The game of cricket is played around the world in cities, parks and beaches. Cricket clubs, schools and universities take part competitively and there are professional teams in many countries.
However, this is only a brief glimpse of the sport – there’s so much more interesting information you need to learn. Here’s our complete guide to cricket for beginners.
Aim of the game
In order to win, one team has to score more ‘runs’ than the other team. A game of cricket can end as a draw, but this depends on the length of the match and pre-agreed rules.
There are two teams, usually containing 11 players each, who take it in turns to be the fielding or batting side.
When a side is batting, only two players bat at one time, while the rest of the team wait to bat on the sidelines. When a team is fielding, all 11 players take to the field.
A game of cricket is divided into ‘innings’, the period in which one team takes its turn to bat. Each innings consists of a predetermined number of ‘overs’. An over is a set of six consecutive deliveries bowled from one end of a cricket pitch to another.
The aim of the fielding side is to get each batsman ‘out’, one at a time, with each dismissal known as a ‘wicket’. The batsman then leaves the field of play and a new batsman takes their place.
The goal of the fielding team is to take all ten wickets. As a cricket team is made up of 11 players and you can only take one wicket at a time, there’s always a batsman who’s ‘not out’ at the end of the innings.
Cricket matches take different lengths of time to complete, depending on their format.
In the professional arena, Test cricket is the sport’s oldest and longest format and is considered the highest standard due to its length. It lasts up to five days, with two innings per team. There are also shorter, ‘limited-overs’ formats of between 20 and 50 overs per innings.
The first Test match took place in 1877 and was contested by England and Australia. In 1882, Australia triumphed for the first time, leading to the creation of the Ashes.
The Ashes is the Test series between these two nations. However, it also refers to the trophy which is an ‘urn’, or decorative vase, standing at a whopping 10.5cm high. The original Ashes trophy was presented to the losing England captain over a century ago by a group of Melbourne women.
One Day cricket is a format which does exactly what it says on the tin and lasts no more than (you guessed it) a day. The first One Day International (ODI) took place in 1971 between England and Australia. This led to the formation of the Cricket World Cup in 1975, a tournament which is held every four years.
Until 2019, England had never won the Cricket World Cup. However, the home nation triumphed against New Zealand following a dramatic Super Over (or one-over eliminator), after the scores finished level.
Twenty20 or ‘T20’ is a shortened version of One Day cricket that began in England in 2003. It consists of 20 overs per side and its inception has led to the growth of domestic leagues around the world, including Australia’s Big Bash League and the Indian Premier League.
Key positions explained
Here’s a breakdown of the different positions on the field and what each position entails…
There are two batsmen directly involved at any one time and their role is to score as many runs as possible. If their team is batting first, the goal is to score the largest total possible. If they are batting second, it’s all about trying to surpass the opposition’s score.
There can only be one bowler from the fielding side at any one time, and they bowl their over at the batsman.
A bowler cannot bowl concurrent overs from different ends. They must have a break and wait until the end they wish to bowl from is available again.
There are different types of bowlers, depending on how they grip the ball, the speed they deliver it and the pitch conditions:
Seam – A seam bowler will use the seam of the ball to deviate the ball off the pitch to out-think and dismiss the batsman.
Spin – A spin bowler will use their fingers to ‘spin’ or rotate the ball through the air, so that it changes direction when it lands. Like so…
Swing – A swing bowler will change the direction of the cricket ball through the air using numerous techniques. These include the seam angle, shining part of the ball and a particular bowling action.
In simple terms, fielding refers to the act of catching, collecting and returning a ball that’s hit by the batsman.
In cricket, there’s a bowler and ten other fielders, one of whom is nominated a ‘wicket-keeper’ and stands behind the batsman’s wicket.
A wicket-keeper wears protective pads and gloves and can get a batsman out in a number of ways. They can achieve a catch (if the ball doesn’t bounce), a ‘stumping’ if the batsman leaves their ground, or a ‘run out’ if a batsman attempts a run but doesn’t complete it in time.
These are the two officials who make on-field decisions. One stands behind the stumps at the end the bowler is delivering the over from, while the other stands at a fielding position known as Square Leg. This position is at a right angle to the batsman.
At the next over, the Square-Leg umpire moves to stand behind the stumps at the new end and vice-versa.
There are usually two scorers, one for each team. They note the overall team totals, individual batting scores and other aspects of the game such as who’s bowling and who takes catches.
Scorers will either use a paper scorebook to keep track of each innings, or ‘score’ the match using an electronic device such as a laptop. This enables ‘live scores’ to be seen over the Internet.
Key terminology explained
We briefly touched on innings and overs above. Let’s look at these and more key cricket terms in detail…
An ‘over’ lasts six legitimate balls. It’s delivered over-arm by the bowler, who must bounce the ball once before it reaches the batsman, who needs to stands 22 yards away.
When six balls are completed, the umpire will call ‘Over’ and the action will always swap ends. A new over will start and a new bowler delivers six balls.
This is the period in which a team bats and the fielding side must try to get 10 wickets. Once they do this, or the number of overs runs out, the innings will come to an end.
A game of cricket can either be one or two innings each, depending on if it’s being played by professionals who play for longer (two innings).
A batting total is measured in runs and different quantities of runs can be scored off each ball. A batsman can hit the ball in the air over the boundary for six runs, or along the ground for four runs.
In addition, if a batsman hits the ball and is not given ‘out’ (i.e. by being caught by a fielder), the pair can complete as many runs as they can manage.
A single, completed run is counted if both batsmen swap ends and are safely in their ground (defined with white lines marked on the surface).
A ‘wicket’ can relate to two things. Either, the three wooden stumps in the ground on which two bails rest, which a batsman stands in front of. Or, when a batsman is dismissed, i.e. he has lost his wicket.
Batting in cricket is centred around the idea of being ‘in’ or ‘out’. A batsman is ‘in’ for the period of their personal innings.
The notion of being ‘out’ is when one of the two batsmen is dismissed. Only one batsman is dismissed at a time and this can happen in a variety of ways.
There are two common ways you can be caught out. Either, if a batsman hits the ball in the air, or if a fielder catches the ball without it being grounded.
A batsman is also deemed out if he or she is ‘bowled’ which is when the bowler manages to hit the stumps and dislodge at least one of the bails on top.
A third mode of dismissal is to be adjudged by the umpire to be ‘LBW’, or leg before wicket. This means a batsman has illegally stopped the ball hitting the stumps by being hit on the pads or body.
The laws regarding LBW can seem tricky for beginners to grasp. However, in a nutshell, a batsman is out if a) the ball doesn’t hit the bat and b) the ball hits the pads or body in line with the stumps.
A batsman can also be out LBW if the ball has pitched on the ‘off-side’ and was judged to be going on to hit the stumps, if a batsman isn’t deemed to have played a shot.
A batsman cannot be given out LBW if the ball first pitches on leg-side, even if it’s obviously going on to hit the stumps.
Here’s Stephen Fry to explain more…
Typical cricket environments
Cricket is most commonly played outdoors, on an area of cut grass called a ‘pitch’. This contains a boundary rope or plastic flags put in the ground to mark the circumference of the playing area.
A ‘wicket’ is a long, oblong strip which is 22 yards long (for adults). It has a set of three stumps at each end pushed into the ground, upon which rest two bails.
As you may have noticed already, there are terms in cricket where one word refers to multiple people, equipment or circumstances.
Confusingly, a ‘wicket’ also refers to the stumps and bails combined and the number of batsmen who are dismissed that shows on the scoreboard.
Generally speaking, there are seven key pieces of equipment you need to play cricket…
A hard cricket ball (used by organised matches by the likes of schools, clubs or leagues) is made of a cork composite. This is then wrapped in twine and encased in a leather exterior that is stitched together.
A cricket ball usually has a stitched seam down its centre and bowlers can use this to deviate the ball off the pitch. A ball can also be shined or roughed on either side, which enables it to move through the air in various directions.
Cricket balls are usually red for longer adult formats and white or pink to distinguish shorter versions of the game. Tennis balls or soft plastic balls can be used in junior, women’s or less formal formats, depending on the standard of cricketers involved.
A cricket bat is made of wood, specifically the Cærulea variety of the ‘salix alba’, or ‘White Willow’ tree. This timber is ideal because it is light, tough and can withstand the impact of a cricket ball.
Once cut to shape, a cricket bat looks like a thin, oblong paddle and has a rubber grip that goes over the handle. In-keeping with cricket’s eccentricities, cricket bats must be ‘knocked in’ before use.
This is done either by hand using a wooden mallet for many hours, or with a mechanical press. The idea is to soften the willow fibres, so that the cricket bat doesn’t break.
For soft ball versions of cricket, plastic bats are a common substitute.
A batsman wears protective leg guards in case they are struck by the ball. They are made of foam padding, come just above the knee and are held in place with velcro straps.
Batting gloves are also essential to safeguard a batsman’s hands when facing a hard cricket ball. They are also made of strips of light-weight foam.
This is designed to prevent head injuries. It has a hard outer shell with a face grille that must be light, comfortable and durable.
Abdominal protector / ‘box’
A cricket ‘box’ is a plastic device worn inside the trousers with boxer shorts that have a front pouch to hold it in place. Its purpose is to protect the crotch area if it’s hit by a cricket ball.
In formal matches, cricketers often wear white or cream trousers and shirts, with optional jumpers for warmth. Coloured clothing is now common in both the professional and amateur game for shorter versions of cricket.
The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has online advice on playing cricket including the laws of the game and where to find cricket in your local area.