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The 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup is set to begin this weekend and is being hosted by India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Now is the prefect time to jump on the bandwagon, but if you don’t know the difference between a bowler and a bail, here are the basics you need to get started.
Cricket, on the face of it, is a fairly simple game that can be played in three formats — test matches (which last 5 days), one-day internationals (ODI), and the Twenty20 (which lasts about 3-4 hours.)
Two teams of eleven face-off against one another batting, fielding and scoring runs, much like baseball. The specifics get a lot trickier. In the interest of simplicity (and because that’s how they do it at the World Cup), let’s stick with the ODI.
BATTING AND BOWLING
To begin: Cricket seems like a distorted version of baseball. (Or vice versa depending on your continent.) There are batsmen and pitchers (“bowlers“) who score runs, while the defense tries to get them out. But there also a lot of key differences that you to need understand to follow the action.
Instead of the diamond of four bases with a pitcher’s mound in the middle, there is the pitch, a 22-yard long box with a wicket at each end. A wicket is actually three stumps (literally three sticks stuck in the ground) with two bails resting on top of them. The bails are not fixed and can be knocked off the stumps. (More on that later.)
Plays begin when the bowler delivers the ball in an attempt to hit the wicket, while the batter “defends” the wicket with his bat.
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The biggest difference between baseball and cricket is that there are TWO batsmen on the field at the same time, one at each wicket. When the ball is hit, they try to run back and fourth between the wickets as many times as they can without getting put out. (More on that in a bit.) Every time they make it one length of the pitch, the team gets one run.
The other way to get runs is to hit the ball out of the park. If the ball reaches the boundary of the field on a bounce, you get an automatic four runs. If you hit it out in the air (like a home run), you get six runs without actually having to run the pitch. (That’s why it’s called “a six.”)
The bowler doesn’t changes ends, so if the team scores an odd number of runs, the second batsman (who didn’t hit the ball) ends up facing the bowler, so then he takes his turn batting. Batters stay on the pitch until they are put out, and then the next batter on his team takes his place.
There are two important bowling penalties that you should know, and this gets a little technical but we’ll try and break it down. An umpire will call a no ball if a part of the bowler’s foot is behind the crease, if he throws, rather than bowls the ball (this depends on the action of the arm, some bowlers have been accused of chucking but Sri Lankan Muttiah Muralitharan actually has an arm defect), if it bounces more than twice, or if the bowler changes hands or side of the wicket without notifying the umpire. A no ball gets the team an extra delivery in an over, and batsman can only get runs if he manages to score off the ball. Here’s a classic instance of a batsman not being bowled out because of a no ball.
Like a no ball, if a bowler delivers a wide the batting team picks up a run and the bowler has to re-deliver a ball. An umpire will usually call a wide if the ball passes to wide or high above the batsman making it impossible for him to hit it. Like a no ball a batsman can only be dismissed off a wide ball if he handles the ball, is out hit wicket, obstructs the field, is run out, or stumped. We promise this gets easier once you actually watch the game.
A batsman can be dismissed in a number of ways. He can be caught out if a fielder catches a batted ball before it bounces on the field. (Just like a fly out in baseball.) He can be bowled out if the bowler hits the stumps and knocks off a bail. (Basically a strikeout, only in cricket it’s ONE strike and you’re out.)
Either of the batsmen can also be run out while they’re running between the wickets. A run out happens if a fielder throws the ball and hits the wicket while the batsman is out of his crease. A runner can stop running at any time (or choose not to run at all), but when he’s in the crease he’s “safe.” (BOTH runners must be “safe” for any runs to count.)
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Batsmen can be stumped, which is when the wicketkeeper (like a baseball catcher) catches the ball after a delivery gets past the batter and then knocks the bails off the stumps while the batsman has stepped out of his crease. (As they often do when attempting a big swing.)
There’s also LBW or leg before wicket rule, which is slightly complicated, but if the ball is going towards the stumps and strikes the batsman’s body, he’s dismissed. Basically, if being hit by the pitch prevents the ball from hitting the wicket, you’re out. Usually a judgment call by the umpire. (Speaking of umps, New Zealand’s Billy Bowden is one of the more entertaining umpires to watch.)
If a batsman knocks the bails off with his bat by himself that’s what’s known as a hit wicket. He can also be dismissed for hitting a ball twice or obstructing a fielder.
Matches are divided into “overs” and “innings.” An over is six deliveries by the same bowler at the wicket. In one-day matches (which is how they play the World Cup), there is a limit of 50 overs per inning, and each team gets one inning.
Each bowler can only bowl 10 overs in a game, and can’t bowl two overs in a row.
The inning ends when they reach the limit of 50 overs OR 10 of the 11 batters are put out. (Because you need two batters to continue.) The first team accumulates as many runs as they can in one inning, then the teams switch sides and the second team tries to match or beat their score.
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Since this is a beginner’s guide, we won’t get into tactics too much, but most of the strategizing involves setting the lineups of bowlers and batsmen, the position of fielders, and the decision to run or not run (and for how long.)
There also many different styles of bowling and approaches to hitting, but we’ll save that for another time.
Because the field is round and the pitch is in the middle, there is no foul territory like in baseball. Players can hit it in any direction, and they can swing for the fences or try to “hit it where they ain’t.” So defenders must try to position themselves in the place they think they’ll be most effective. However, since there’s only 9 fielders (not counting the bowler and wicket keeper) there’s a lot of space to cover.
Batsmen don’t have to run either, so they must decide on every ball whether they think they can make a run (or several) without getting put out. This requires careful coordination between the two batsmen to ensure they both go and stop at the right times.
In longer test matches, there are more innings and no over limits, so matches last five days.
THE WORLD CUP
The 2011 Cricket World Cup is organized much like soccer’s World Cup, only there are just 14 teams divided into two groups, instead of 32 teams in 8. Each team plays the other members of their group once, and then the eight teams with the most points advance to the knockout stage.
The Cup starts on Saturday, with a match between India and Bangladesh, who are both co-hosting the tourney, along with Sri Lanka. (The International Cricket Council stripped Pakistan of its hosting privileges after the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked by gunmen in Lahore, in 2009.) The final will be held on April 2 in Mumbai.
Are you on board? Good: