Known as the gentleman’s game, the game of cricket has been around for over five centuries. It has braved many plagues, two world wars and many international crises. It is still not a part of the Olympics but is widely popular in South-Asian countries, England, Australia and the West Indies. Over a third of the world’s population is familiar with the game. Like football and rugby, it is a team game and success depends on teamwork. Linguists opine that the word ‘cricket’ may have been derived from Middle Dutch or Old English.
How it started?
Cricket had humble beginnings as a casual game in the woods of South-England in the 16th century. It gradually gained popularity but underwent several changes before becoming the national game of England in the 18th century.
It was widely considered a boy’s game until the 20th century. Though women played the game in casual tournaments, women’s cricket gained international attention in the last decade of the previous century.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) is the governing body of cricket around the world and has over 100 member nations including 12 full members and 92 associate ones. It organizes the major cricketing events including the World Cup (separately organized for men and women), Champions Trophy, and T20 World Cup. The umpires and match referees are appointed by the ICC in events organized by them.
The ICC lays down rules and regulations of the game and also enforces a code of conduct. A major source of income for the ICC is from the selling of sponsorship and telecast rights of its tournaments. The cricketing events in the member nations are organized and governed by their independent bodies.
Full members of ICC
England, Australia, West Indies, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan are the full members of the council. The last three joined ICC in the near past only. The full members play official test matches and have full voting rights in the internal elections of ICC.
About the game
The game is played with a hard ball (covered with leather) with 11 players on each side. The batting team sends two batsmen at a time to the crease while the fielding side deploys all its 11 players on the field.
Using a bat made of wood, the batsman can play the ball bowled to them. The batsman can change their bat whenever they want on condition that this does not stop the progress of the game. The bowler bowls the leather ball with the aim to either get the batsman out or prevent them from scoring runs. If the ball gets damaged or worn out, the umpires may opt to replace it. The dimensions of the bat and ball are defined by the ICC.
How is it played?
The game begins with a toss between the two teams. It is generally coordinated between the captains of the two teams by the match referee. Team winning the toss gets to choose between batting and bowling first. The choice mostly depends on the pitch conditions, weather and team strategy.
Each over consists of six legal deliveries. If the umpires rule a ball a no-ball or wide, the bowler has to bowl it again. One run extra is awarded to the batting side in either of the events.
The batsman faces the bowler on a central rectangular strip of length 22 yards (20.2 meter) measured from one end of wickets to the other. The breadth of the pitch is 3.33 yards (3.05 meter). Each end (length-wise) of the pitch has 3 wooden sticks called stumps rooted in the ground with bails placed on top of them. The type of pitches and playing conditions varies from country to country. For example, Australian pitches offer more pace and bounce while Indian pitches offer more turn.
Rain plays a spoilsport and may even lead to the abandoning of a match. The players are sent off the ground during rain and the pitch is covered to keep it dry. The game is resumed only after the umpires find the playing conditions safe for the players. Strong winds have also led to short stoppages in the game in the past.
The ideal shape of a cricket ground is close to being a circle. However, the shape of the boundaries is mostly found to be oval. The ICC has laid down the minimum requirements in terms of the dimensions of the ground. It is generally just over 137 meter (diameter) from boundary to boundary.
11 players are allowed to bat from each side while minimum 5 bowlers (10 overs each) have to bowl from each side. There is also a 12th man who is allowed to field if any of the playing 11 is unfit for any reason. However, this comes with strings attached as the resting player is not allowed to bowl immediately after they resume. Under no condition is the twelfth man allowed to bat or bowl.
About the wicketkeeper
Among the playing 11, there is a wicketkeeper who is the only player allowed to wear gloves while fielding. The gloves are meant for protection of the palm and fingers as the wicketkeeper directly and continuously collects or catches the balls delivered by the bowlers at high speeds.
The umpires are almost like Gods in cricket. They have the final say in nearly every decision made during the game. They can uphold or turn down players’ appeals at their discretion.
There are two on-field umpires. One is the head umpire who stands close to the bowling crease while the other is the leg umpire who stands behind the strike batsman. They interchange their positions after each over. The head umpire observes overstepping, leg before wicket, wides, and other activities.
The third umpire is equipped with technology to closely monitor the events. They come into play when the on-field umpires refer a decision to them or the players request a review of a decision. The third umpire looks at the replays captured by cameras positioned at strategic locations. This allows them to make accurate decisions.
Every test match or one-dayer organized by the ICC has a match referee overseeing it. They stay off the field and are responsible for upholding the code of conduct laid out by the ICC. They can hand out penalties to players if need be.
After analysis of the game, the top performer is given the Man of the Match award. In tournaments, other awards like Man of the Series, the Best Fielder and the Best Bowler are also given.
Formats of the game
There are basically three formats of the game currently in use. However, one of them, the Twenty-20 format, has been introduced recently only.
It is the long format of the game which is currently played over five days between two teams. Each team gets to bat and bowl twice. The match may conclude early depending on the performance of the teams. Each day, 90 overs (each over consisting of six legal deliveries) are to be bowled. However, the number of overs bowled may be reduced depending on the weather and other conditions.
They got this name because they conclude on the same day they start. These are also called limited overs games as each side is allowed to face 50 overs. This format was introduced in 1971 during a Test Match between Australia and England. To make the game even for both the teams, fielding restrictions are imposed on the fielding team. During the restrictions, only a certain number of players can stay outside the inner circle. For example, in the first 10 overs, only 2 players are allowed outside the inner circle.
Introduced in the international arena in the year 2005, a Twenty-20 game generally lasts just over 3 hours. Each team faces 20 overs. It has become one of the most popular formats of cricket.
The World Cup is held every four years and is one of the most awaited tournaments in the cricket arena. It is played in the one-day format in which each side gets to bat for 50 overs.
Though cricket is a gentleman’s game, there have been some grave and disgraceful incidents in the past. Some of the worst controversies involved allegations of match-fixing, spot-fixing, ball tampering, poor umpiring decisions, and racism.