Cricket is a bat-and-ball team sport. Many variations exist, with its most popular form played on an oval-shaped outdoor arena known as a cricket field at the centre of which is a rectangular 22-yard (20.12 m) long pitch that is the focus of the game. A game (or match) is contested between two teams of eleven players each. One team bats, and will try to score as many runs as possible while the other team bowls and fields, trying to dismiss the batsmen and thus limit the runs scored by the batting team. A run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed. The teams switch between batting and fielding at the end of an innings.
There are also variations in the length of a game of cricket. In professional cricket this ranges from a limit of 20 overs per side (Twenty20) to a game played over 5 days (Test cricket, which is considered the highest level of the game). Depending on the form of the match being played, there are different rules that govern how a game is won, lost, drawn or tied. The rules of two-innings games are known as the Laws of Cricket and maintained by the ICC and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC); additional Standard Playing Conditions for Test matches and One Day Internationals augment these laws. In one version of Indoor Cricket, matches include just 6 players per side and include two 12-over innings.
Cricket was first documented as being played in southern England in the 16th century. By the end of the 18th century, it had developed to the point where it had become the national sport of England. The expansion of the British Empire led to cricket being played overseas and by the mid-19th century the first international matches were being held. Today, the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), has 104 member countries. With its greatest popularity in the Test playing countries, cricket is the world’s second most popular sport after Association football.
The Royal Grammar School, Guildford, was the site for cricket’s earliest definite reference
Early cricket was at some time or another described as “a club striking a ball (like) the ancient games of club-ball, stool-ball, trap-ball, stob-ball”.Cricket can definitely be traced back to Tudor times in early 16th-century England. Written evidence exists of a game known as creag being played by Prince Edward, the son of Edward I (Longshanks), at Newenden, Kent in 1301 and there has been speculation, but no evidence, that this was a form of cricket.
A number of other words have been suggested as sources for the term “cricket”. In the earliest definite reference to the sport in 1598, it is called creckett. Given the strong medieval trade connections between south-east England and the County of Flanders when the latter belonged to the Dutchy of Burgundy, the name may have been derived from the Middle Dutch krick(-e), meaning a stick (crook); or the Old English cricc or cryce meaning a crutch or staff. In Old French, the word criquet seems to have meant a kind of club or stick. In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, he derived cricket from “cryce, Saxon, a stick”. Another possible source is the Middle Dutch word krickstoel, meaning a long low stool used for kneeling in church and which resembled the long low wicket with two stumps used in early cricket. According to Heiner Gillmeister, a European language expert of Bonn University, “cricket” derives from the Middle Dutch phrase for hockey, met de (krik ket)sen (i.e., “with the stick chase”). Dr Gillmeister believes that not only the name but the sport itself is of Flemish origin.
In 1598, a court case referred to a sport called creckett being played by boys at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford around 1550. This is the sport’s earliest definite mention. It is believed that it was originally a children’s game but references around 1610, indicate that adults had started playing it and the earliest reference to inter-parish or village cricket occurs soon afterwards. In 1624, a player called Jasper Vinall was killed when he was struck on the head during a match between two parish teams in Sussex.
The first English touring team on board ship at Liverpool in 1859
During the 17th century, numerous references indicate the growth of cricket in the south-east of England. By the end of the century, it had become an organised activity being played for high stakes and it is believed that the first professionals appeared in the years following the Restoration in 1660. A newspaper report survives of “a great cricket match” with eleven players a side that was played for high stakes in Sussex in 1697 and this is the earliest known reference to a cricket match of such importance.
Rules and Game-play
A typical cricket field.
A cricket match is played between two teams (or sides) of eleven players each on a field of variable size and shape. The ground is grassy and is prepared by groundsmen whose jobs include fertilising, mowing, rolling and levelling the surface. Field diameters of 137–150 metres (150–160 yd) are usual. The perimeter of the field is known as the boundary and this is sometimes painted and sometimes marked by a rope that encircles the outer edge of the field. The Laws of Cricket do not specify the size or shape of the field but it is often oval – one of cricket’s famous venues is called The Oval.
The key action takes place in a specially prepared area of the field (generally in the centre) that is called the pitch. A run is scored when the batsman has run the length of the pitch after hitting the ball with his bat, although as explained below there are many ways of scoring runs. If the batsmen are not attempting to score any more runs, the ball is dead and is returned to the bowler to be bowled again.
Before play commences, the two team captains toss a coin to decide which team shall bat or bowl first. The captain who wins the toss makes his decision on the basis of tactical considerations which may include the current and expected field and weather conditions.
The bowling side seeks to dismiss the batsmen by various means until the batting side is all out, whereupon the side that was bowling takes its turn to bat and the side that was batting must take the field.
In professional matches, there are 15 people on the field while a match is in play. Two of these are the umpires who regulate all on-field activity. Two are the batsmen, one of whom is the striker as he is facing the bowling; the other is called the non-striker. The roles of the batsmen are interchangeable as runs are scored and “overs” are completed. The fielding side has all 11 players on the field together. One of them is the bowler, another is the wicketkeeper and the other nine are called fielders. The wicketkeeper (or keeper) is nearly always a specialist but any of the fielders can be called upon to bowl.
Bat and ball
A cricket bat, front and back.
The essence of the sport is that a bowler delivers the ball from his end of the pitch towards the batsman who, armed with a bat is “on strike” at the other end.
The bat is made of wood (usually White Willow) and has the shape of a blade topped by a cylindrical handle. The blade must not be more than 4.25 inches (108 mm) wide and the total length of the bat not more than 38 inches (970 mm).
The ball is a hard leather-seamed spheroid with a circumference of 9 inches (230 mm). The hardness of the ball, which can be delivered at speeds of more than 90 miles per hour (140 km/h), is a matter for concern and batsmen wear protective clothing including pads (designed to protect the knees and shins), batting gloves for the hands, a helmet for the head and a box inside the trousers (to protect the crotch area). Some batsmen wear additional padding inside their shirts and trousers such as thigh pads, arm pads, rib protectors and shoulder pads.
Umpires and scorers
Main articles: Umpire (cricket) and Scorer
The game on the field is regulated by two umpires, one of whom stands behind the wicket at the bowler’s end, the other in a position called “square leg”, a position 15–20 metres to the side of the “on strike” batsman. When the bowler delivers the ball, the umpire at the wicket is between the bowler and the non-striker. The umpires confer if there is doubt about playing conditions and can postpone the match by taking the players off the field if necessary, for example rain or deterioration of the light.
Off the field and in televised matches, there is often a third umpire who can make decisions on certain incidents with the aid of video evidence. The third umpire is mandatory under the playing conditions for Test matches and limited overs internationals played between two ICC full members. These matches also have a match referee whose job is to ensure that play is within the Laws of cricket and the spirit of the game.
Off the field, the match details including runs and dismissals are recorded by two official scorers, one representing each team. The scorers are directed by the hand signals of an umpire. For example, the umpire raises a forefinger to signal that the batsman is out (has been dismissed); he raises both arms above his head if the batsman has hit the ball for six runs. The scorers are required by the Laws of cricket to record all runs scored, wickets taken and overs bowled. In practice, they accumulate much additional data such as bowling analyses and run rates.
A team consists of eleven players. Depending on his or her primary skills, a player may be classified as a specialist batsman or bowler. A well-balanced team usually has five or six specialist batsmen and four or five specialist bowlers. Teams nearly always include a specialist wicket-keeper because of the importance of this fielding position. Each team is headed by a captain who is responsible for making tactical decisions such as determining the batting order, the placement of fielders and the rotation of bowlers.
A player who excels in both batting and bowling is known as an all-rounder. One who excels as a batsman and wicket-keeper is known as a “wicket-keeper/batsman”, sometimes regarded as a type of all-rounder. True all-rounders are rare as most players focus on either batting or bowling skills.