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Cricket - an Apology

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Many people have expressed a total lack of understanding of the game of cricket and that is because the British have failed to explain the game adequately. That's a great pity, and it is hoped that this entry can go some way towards rectifying this shortcoming of a nation's people.


Cricket is a team game, with two sides of 11 active players. At least one substitute is allowed per team, called, not unreasonably, the 12th man. He rarely gets the opportunity to play, but regularly comes onto the pitch to bring refreshments for the other 11 on his team. A game consists of two or four innings played over a period of between one and five days, with the simple objective of one team amassing a greater total of 'runs' than the other. Remarkably, even in the five-day version, it is possible for the game to end in a draw. This is not the same thing as a tie, where both teams have the same score after all the innings have been completed, and is very rare, but is instead a game that could not be completed because the time allotted for play ran out, which is quite common. Amazing, when you consider that the game may well have lasted more than 40 hours and over 1000 runs have been scored.

The Field

Cricket is played on a field of generally unspecified dimensions (called 'the pitch') with a special central section of manicured and nurtured grass (called 'the wicket'1). At each end of the wicket, separated by 22 yards, is placed an assemblage of wooden components - which, confusingly, are also called a wicket (see 'Equipment', below). Adjacent to the playing area of the pitch is a building called 'the pavilion' which some believe to be the most important part of the pitch. At various times of the game, the pavilion contains players from both the teams and 'members' bathed in a miasma of alcohol fumes and cigar smoke.

The Equipment

Cricket wicket
  • Stumps - three wooden stakes, each 28 inches high, stuck into the ground.

  • Bails - two small, wooden pieces balanced on top of the stumps. The construction of the stumps and bails is called the wicket (remember?) and a wicket is placed at each end of the wicket. 28 inches high and nine inches wide.

  • Balls - 5½ to 5¾ ounces in weight, nine inches in circumference, leather-covered projectile objects that are thrown at the batter with the objective of disturbing the assembly of stumps and bails, ie the wicket (still remember?).

  • Gloves - to protect the hands from the balls.

  • Pads - to protect the legs from the balls.

  • Helmets - to protect the head from the balls.

  • Boxes - to protect the balls from the balls.

  • Bats - wooden (made from willow, in fact) implements used to hit the balls (no, the leather ones!). The bat may be up to 38 inches long and no more than 4½ inches at the widest part.

The Game

Prior to the commencement of play, the two captains come out from the pavilion onto the pitch to toss a coin to determine which team is 'in' or 'out' (ie which team bats first). They then go back in and the entire team which is out (ie fielding against the batting team) take their places around the pitch while the first two members of the batting team stand at opposite ends of the wicket. The remainder of the batting team stay inside the pavilion until it is their turn to bat. Two members of the fielding team then take it in turns to bowl to the batting players, attempting to get them out by hitting the wickets with the ball. In which case (deep breath), if a player who is in gets out then he goes in and another member of the team that is in comes out to be in.

This continues until ten players on the batting team are out, at which point, the batting team, including the player who has not had a turn yet (who is said to be 'not out') are declared 'out'. Now all the players on the batting team go in (as in go into the pavilion) and the team that was out (ie not batting) is now in and can start to come out (of the pavilion).

You can see where the confusion arises...

Scoring Runs

This is the easy bit. Runs are scored by hitting the ball. Or not.

Let's go back a little.

The two players on the team that are batting each stand in front of a wicket (the wooden sort) at either end of the wicket (the grass sort). Now, two members of the fielding team take it in turns to deliver the ball to the batters. They are called the 'bowlers'. Each bowler bowls six balls (actually one ball six times) in what is called an 'over'. When an over has finished, the other bowler bowls the ball from the opposite end of the wicket. The correct way to deliver the ball is to bounce it off the (grass) wicket and to try and hit the (wooden) wicket. The batter's task is to stop the ball from hitting the (wooden) wicket after it has bounced off the (grass) wicket. The batter uses his bat for this, but can use parts of his body, subject to certain rules. See the section on 'Getting Out' below.

Now, assuming that the batter hits the ball, the ball will go into the field where it will be fielded by a fielder. If the batter hits a ball into a section of the field where there are no fielders there may be sufficient time to score a run. To achieve this, the batter must run the length of the (grass) wicket between the two (wooden) wickets at the same time as the non-batting batter. The batter has scored a run and subsequently has become the non-batting batter. Despite having run the same distance, the non-batting batter has not scored a run, but has become the batter (except in the case when the over has finished). If a run is scored with the sixth (final) ball of the over, the run still counts, but the batter remains the batter and receives balls from the bowler at the other end of the wicket. It is possible to score two or even three runs in this manner with the batter and non-batting batter changing roles for odd scores and not changing for even scores, subject to the over-finishing situation.

There is an easier way. If the batter hits the ball hard enough it may go out of the playing area. In this case four runs have been scored and neither of the batters has to move at all. A ball hit out of the playing area without touching the ground (like a baseball home run) scores six runs.

Now the 'Or not' part. A ball can bounce off the (grass) wicket, miss the bat and the (wooden) wicket, proceed to an area of the field where there are no fielders and the batters can still score a run. This sort of run is called a 'bye'. In this case neither the batter nor the non-batting batter has scored - the run is just added to the total score. A particularly badly-delivered ball can go all the way out of play for four byes (runs). It's theoretically possible to score six byes but about as likely as The Big Unit accidentally tossing a ball over the Green Giant at Fenway2.

Getting Out

This is harder. Or easier, depending on your perspective. Ways to get out include:

  • Bowled - This is a pretty straightforward concept. The bowler bowls the ball, the batter misses it and it hits and breaks his (wooden) wicket.

  • Caught - Still pretty easy. The bowler bowls the ball, the batter hits it and a fielder catches it before it touches the ground.

  • Hit wicket - Fairly obvious. While the ball is still 'live' the batter breaks his own wicket with either his bat or part of his body.

  • Run out - Bit more complicated. The bowler bowls the ball, the batter hits it and commences a run. A fielder fields it and throws it towards the wicket at one end of the wicket. The ball either breaks the wicket directly or is caught by another fielder who breaks the wicket. The real bummer here is that it may not be the player who hit the ball in the first place who is out, it is whoever is running towards the broken wicket. This can lead to a lot of acrimony in the changing room.

  • Stumped - Really tricky. The bowler bowls the ball, the batter misses it, it misses the wicket, the wicketkeeper catches it and breaks the wicket. We're almost there: the batter must be further than the maximum allowed distance from the wicket in order to be called out.

  • Leg Before Wicket, the dreaded LBW - Nearly impossible to understand. The bowler bowls the ball and it hits the batter's leg, then all hell breaks loose. If you read the rules about this, your head will start to hurt.

Fielders and Fielding

Because runs may be scored in any part of the playing area, 360° around the batter, placement of the fielders is crucial, particularly as two of them are in highly inflexible positions, ie, the bowler and the wicketkeeper. (As his primary objective is to break the wicket this is a peculiar use of 'keeper'). It is partially dependant on the style of the bowler, left or right-handedness of the batter, light, wind speed, possibly even the phase of the moon. Suffice to say that the combinations of options has lead to a rich vocabulary of field positions.

The field is primarily divided into two halves, 'off' being in front of the batter and 'on' or 'leg' behind him. Obviously the sides switch with left and right-handed batters - great fun when one of each is playing and they are scoring a lot of single runs. Below is a brief table of field positions.

fielder Positions
SlipLeg SlipSlightly behind the batter to catch any balls that slip off his bat. They also chat with the wicketkeeper.
GullyShort LegIn front of the slips. They get in the way.
Third ManLong LegCatch the balls that the slips miss while they are chatting to the wicketkeeper.
PointSquare LegPlaced directly in a horizontal line with the batter, the place he is least likely to hit the ball.
Cover PointShort LegThis is where the men in the line above end up when they get it wrong.
Extra CoverMid-wicketThe fielders who tend to do most of the work.
Mid-offMid-onStand either side of the bowler and chat to him.
Long FieldLong FieldStuck all by himself in case any batter is audacious enough to hit the ball over the bowler's head.

Overlaid on the 'basic' field positions are an infinity of modifications. These are based on both distance from, and relative position to, the batter and are ranked as follows:

  • Long - Very far away from the batter. Has been known to overlap into an adjacent game or be in the next county.

  • Deep - Quite a long way from the batter, but still within earshot.

  • 'Whatever' - The basic nominal position for the fielder. Just like it says.

  • Short - Close to the batter, but out of range from a wild swing with the bat.

  • Silly3 - extremely close to the batter. Less than a bat's length away. Halitosis can be a problem.

With such a rich language, some wonderful combinations are found. Who can suppress a schoolboy snigger when a bowler is said to be playing with 'a short slip, two fine legs and no extra cover' or a twinge of sympathy for one with 'a short square leg, no point and a man in the gully'.

Ahh! What days!!


This is all that can be gleaned from the 1958 edition of The Children's Encyclopaedia of General Knowledge. So now, readers are fully equipped to attend and enjoy a game of cricket. However, you can get more help here.

1Somewhat similar to a green in golf.2How's that for baseball knowledge.3This is a wonderful example of British understatement and desire for elegant prose as 'silly mid-on' rolls off the tongue much better than 'insane mid-on' which is what you have to be.

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