Shavikesh Goel | Senior Project Manager
First published in a series in the M+V newsletter, June 2009

Cricket is a ball game played by two teams with 11 players on each side. In a way, cricket is similar to baseball – one man throws a ball at the batsman who tries to hit it as far as possible while other players in the field try to catch the ball or stop it from going out of the field, and prevent the batsman from scoring runs. However, it is more elaborate and of longer duration than its American counterpart. Various versions of the game have evolved over the years. I will attempt to explain the game as simply as possible so as to enable the uninitiated to strike a conversation on cricket.

Cricket is a religion in India. No other sport generates such mass hysteria and madness in the country. It unites strangers and makes friends out of enemies. Streets empty out whenever India plays against a formidable opponent, especially Pakistan. It is no wonder that cricket is considered the unofficial national game of India (the official national game being field hockey).

The roots of cricket date back to the 16th century. However, the modern version of the game dates back to 1844. Today, most Commonwealth nations play professional cricket.

I will take you through the game by explaining the rules, the various formats of the game, key nations and the best international players. I hope you will enjoy this series and pick up enough knowledge to talk your way through a casual conversation on the game.

As explained above, cricket is by far the most popular sport in India and has evolved over the years: first there was only the five-day game, then came the one-day game and today there is also a three-hour game (known as “20:20”). All the formats are still in vogue in India and various tournaments are held in each format – both national and international.

Cricket is played in open fields or stadiums on a “pitch” – a rectangular ground 20.12m (22 yards) long and 3.05m wide.

It is bound at either end by the “bowling creases” and on each end are the “wickets” which are three sticks or “stumps” with two “bails” balanced on top. The aim of the batsmen is to defend the wickets and make as many “runs” between the wickets as possible; while the bowler aims to get the batsmen “out” by hitting the wicket and knocking the wooden bails balanced on top. On getting out, the batsman has to return to the pavilion and the next batsman replaces him. There are other ways of getting the batsman out: through a “catch” where a fielder or the “wicket-keeper” catches the ball while it is still in the air after being hit by the batsman, being “run-out” where the batsmen “runs” after hitting the ball (similar to baseball) and is not able to reach the “return crease” before a fielder (or the bowler), hits the wicket at either end with the ball, “LBW” (Leg Before Wicket) where the ball hits the batsman’s leg, which is blocking the wicket, “Stumped” where the wicket-keeper knocks the bails off the stumps after catching a ball that passes by the batsman without touching either the bat or the wicket while the batsman is still outside the “batting crease”, “Hit-wicket” where the batsman accidentally hits the wickets with his bat or accidentally trips and falls on the wickets.

There are two key scores in cricket; the number of runs that have been made; and the number of batsmen that have got out. The batsmen tries to get as many “runs” as possible for his team while the other team bowls. Runs can be scored by running between the wickets after hitting the ball or by hitting the ball hard enough to make it go out of the ground either touching the ground (4 runs, also known as a “boundary”) or flying out without touching the ground (6 runs, called a Sixer). The higher scoring team wins the match.

Now, we’ll talk of the oldest and the longest version of the game – the five day format popularly known as “Test Cricket”. Test Cricket usually lasts for five days with each team batting and bowling twice; at the end of which, the game can still end in a “draw” with no team winning!

Test cricket is played in “innings” during which one team attempts to score while the other team attempts to prevent the first from scoring. The competing teams alternate who is “in bat” and who is bowling. The exception to this rule is a “follow-on”. This happens if, at the end of its first innings, Team B’s total falls short of Team A’s first innings’ total by at least 200 runs, the captain of Team A can choose to order Team B to stay in bat. If he does so, Team B must commence its second batting innings immediately (i.e. following on from their last batting). Each innings lasts until all the batsmen are dismissed or until the batting team “declares” the innings over after having established a big “score” of runs.

After having explained about Test Cricket, I will explain about the faster and shorter format of the game – the One Day International Cricket (ODI). In an ODI, 50 “overs” (a set of six consecutive balls bowled in succession) are played per side between two national cricket teams.

The basic rules of cricket are followed. The Captain of the team winning the “toss” chooses to either “bat” or “bowl” (field) first. The team batting first sets the target score in 50 overs.

The innings lasts until the batting side is “all out” (i.e., 10 of the 11 batting players are “out”) or all of the first side’s allotted overs are used up. The team batting second tries to score more than the target score in order to win the match. Similarly, the side bowling second tries to bowl out the second team for less than the target score in order to win. The game is declared as a “tie” (regardless of the number of wickets lost by either team) if the number of runs scored by both teams are equal, when the second team loses all of its “wickets” (batsmen getting out) or exhausts all its overs.

ODIs were introduced in the 1970s and gained popularity because the game gets over within about 8 hours and is always action packed unlike a Test Match which can get boring at times. It is also played as a “day – night” game with one innings being played during the day and the other stretching into the night and being played in flood lights.

The popularity of One Day International Cricket (ODI) cricket  soared through the late 1980s & 1990s and peaked in the last decade. However, the latest version of the game –  Twenty20 or T20 is already beginning to dwarf the popularity of the ODIs.

The rules of cricket remain the same. The major difference is that instead of 50 overs per inning, there are only 20 overs per inning. The popularity of the game lies in its short playing hours – 75 minutes for each side. In about three hours, the result is out. This keeps the tempo of the game throughout in top gear. Formally introduced in 2003, T20 has come a long way with even a World Cup of its own.

Though India made its International T20 debut only as recently as in 2006, the game has already broken all records of popularity with the introduction of the Indian Premier League (on the lines of the English Premier League) which has taken the game to the next level of entertainment.