A Beginner’s Guide to Cricket

November 1, 2012

Features, User Submissions

In South Africa, cricket is watched, analyzed and lived through – it’s a huge part of the culture, much like baseball is to the States. Many a curious 12-year-old have wondered onto the cricket pitch wondering how to affix each piece of equipment. Countless fans have had a brush with fame by dropping a ball hit into the stands (the clever ones blame the guy next to them).

With a rich history, 5-day fixtures and unique fielding positions, cricket is actually quite simple in theory: someone throws a hard ball while the other tries to hit it to the fences. One bowls while the other bats and whoever grabs the most runs, wins.

Here is your cricket vocabulary, rules and fast facts.

The basics:

There are three formats of the game: a 5-day Test, 50 over fixture (1 day) and Twenty20 over spectacular. So what’s with the numbers you ask? Quite simply, an innings, a team’s turn to bat or bowl, consists of a certain number of overs (1 over is equal to six balls).

All formats are played between two teams with 11 players a side while two umpires officiate on an oval-shaped field with a rectangular pitch in the middle – much like a baseball plate, just bigger.

The layout of a standard pitch

In the modern game, Twenty20 is becoming more and more of a popular spectator go-to with a maximum of 20 overs being played in each innings (a 3-hour show). This means hard-hitting stars, massive boundaries (more on that later) and acrobatic catches.

In Test matches, where the teams don white uniforms, spectators are greeted with 8 hours a day of play for 5 days with a few sessions each day for a drinks break and lunch. This traditional format is mostly observed by the old enthusiasts who sip on some ice cold Gin and Tonic.


The batting side sends out two batsmen at a time who stand on either end of the pitch to defend their wickets and score runs. The bowler bounces his delivery before the batsman can play at the ball. If he swings and misses with the ball hitting any of the three stumps – the wooden poles called ‘wickets’ – he’s out and another member comes on to take his place.

It’s all a matter of skill – a team’s most formidable batsmen would obviously come out in the top five positions with the last players more suited to bowling or fielding. When the batsman hits the ball, he and his partner sprint to either side of the pitch to score runs before the fielders retrieve the ball.

Much like a hit in baseball with the race to first base. There’s a little bit of a plus, though: the batter can choose whether to make the run or not depending on if he thinks he’ll be run out. If the ball is hit or left alone without a run, it’s a called a dot ball – a precious sight for any bowler.

In addition to the two batsmen going for a run or two before the fielder gets to the ball, if their hit reaches the boundary, they score 4 runs. If the hit is over the boundary fence without a bounce, the batsman is awarded 6 runs. In the Twenty20 format, for example, the aim of the game is to hit as many boundaries as one can while the batsman can be a little more reserved in a Test match.


The whole progress of the game is the ticking down of balls bowled. Apart from the bowler in, the fielding side rearrange themselves on the field to stop runs and boundaries. As the bowler takes a run-up to bowl on the pitch, the wicket keeper (who wears webbed gloves) is behind the batsman at the other end to catch the ball that is left or hit behind the striker. The keeper also wears protective shin pads. He’s the only lucky bugger who gets to wear protective gear on the field.

The bowler running in passes one side of the non-striker’s stumps to deliver the ball. If the ball is left through to the keeper, the ball is ‘dead’ and the next delivery of the over is bowled. When one bowler completes his over (6 balls), a different member of the fielding side is given a chance to bowl at the opposite end.

The opening bowler can always clock a few overs as long as it’s not consecutive. Bowlers can alternate from fast (87 mph), medium (68 – 74 mph) and slow/spin (43-56 mph) and the pros can definitely manipulate the ‘turn’, ‘spin’ and ‘bounce’ of a delivery to trick the striker. It’s the grip and the shine of the leathered cricket ball that gives bowlers an arsenal of magic.

Ways to get the batsman out:

“And he’s bowled!”
The ball hits the wicket and at least one bail needs to be dislodged. The bails are the small wooden pieces that sit on the stumps).

“How did he catch that?”
One of the fielders catches the hit ball before it bounces. Often the keeper gets an opportunity to catch a ‘knick’ or edge off the swinging bat.

“He hasn’t made it. He’s been run out!
When the two batsmen are going for a run and they do not make it back to the crease (safety zone on either side of the pitch) before the fielder throws the ball at the stumps, they’re run out. TV replays in the modern game often give umpires ‘another look’ to see if the batsman reached the crease in time.

“Keeper has stumped him!”
If the batsman misses a hit and steps outside the crease, the keeper can will catch the ball and break the wicket before the batsman props his legs back into the crease.

“Its hit him leg before.”
Leg before wicket is a little more complicated. If the delivery hits the batsman’s leg and the umpire thinks it may have hit the stumps if the leg was not in the way, it is called out. There are more particulars to this: the ball has to be pitched in line with the wicket and must not hit the leg higher than the wicket would be.

Cricket Vocabulary

All-rounder: a player who is a talented bowler and batsman in the team

Belter: a cricket pitch that gives an advantage to the batting side (a fast, hard, grass-less pitch)

Half century: when a batsman scores 50 runs – a great landmark.

Maiden: when a bowler bowls an over without a single run taken from the batting side.

Slog: a powerful shot, devoid of technique, that is hit in the air to score a boundary (often seen in 50-over and Twenty20 formats)

There’s a lot more to the game but these are the basics to get you understanding about the second most popular sport in the world. I remember leading out a side with a piece of paper scribbled with field positions and being confused. Silly mid wicket, deep point, gully.

There are also no-balls, dead balls, wide balls and the off-beat batting strokes: the cut, sweep, reverse sweep and cover drive. After you’ve read this, my advice would be to watch a game so you can learn more. From there, cricket’s personalities, rules, spectators and flashy drives will make you a certain fan.


Lauren van der Vyver is a blogger and photographer based in South Africa. You can find more of her work at


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