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A geek’s guide to Cricket

If you aren't accustomed to cricket, it can be a challenging game to get your head around. It can be almost impossible to understand and follow the game, what strategies the players are seeking, and even questions like, 'who is actually winning the game?' don't always have the most obvious answers. If you know some basics of cricket, the game will start to become very exciting.

Cricket is puzzling to novices. With its own lexicon of terms needing a dictionary to understand, and the wealth of equipment vary depending on the type of cricket played - you'll be forgiven for not wanting to make a start. Compared to other favourite sports like tennis, baseball, basketball and football, where the objectives are easily understandable - namely scoring goals and points against the opponent's team or players, cricket is not so obvious and can be utterly bewildering.

England's Steven Finn congratulates Craig Kieswetter after combining to dismiss Australia's Matthew Wade England's Steven Finn congratulates Craig Kieswetter

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Three Types of Cricket Formats

Test Cricket - the players wear 'cricket whites' and the game takes place over 5 days, where the game ebbs and flows in each team’s favour, and can even end in a draw!

One-Day International (ODI) - as its name suggests, is a game lasting for only one day, with the aim of obtaining as many runs as possible within the limited time available to each team. Players wear colours and have individual player numbers, unlike cricket whites.

Twenty20 Cricket -  is an even shorter game, typically played under 3 hours, with rules similar to ODIs. The aim is to hit the ball as hard as you can, accumulating more runs as quickly as possible. This format is more exciting and explosive. Again, players wear colours.

Cricket - NatWest Challenge ODI - England v Australia - Lords NatWest Challenge ODI, England v Australia at Lords

For the sake of this cricket guide, we'll be concentrating the on Test Cricket rules, as once you get these, both ODI and Twenty20 are easier to follow.

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Cricket Rules

Each team comprises 12 players (the twelfth man is a sort of spare in case a player has to leave the field due to injury or for a short period). Only 11 of the fielding team's players take the field, along with two from the opposing batting team, with two umpires who ensure the teams play to the rules.

Each team take it in turns to bat, with each team's batting turn called an 'innings'. In test cricket, each side has two innings, whilst in ODIs and Twenty20 there is only one inning per batting team.

Batting takes place on the 'pitch' - a strip of earth covered in short grass in the middle of the ground. At each end of the pitch are three wooden stakes stuck in the ground, known as wickets, these are the things each batsman is trying to 'protect' when batting.

The wickets - targetted by the bowler, protected by the batsman The wicket - targetted by the bowler, protected by the batsman

The two teams take turns at batting, when not batting they field (and bowl). Several members of the fielding team are specialist bowlers, and they 'deliver' (throw) the ball at the batsman, who holds a wooden bat and attempts to strike the ball around the field. Batsmen then score runs, by running between the two ends of the pitch after hitting the ball. The fielding team aims to both reduce the number of runs the batting team is trying to score and ultimately, to get the batsmen out.

The cricket ball itself is made of cork and covered in leather with a stitched seam around the diameter of the ball. Test cricket uses red balls, ODI and Twenty20 use white balls.

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Cricket in Play – Batting

The batsmen begin to score 'runs' for their team whilst protecting their wickets. Only one batsman at a time can face a ball from the bowler. Batsmen rotate being on 'strike' (awaiting delivery from a bowler) depending on how many runs they accumulate. However, both batsmen must run and get to safety behind their 'crease' to count a run.

Third One Day International, Pakistan v England in Karachi Third One Day International, Pakistan v England in Karachi

The batsmen score one run if they run to end of the pitch after hitting the ball. If the ball is struck and runs across the green outfield and hits the boundary (rope around the edge of the field), then four runs are scored. If the ball is hit with such force that it crosses the boundary without touching the outfield, then six runs are scored.

Hitting 'fours' and 'sixes' is the fastest way to accumulate runs, plus they aid in conserving the batsmen's energy when running between the wickets. Batsmen who score 100 individual runs for their team score a 'century.'

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Cricket in Play – Fielding and Bowling

It's the responsibility of the fielding team to limit the number of runs the batsmen score. They achieve this by placing their fielders in positions where the captain believes they are most likely to stop runs being scored.

Bowlers roles are to either knock the wickets out with a direct hit or to make the batsmen play shots that lead to them being caught out. There are two types of bowlers, seam (also known as quick or fast bowlers) and spin bowlers. The latter is a slower ball that spins in the air once thrown, causing a level of unpredictability for the batsmen to strike the ball. The former relies on speed and pace, leaving the batsmen limited time to decide where to hit the ball.

England v Sri Lanka, Investec Third Test Match - Day Two at Lord's England v Sri Lanka, Investec Third Test Match - Day Two at Lord's

Each bowler bowls a succession of six balls, known as an 'over'. An over is six legitimate balls (within the rules of bowling), because, for each illegitimate delivery, a run is given to the batting team. A 'wide ball' is illegal and is where the batsman cannot reach the ball because it is bowled wide of his reach. A 'no ball' is where the bowler has thrown incorrectly or overstepped his run up.

Once a bowler has completed his over, a second bowler begins the next over from the wicket at the other end of the pitch. The two bowlers rotate in tandem until they either start to bowl poorly, tire, leak runs to the batting team, or the pitch or ball begins to favour a different type of bowling. It is the captain's role to determine which other bowlers will replace the incumbent one. Bowlers can only be replaced once they have completed their over. According to the England Wales Cricket Board, in cricket, there are ten ways in which the fielding team can dismiss a batsman:

• Caught • Bowled out • Leg before wicket (lbw) • Run out • Stumped • Hit wicket • Handled/ling the ball • Double hit/hitting the ball twice • Obstructing the field • Timed out

Once a batsman has been dismissed, they must leave the field, and the next incoming batsmen take their place. Once all ten batsmen are dismissed, in test cricket, the innings have ended.

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Cricket Scoring

Cricket scoring is written by the number of runs scored in relation to the number of wickets taken. So, for example, if the batting team has scored 89 runs but have lost three wickets, the score will look like 89/3

Innings come to an end once ten out of the 11 batsmen have been given out. The total number of runs scored by them plus runs accumulated from illegitimate deliveries count towards the innings final score. In test cricket, generally there are two innings per team (4 innings in total), but a team's captain can 'declare' if he believes that his team's core from one innings will outscore both innings combined of the opposing team.

England v West Indies - Third Investec Test - Day Two - Lord's The famous Lord's cricket ground, St. Johns Wood, London

Once an innings has been completed, it is the turn of the opposing team to score as many runs (and outscore the previous innings if possible) so that when their opponents begin their second innings, the total score is insurmountable.

In test cricket, if the team batting first scores 200 runs or more than the opposition, the captain can choose to enforce a 'follow-on'. This means that the opposing side must bat first in the second innings. The winning team has the most runs at the end of the second innings.

In ODI and Twenty20 cricket, there is only one innings per team.

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Cricket’s popularity around the world

Although cricket is played by millions of people across the globe, it is far from a global game. Only a handful of nations are permitted to play the highest-level test cricket. A few more are allowed entry into the One Day and Twenty20 World Cups, used as a platform to expand the game's popularity.

The leading test cricket nations are India, England, Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and the West Indies (a federation of fifteen Caribbean countries). From 2018, both Ireland and Afghanistan will play their first tests, after being granted test status.

Local children play a game of cricket on waste land in Ahmedabad, India. Local children play a game of cricket on waste land in Ahmedabad, India.

Every year the world's leading players (typically from the test nations mentioned above) play for their countries in international tests, international ODI's, and a combination of foreign and domestic Twenty20 games and tournaments.

The three formats of cricket help to complement each other. Twenty20, with its excitement and emphasis on big hitting, attracts the most investment, with World Twenty20 and Indian Premier League the most lucrative tournaments. The Cricket World Cup is the pinnacle one-day event, held every 4 years, and is the most prestigious international competition.

Lastly, test cricket remains the purest form of the sport and determines which cricket nation is superior, and ultimately, has the best cricketers.

With this geeks guide to cricket, you should have enough to get started watching and betting on your first cricket match. Of course, there is much more to learn, but master these basics and you'll find yourself begging to know more about the intricacies and strategies of this wonderful game.

Words: David Bailey-Lauring

Images: PA


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