Two teams, eleven players in each, one ball, one bat… It doesn’t seem to be that difficult to understand cricket (pronounce “crikette”). And yet… A few months before the 12th edition of the Men’s Cricket World Cup, which will take place from Thursday 30 May to Monday 15 July 2019 in Great Britain, it is high time to learn more about this team sport, which is so little known in France, but very well known in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth member states.
With more than 1.5 billion cricketers in the 53 Commonwealth member states (including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, South Africa…), it is legitimate to believe that this sport is of British origin. At least that’s what we thought until the surprising discovery, three years ago, of a first written record of a match report dating back to 1478 and which had taken place … in France. It is the oldest document referring to cricket ever found. According to experts, the sport was imported from France to Great Britain from the 16th century onwards and thus accompanied the development of the English colonial empire, hence its popularity in India or Australia for example.
How Does It Work?
It looks like baseball but don’t get me wrong, cricket is a totally different sport.
The Basic Rules
A collective sport of balls and bats, it pits two teams of 11 players – who cannot be replaced during the game – against each other in a series of innings on a field, which is mostly oval. Each team alternates between attack and defence, with players from both sides taking turns after each “over”, in other words each series of six balls.
On the Court
In an inning, on the field there is one pitcher and the other ten members of his team, called the hunters, and two batters from the opposing team. The procedure is simple: the pitcher throws the ball by aiming at the “wicket”, a wooden structure located behind the batter. The latter must defend it and send the ball back as far as possible in order to have as much time as possible to run and exchange positions with the second batter, located in the area opposite (a little more than 20 meters away).
The goal is for the batsmen to alternate their positions before one of the opposing team’s chasers brings the ball back to the wicket. If this is the case, he then scores points (called “runs”). Usually only one or two runs are scored on a batting stroke.
However, when the batter sends the ball directly out of bounds, he scores six points (called “sixier”) and when the ball goes out of bounds with one or more rebounds, he scores four (called “boundary”).
If one of the hunters catches the ball in midair or if the ball hits the wooden structure, the batter is eliminated directly from the inning – which ends when there is only one batter left on the field. Also, if the batter prevents the ball from passing with his body, especially the leg, he is eliminated (called “leg before wicket”).
Who Wins the Game?
To win the match, all you have to do is score the most runs and therefore win the most sets. The innings end when either the beating team has only one batter available, or when the team captain makes a declaration or a waiver (voluntary end of an inning), or in “twenty20” when the number of pitches has been reached.
The Duration of a Game
The duration of a cricket match may differ. The “traditional” form, used in test matches (international matches), is the longest. The match, which takes place over four innings – two per team – can then last up to five days (with a six-hour limit on the day), unless one of the two opponents wins early.
In the World Cup, this long version is reduced to “one-day”. As the name suggests, the match takes place over one day.
Finally, there is also the “twenty20”, even shorter and simplified. It is played over a single round of 20 throws for each team and does not exceed a few hours of play.
How Does it Play?
Like all sports with ancient origins, cricket has undergone many changes over the centuries. For example, the wickets (goals) did not always exist. In the old days, two holes were dug in the grass and a line was drawn 1.30 m apart in front of each hole. At the beginning of the 18th century, wickets were introduced (a complex construction consisting of three stakes on which two small bars were placed in a balanced position). The first precise rules of the game were codified in 1744.
The cricket field is a large lawn measuring 150 m by 170 m and has two wickets. An umpire stands near each of them. A wicket, which is 23 cm wide, consists of three stakes driven into the ground, the height of which must not exceed 71 cm. Wooden sticks are placed on the stakes, the fall of which indicates that the wicket has been hit. The wickets, planted opposite each other, are separated by a distance of 20 m; this area constitutes the actual playing area. 1.30 m in front of each wicket, and parallel to it, is a line marking the boundary of what is known as the “batter’s field”.
The Role of the Pitcher
It is the bowler who attacks by sending a ball to the wicket defended by the batter. The ball, which is very hard, is made of cork and rope covered with red leather. It weighs 172 g and measures 23 cm in circumference (the equivalent of a tennis ball). The objective of the pitcher is to destroy the wicket defended by the batter in front of him. The pitcher can take all the momentum he needs before throwing the ball, as long as he stays within the limits of what is called the “pitcher’s line”. Two pitchers operate in each game, each in front of a wicket. When six balls have been thrown, the second pitcher takes on the batter from the opposite wicket, and all players on the field change positions.
The Role of the Drummer
The batsmen use a willow bat for the defence of the wickets, which is usually made of willow and is no longer than 97 cm in total length. The batsmen must hit the ball hard enough, either to send it out of bounds (which is worth 6 points to their team) or to send it far enough away so that they have time to run to their partner’s wicket (one point per run for the benefit of their team). When the batter leaves his wicket to run to the opposite wicket, his partner runs himself to the vacant wicket. When the batter is eliminated, his partner from the opposite wicket replaces him, and so on until all eleven players of the team whose team is on tour have taken the field in succession. It is then up to the opposing team to defend the wickets.
There are some excellent drummers who can keep a team in check for hours. Any game that is not completed is considered a draw (unless one side gives up during the game). However, when a team has a substantial points lead, its captain may end the inning by declaring his side’s tour is over. This is known as “declaring”, which has the effect of speeding up the game.
Due to the special rules of cricket, it is common for a single game to last several days. A limit is placed on the amount of time allowed for the game each day, and the match is restarted the next day, at the point where it was left. In international matches, matches last five to six days. Inter-county competitions are usually played over two or three days.
The final of the World Cricket Championship was held on 23 March 2003 in Johannesburg. Australia defeated India by 125 runs to retain their 1999 world championship crown in England.