how the game works

If you’re planning to visit a country that plays cricket (over half of all the countries in the world do), everybody there is going to be talking about and watching the game.

During the cricket season, they will be watching it at sports bars, pubs, hotels and large screens in the streets and parks. If they can’t see the games there, they will live stream them on their phones or other digital devices. You will see them dressed in their favorite team’s cricket gear and practicing with their round-handled flat cricket bats.

On the move and live streaming on their phones or other digital devices. You will see them dressed in their favorite team’s cricket gear and practicing with their round-handled flat cricket bats.

Originated in the 16th Century

Cricket originated in England late in the 16th-century as an outdoor team sport. Both men and women now play cricket.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) encompasses 104 cricket-playing nations. Registered as full members, are Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, and Zimbabwe

Some Similarities to Baseball

Cricket has some similarities to baseball. Early British ballgames including cricket and rounders form the origin of Baseball. With cricket, there is a batsman who hits the ball with a wooden or aluminum bat to score runs. In the field, there are fielders to catch the ball and try to prevent the batsman from scoring runs.

The basic objective of cricket is for one team to score runs, and prevent the opposing team from scoring as many runs to win the match (game).

Cricket Ground, Balls, Bats, and Other Gear

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Cricket Ground (Field)

Typically a cricket ground is flat, oval-shaped, covered in grass (turf) and has a diameter of 450 to 500 feet.

A hard rolled pitch 22-yards (66 feet) long is in the center of the ground. This is where the batsmen bat, and bowlers (pitchers) bowl. The bowler has to deliver or bowl (pitch) the ball from one end of the pitch, and the batsman has to hit it.

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Baseball Field Vs Cricket Ground
Image David Morgan-Mar

Cricket Bat

Unlike a narrow and round baseball bat, a cricket bat is flat and wide.

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A ball, bats, wickets, gloves, pads, guards, and helmets are the equipment necessary for playing this game. The ICC set standards for all cricket equipment. Both batsmen and the wicket-keepers wear gloves to protect their fingers from injury. They also wear cricket pads to protect their lower limbs and vital organs, and helmets to prevent head injuries.

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Cricket Ball

A cricket ball has a cork center, wound with string and covered in leather. It is similar but harder than a baseball and usually comes in red – except for special matches.

International cricket has two variants of cricket balls – red and white (white for night matches). Recently introduced for night matches is a pink ball.

Cricket Ball
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Baseball

Composed of three vertical wooden posts called stumps, and two bales resting on top are wickets. These are located at both ends of the pitch.

The stumps are knocked over and the bales fall to the ground when hit by a ball.

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How To Play Cricket

11 Players on a Team

Two 11 member teams play a game of cricket.

The game begins with a coin-toss between the two captains, the winner deciding who bats first. Whoever wins the toss decides to bat or field first. Their decisions are based on factors that can affect the gameplay such as the condition of the pitch, how much grass is on it, the direction of the sun and the weather.

After the coin-toss, the two umpires, fielding team, the bowler and the two opening batsmen step onto the field. The batsmen take up their positions at either end of the pitch, in front of the two wickets.

As the play begins, the batting side tries to score as many runs as possible and the bowling and fielding team tries to stop runs being made and get the batsmen out.

Image David Morgan-Mar

Batsmen

The batsmen hit the cricket ball as hard as they can and then run towards the opposite end of the pitch.

It is counted as a run when they are able to successfully reach the wickets on the opposite end before any member of the other team can get the ball back to the wicket.

Batsmen can also score runs by hitting a boundary which is 4 runs (the ball rolls to the boundary markings or fence of the field), or an over-boundary or sixer which is 6 runs (the ball goes over the boundary markings or fence of the field).

If a batsman misses the ball and it hits the wicket, they are bowled out.

If a batsman hits the ball into the air and it’s caught, they are caught out

After the end of the innings (an innings is each teams turn to bat), the teams switch roles. The team with more runs at the end of the game – wins.

The Main Types of International Cricket Series

Although the basic rules for a game of cricket are the same, there are different match rules for different cricket formats. The three international formats of cricket are:

Test Cricket

Test Cricket is the oldest form of the game. It is played for 5 days and both the teams get two chances to bat.

Players wear traditional white cricket uniforms and the use a red ball.

Each inning is made up of 90 overs, an over is when 6 balls have been bowled by a single bowler or pitcher.

The first batting team (Team A) first innings ends when they are all out (10 out of the 11 batsmen have been dismissed). Or they decide to declare. Then the other team (Team B) starts their batting, and Team A becomes the fielding side. Let’s say Team A has scored 300 runs in the first inning and team B’s innings ends with 280 runs. Now Team A has a lead of 20 runs.

If Team A then scored another 300 in the second innings. Team B has to score 320 runs to level the score or at least 321 to win. If they are all out and cannot reach that total, they lose to Team A. If the fifth day is over, and team B is neither all out – but still not able to complete the run chase, Team A wins the match

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One Day International (ODI)

In ODI cricket each team wears a different colored uniform, uses a white ball and gets to bat for 50 overs.

When the scheduled 50 overs are complete the innings ends. This is irrespective of whether all players are out or not.

The team that batted first wins the match if the opposing team fails to beat their score, and loses if the opposing teams do beat their score.

Twenty20 International

T20I cricket matches are the newest addition to the list of cricket formats. T20I matches are a shortened cricket game and feature only 20 overs in each innings. The gameplay is very similar to ODI cricket.

Understanding the Language of Cricket

To understand how to “speak cricket” to a cricket fan, here are some of the must-know cricket terms:

Batsman

A batsman is a player for the batting side whose duty is to score runs for their side. Based on their batting stance, a batsman can be called a right-handed batsman or a left-handed batsman.

Batting Side

The team which is batting is called the batting side. Two of the batsmen bat on the cricket pitch (one at each wicket at either end of the cricket pitch) while the rest of the team wait in the pavilion (dugout) which is a team’s bench area located outside the boundary. 

Bowler

A bowler is a player on the fielding side who delivers the ball to the batsman. Their goal is to get the batter dismissed (out) and to prevent batters from scoring runs.

Example of an overarm bowl
Image The Pope

There are 2 main types of bowlers – pacers and spinners. A pacer or fast bowler. takes a sprint and delivers the ball with pace (at speed) to the batsman Some fast bowlers can make the ball curve in the air. They are known as swing bowlers.

Bowlers who bowl at a relatively slower speed and make the ball spin using their fingers or wrist, are called spinners.

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Boundaries

The term ‘boundaries’ has more than one meaning in cricket. It stands for the perimeter of the playing field. It is also a scoring shot when the ball is hit to or beyond the perimeter (or boundary) of the field

If the ball goes over the boundary line or fence (like a home-run) it is called an over-boundary or sixer, which adds 6 runs to the batsman’s team score.

If the ball has touched the ground before it reaches the boundary line or fence, it is called a boundary and the batsman’s team scores 4 runs. 

Crease

On both ends of the pitch and 4 feet away from the stumps are marked parallel lines called creases. There are two creases in a cricket pitch – the batting and bowling crease.

When bowling a bowler cannot bowl past the bowling crease.

A batsman must hit the ball while inside the batters crease and is safe from being dismissed by run-outs and stump-outs.

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Dismissal

When batsmen is are out, and may not play anymore overs in the innings currently being played. The umpires signal a dismissal by raising an index finger upwards (just imagine a 2 finger salute with just 1 finger).  In cricket, there are primarily 10 kinds of dismissals. Such as hit wicket, obstructing the field, handling the ball, and hitting the ball twice.

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Image Andy Todd

These are the common batsman dismissals in cricket:

  • Caught out: When a ball is hit by a batsman and caught by a fielder.
  • Run out: Fielders may run them out but a batsman cannot be tagged out. If they fail to reach their nearest wickets before a fielding team member hits the wicket with the ball, they are declared ‘run-out’
  • Bowled out: When the bowler successfully hits the wickets the batter is defending.
  • Leg Before Wicket: The commonly used is the acronym for this term, LBW. Whenever a batsman fails to hit the ball with his bat, and the ball touches his leg or any part of his body (except for his gloves) the umpire may signal an LBW dismissal.

The umpire signals a LBW dismissal if they believe the batsmen used his leg or any other part of his body to stop or deflect the ball from hitting the wicket.

  • Stump out: If the batsman is not within the batting crease after they fail to hit a ball, and the wicket keeper catches the ball and hits the wickets, it is called a stump out.
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Extra Runs

In cricket, extra runs include every other run that a team gets without actually hitting the ball.

One run is added to the bowling teams score for each of the following:

  • No-balls: If a bowler crosses the bowler’s crease line while bowling a ball, it is called a no-ball. If a ball is directed above the waist of the batsman without having a contact made with the pitching ground, that is also called no-ball. An umpire outstretches his right arm to indicate a no-ball.
  • Wide ball: If a bowler delivers the ball so away from the batsman that they cannot reach it with a playing shot, the umpires call it a wide ball. Also, when a ball bounces over the head of the batsman and they cannot reach it, it is also called a wide. Umpires outstretch both their arms to indicate a wide delivery.
  • Byes and Leg-byes: If a batsman is attempting to hit the ball or attempting to evade from being hit by the ball, and the ball deflects off their body, they can attempt to score runs in a similar manner as if they had hit the ball. These runs are called Leg-byes.

If a batsman does not attempt to hit the ball or attempt to evade from being hit and the ball goes clear past them, they can attempt to score runs in a similar manner as if they had hit the ball. These runs are called a Bye.

Fielding Side

One of the team on the fielding side is the bowls, while the rest take up positions around the field to restrict the batting side from scoring runs. This includes stopping the ball from reaching the boundary, taking catches, throwing the ball to the wicket while the batsmen are running to cause a run-out, and stumping the batter out (wicket-keeper).

Overs

An over is a series of six bowls by the bowler to the batsmen. The batsmen switch ends, and the bowler changes after an over. After all the overs in an innings are complete, the batting team bowls, and the bowling team bats.

Umpires

Umpires are cricket officials that ensure the game is played according to the rules and in keeping to the spirit of the game. They make all the key decisions on the field such as: declaring a batsman out, declaring a wrongful delivery, etc.

There are two umpires on the field during a match. One at the end of the batter, and one at the bowler’s end. There is also a third off-field umpire who reviews the game on a monitor and makes decisions using modern technologies such as zooming in on recorded gameplays and slow-motion playback.

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Wicket

Collectively a wicket is a set of 3 stumps and 2 bails. These are located at each end of the cricket pitch.

Wicket-Keeper

Similar to the ‘catcher’ in baseball a wicket-keeper stands behind the wicket catching the ball after it is bowled by the bowler. Fielders throw the ball to the wicket-keeper in an attempt to run out a batsman.

When a batsman misses a ball, the wicket-keeper can break the stumps (hit the stumps with the ball) to get the batsman out if he is not within the batter’s crease line.

An Appeal

An appeal is the act of a player (or players) on the fielding team asking an umpire for a decision regarding whether a batsman is out or not. According to the Laws of Cricket, an umpire may not necessarily rule a batsman out unless the fielding side appeals. At any point, before the bowler starts their run-up for the next ball they may make an appeal.

An appeal is a verbal query, usually in the form of, “How’s that?” to an umpire. Since the taking of a wicket is an important event in the game, members of the fielding team often shout this phrase with great enthusiasm, and it has morphed into the slightly abbreviated form, “Howzat?”, Most players also raise their arms or point at the umpire as part of the appeal.

Image Nic Redhead

Watch a Cricket Match

This is just a brief guide on cricket. To get a better understanding of the game watch a few cricket matches online.

Countries That Play Cricket

Like to know what countries play cricket, here is a great reference. For a guide to some of the countries where is very popular see:

Hong Kong – Your Guide to & the Best Things to See & Do

Pakistan – Your Guide & The Best Things to See and Do

The United Kingdom – Your Guide & the Best Things To See & Do

Next time you are visiting a country that is in the middle of the cricket season you will be able to follow the game, understand “cricket speak” and when you hear “Howzat” vocalize with the locals on a good or bad umpiring decision.

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