Here in Nigeria, cricket is a mysterious sport. We recognise that it is a little bit like baseball, but when people talk about it they use all kinds of funny words we don’t understand. Then, if we ever see it on TV—and we rarely do—it’s so confusing because it just looks like a whole mess of people running around aimlessly.
Well, at least 1.5 billion people care about cricket, that’s who—probably twice as many as those who care about baseball or American football. So if nothing else, for serious sports fans it’s worth leaning a bit about the sport just to see what all the fuss is about. With that in mind, here’s a list of things you need to know in order to understand the sport of cricket.
A cricket field is oval-shaped.
Inside the main oval playing field is a smaller oval territory called the infield, which is 30 yards wide. Inside the infield is the pitch, where all the action of cricket begins. The pitch is 22 yards long and 10 feet wide, and at either end is a wicket.
The basic goal of cricket is pretty simple.
One guy throws a ball toward another guy who tries to hit it. The act of throwing the ball is called bowling and, as you would expect, the guy bowling is called the bowler. The guy trying to hit the ball is called the batsman. If he hits the ball far enough, he can score points for his team—called runs—by running back and forth between two safe zones called creases. If the batsman misses the ball, however, and it hits the wicket behind him, he is dismissed and doesn’t get to hit anymore. He is also dismissed if (a) he hits the ball but it is caught on the fly by a fielder, or (b) the ball is not caught on the fly but the fielder is able to knock over the wicket while the hitter is outside the crease. Obviously, the team that scores the most runs wins.
There are always two batsman on the field at the same time.
There are always 2 batsman on the field for the offensive team—one at each wicket. The one to whom the bowler is bowling is called the striker. The one just standing there watching is called, un-creatively, the non-striker. When the striker hits the ball, he and the non-striker can decide to attempt to score runs by running back and forth between the two creases. If they do attempt to score runs and they end up switching places, then the striker become the non-striker, and vice versa.
Every cricket player has two goals.
Unlike a batter in baseball, a batsman in cricket has to be somewhat defensive minded. That’s because, in cricket, unlike baseball, if you swing and miss and the ball hits the wicket behind you, you’re out (i.e., dismissed). You don’t get three chances. And when 10 of your 11 players make outs (are dismissed) in cricket, your innings is over. Thus, while the 27 outs you get in baseball are precious, the 10 dismissals you get in cricket are even more precious. So every player has two equal goals. If you’re the batsman, you want to (1) avoid being dismissed and (2) score runs. If you’re the bowler, you want to (1) dismiss the batsman and (2) prevent runs from being scored. And if f you’re a fielder, you want to (1) dismiss the batsman and (2) prevent runs.
There are 2 basic types of bowlers.
The two basic kinds of bowlers in cricket and they are the fast bowler and the spin bowler. You get the idea of what they do from their names: the fast bowlers specializes in throwing the ball really fast, while the spin bowler specializes in making the ball take crazy bounces (the ball can bounce twice before it either hits the wicket or is hit by the batsman). One way to measure the greatness of a bowler is to look at how many wickets he earned—that is, how many batsmen he dismissed by throwing the ball by him and knocking over the wickets. This stat is very much like the strikeout in baseball.
Batting a “century” is a big deal for a cricket batsman.
In cricket, you score runs by hitting the ball far. If you hit into the gap of the outfield but the ball stays in the field of play, you can easily score 2 or 3 runs by running between two wickets on the pitch 2 or 3 times. However, if you hit the ball such that it lands in the playing field but eventually goes out of the playing field, that’s an automatic 4 runs. And if you hit the ball and it leaves the field all together, that’s an automatic 6 runs. This is called “hitting a six,” and it is obviously the equivalent of hitting a home run in baseball. The best offensive players in cricket can hit for many overs (at-bats) without being dismissed (making an out). If they hit for power, then they can achieve what is called a century—scoring 100 runs in a single match. Only once in the history of ODI cricket has a player hit a double century. This player was India’s Sachin Tendelkar.
Let’s talk about what other things make this game so great!