Creag. Creckett. Krick. Cricc. Cryce. Craic. Croquet. Krickstoel. krik ket. Cricket.
When learning the history of cricket, the origin of the name is as confusing as the expert game itself; a blend of Dutch, Olde English, French, and Irish ‘howzats?’ asked from March 10, 1300, to the present when a blend of more contemporary English words are used to describe a game that can last 5 days before every goes home without any team having won.
Although the game is referenced over centuries in several European languages, cricket is still very much unknown to those on the continent, so when sharing my enthusiasm for the game with ‘unlearned’ European friends they stare in disbelief when questioning if 80,000 people really do hit the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Dec 26 each year to watch two teams hit a ball with a mallet through a little hoop; the day after Christmas no less.
“Not croquet. Cricket!,” which makes it no easier for them to understand.
Passion for sharing knowledge of the game can be overbearing for the uninitiated and though watching the game is the best way to learn, one cannot help but try to detail intricacies. When friends in Hungary asked 'how to play cricket' they always laugh when reminding me of my trying to explain LBW in the streets of Budapest one night with the use of a post box and a dozen Dreher’s. It’s hard to explain the LBW law to village cricket umpires let alone non-cricket playing Hungarian archaeologists!
‘How to play cricket?’ is a straight-forward question, but there is not a stright-forward answrr especially without visual context, but let’s try.
As a game with more than 200 years of ‘tradition’ woven and rolled into the matting, cooch grass, driveways, backyards, and barren earth on which millions of people play, do not ignore two facts; one, cricket is played under Laws, not rules. So, when people ask, ‘what are the rules?’ you can at least correct them on that if nothing else as the complexities of the game are written in 42 laws and at least 3649 sub-laws, clauses, addendums, and after-thoughts. That said, playing in your backyard has far more complex parameters!
Let’s try to explain 'how to play cricket':
1 – Cricket is played on a ‘round-ish’ field of varying dimensions; no two playing fields are the same size and along with baseball, golf, Aussie Rules, and lawn bowls, is the only sport without standardised playing field dimensions.
2 – The bowlers bowl, and the batters bat on the ‘pitch’; a 20m long and 3.05cm wide strip in the middle-ish of the playing field. It is mowed, dried, rolled, rolled, rolled, and rolled until it is rock hard. The harder the pitch, the higher and faster the ball will bounce toward the batter.
3 – Each bowler bowls 6 balls before the bowler is changed. Every 6 balls is called an over, and each new over is bowled from the other end of the pitch. Games lasting one day consist of 20 – 50 overs per batting inning, whilst games lasting 3, 4, or 5 days consist of 90 overs per day.
4 – The ball is 150-ish grams of cork, string, and hardened leather. One ball will be used for each inning of short-form game though in a 3-, 4-, or 5-day game a new ball can be taken after 80 overs. The age of the ball determines what the bowler can do with it so each over becomes unique as the game progresses.
5 – The cricket bat is made of a cane handle connected to a flat wooden blade made of willow. A bat can be no wider than 10.8cm, no taller than 96.5cm, no thicker than 6.7cm and the edge no wider than 4cm.
6 – The stumps are three stakes of wood, pressed into the ground at each end of the pitch. Each stump is 71.1cm high and 3.8cm wide. The 3 are placed equal distance from each other totalling no more than 22.9cm, and close enough together that ball cannot pass through. Across the top of the three stumps are two pieces of wood called bails, each 4.37cm long. When the stumps and bails are set, this is called ‘The Wickets.’
Now you know the important playing equipment when asking how to play cricket, the game is played between two teams of 11 players each. One team will bat, with two batters in the middle at any one time, while the other team will field and bowl. In each team specialist players selected to score most of the runs are ‘batters’ and specialist players selected to get most if not all the batters out are ‘bowlers’. All players bat and field though generally speaking only specialist bowlers will bowl.
At top level, every player can bowl but rarely will they because they will be shit. When trying to limit the amount of runs the batting team scores, gifting them runs by using a batter to bowl will not do you many favours, and that really is not how to play cricket to it's best.
Bowlers bat because one objective of the game is to score more runs than the other team and though bowlers are not known for batting prowess, and why they bat last, bowlers can get many accidental runs. You only need to win by one so ‘every run counts,’ no matter who scores them! And scoring runs is an integral part of how to play cricket.
One run is counted each time the two batters run between the wickets and complete one length of the pitch, whether the batters hit the ball or not. Unlike baseball, batters do not have to run if they believe they will not complete the run before being ‘run out’ (below). It is a game of fine judgment and when judged correctly, batters can bat all day.
Aside running between wickets, if the ball is hit to the boundary rope along the ground or on the bounce this is automatically 4 runs and if the ball is hit over the rope on the full, this is automatically 6 runs. The boundary rope can be a varying distance from the Pitch, on all four sides.
Depending on the state of the game and format, batters can take as long as they like to score but that may hamper the side’s chance of winning, which is not one of the better ways of how to play cricket. The shorter the format the bigger the hits and faster the scoring, which makes for an exciting short-lived spectacle.
Aside scoring runs, the batter’s objective is to protect his stumps, whereas the bowler’s objective is to hit the stumps with each ball. Batters stand in front of the stumps to protect them by hitting the ball away to score runs in the process. A batter can stand anywhere he likes but if he is not protecting his stumps, he is in no position to hit the ball either and will be ‘OUT’ very smartly.
How to play cricket when bowling is to get all opposition batters ‘OUT’ for as few runs as possible, and once 10 batters are OUT their inning is ended.
Batters can get ‘Out’ 9 ways, and getting out is not how to play cricket if you are a batter;
1 - Caught. The batsman hits the ball in the air and one of 10 fielders or bowler catches the ball before it hits the ground.
2 - Bowled. When the bowler delivers a ball that hits the wickets and dislodges at least one bail.
3 - Leg Before Wicket (LBW). If when the ball that is bowled hits the batsman’s leg without first touching the bat, fielders can appeal for ‘LBW’ or ask the age-old question “HOWZAT?” which is short for ‘How Is That Mr Umpire, Is He Out?’. The umpire adjudicates whether the ball would have hit the stumps had the ball not hit the leg. If he thinks it would, he gives the batsman OUT. There are finer intricacies to the LBW law when learning how to play cricket such as where the ball hit the leg or where it bounced first, which effect the umpires’ decision, but let’s not confuse you further.
4 - Run Out. If either batter does not ‘make their ground’ before a ball thrown by a fielder hits any stump and dislodges at least one bail, they will be ‘run out’. The line painted across the pitch, 1.22cm from the stumps is called the crease. Any part of the batsman or bat (provided he is in contact with the bat) must be behind the crease, i.e., making his ground, before the bails are dislodged.
Following these four common dismissals, are the rarer type:
5 – Stumped. The wicket keeper dislodges the bails while the batsman is out of his ground.
6 - Hit wicket. The batsman dislodges the bails with any part of his body or bat in the process of playing a shot.
7 - Obstructing the field. Either batter deliberately gets in the way of the fielders’ attempt to retrieve the ball or dismiss the batter; such as Ben Stokes in the Cricket World Cup 2019 Final against New Zealand.
When the batter deliberately touches the ball with this hand without his hand being in contact with this bat, this is called ‘Handled The Ball’. This was a 10th mode of dismissal but was included under Obstructing the Field in 2020.
8 - Timed out. The batter takes more than 2 minutes to step onto the field of play following the previous batsman’s dismissal.
9 - Hitting the ball twice. The batter deliberately hits the ball for a second time to deliberately score runs. The batter may hit the ball several times if he is stopping the ball from dislodging a bail, but he cannot score from this action.
When it comes to bowling the bowler can bowl as fast or slow as he likes provided at the point of delivery, he has some part of his leading foot behind the ‘crease.’ Fast bowlers usually bowl first as batters are not used to seeing the ‘new ball’ which swings and sways in the air thus confusing the batters, which increases the bowlers’ chance of getting the batter out. Slow bowlers or spinners bowl later in the game once the ball is old and the pitch is drier, which causes the ball to bounce off the pitch with much more uncertainty.
Each time you are OUT, a new batter comes in and your team keeps batting until all players have batted, no matter how long it takes, or until your captain decides you have scored enough runs and 'declares' the inning ended.
In white-ball cricket, as 'one-day cricket' and Twenty20 cricket' is collectively known, when all batters from both teams are OUT or there is no more time to play, whichever comes first, the team with the higher score is the winner.
A 3rd result is possible in 3, 4, and 5 day games (red-ball cricket), which makes cricket the most unique of man’s sporting codes; at no point is any team ever ‘winning’. It can be difficult for many to understand how to play cricket when no team is winning, but that's the beauty of the game. When walking into a room where cricket is on the TV, you never ask, ‘who’s winning?’ If you do, you either don’t know cricket or you’re just pissed.
Why no team is ever winning is quite simple. White-ball cricket involves each team batting just once each in game, thus no team can be winning if only one side has batted. Red ball cricket involves each team batting for two innings played over 3, 4, or 5 days. Although one team may have more runs after each team has batted twice, if the bowling side don’t get all opposition batters out before the game time is up, the game will be declared a draw and therefore your team was never ‘winning.’
When a batting team has no chance of winning the game, they ‘play for the draw’. This infuriates some who suggest that is not how to play cricket, yet conversely pleases others. The batting team won't take risks or get many runs, instead be stubborn, boring bastards, and simply not get out about before time is up! A draw is very often just as good as a win!
When it comes to knowing how to play cricket when playing backyard cricket, ‘house rules’ apply without ignoring fundamental basics such as being bowled or caught. You can never be out first ball, there is no LBW, there is automatic wicketkeeper, it is ‘6 and Out’ over the fence, you can be caught ‘one-hand’ if the ball is falling off the roof or from a tree, and a series of other ‘home ground’ peculiarities that are perfectly understandable, even to Hungarian archaeologists eager to learn how to play cricket.