The rules of cricket are so complex that the official rulebook runs to some twenty pages. The basics, however, are by no means as Byzantine as the game’s detractors make out.
There are two teams of eleven players. A team wins by scoring more runs than the other team and dismissing all the opposition – in other words, a team could score many more runs than the opposition, but still not win if the last enemy batsman doggedly stays “in” (hence ensuring a draw). The match is divided into innings, when one team bats and the other fields. The number of innings varies depending on the type of competition: one-day matches have one per team; test matches have two.
The aim of the fielding side is to limit the runs scored and get the batsmen “out”. Two players from the batting side are on the pitch at any one time. The bowling side has a bowler, a wicket keeper and nine fielders. Two umpires, one standing behind the stumps at the bowler’s end and one square on to the play, are responsible for adjudicating if a batsman is out. Each innings is divided into overs, consisting of six deliveries, after which the wicket keeper changes ends, the bowler is changed and the fielders move positions.
The batsmen score runs either by running up and down from wicket to wicket (one length equals one run), or by hitting the ball over the boundary rope, scoring four runs if it crosses the boundary having touched the ground, and six runs if it flies straight over. The main ways a batsman can be dismissed are: by being “clean bowled”, where the bowler dislodges the bails of the wicket (the horizontal pieces of wood resting on top of the stumps); by being “run out”, which is when one of the fielding side dislodges the bails with the ball while the batsman is running between the wickets; by being caught, which is when any of the fielding side catches the ball after the batsman has hit it and before it touches the ground; or “LBW” (leg before wicket), where the batsman blocks with his leg a delivery that would otherwise have hit his stumps.
These are the bare rudiments of a game whose beauty lies in the subtlety of its skills and tactics. The captain, for example, chooses which bowler to play and where to position his fielders to counter the strengths of the batsman, the condition of the pitch and a dozen other variables. Cricket also has a beauty in its esoteric language, used to describe such things as fielding positions (“silly mid-off”, “cover point”, etc) and the various types of bowling delivery (“googly”, “yorker”, and so on).