Cricket is a sport that generates a broad range of reaction from sports fans. Among those who are a part of more action-packed athletic traditions, cricket is variously seen as a boring, tedious game. To its hundreds of millions of fans united in an intense global following, cricket is a truly international sport, one of immeasurable subtlety, sportsmanship, and athletic skill. The international contests generate a passion that is only approached by soccer's World Cup. To play cricket as a representative of one's country is to achieve celebrity status in countries such as India, Pakistan, the various West Indies, and South Africa.
Cricket was a product of the English countryside, an ancient game that was played in a formalized fashion at least as early as the 1500s. The rules of the game were first codified in 1744; the format of cricket has been only modified, as opposed to being subjected to wholesale reconstruction, since that time. As with American baseball, the fundamental distinction between cricket and virtually all other sports is the fact that traditionally there was no time limit imposed on play; the length of the game was determined by how long it took one team to retire the other side in their turn at bat, known as their "innings." The game was an exclusively English pursuit until it was locally adopted into the various English colonies around the world in the nineteenth century. Ironically, the first international cricket match was played between two countries with a more limited current cricket tradition, when Canada played the United States in 1844.
Cricket is a predominately, but not exclusively, male sport. Women's cricket enjoys a following in various countries where cricket is widely played, but the women's game has not enjoyed the attention nor the professional organization of men's cricket.
The rules of cricket are not complicated, but there are subtleties to the game that are best appreciated through actual participation, as opposed to observation. The rules of the game include:
The batsman has a number of different strategies available to him. In some circumstances, the batsman may chose to take a defensive posture toward a ball bowled, where the batsman protects the wicket from being struck by the ball by using the bat as a blocker. In other instances, the batsman may direct the ball in any direction; he is not obligated to run.
When the ball is batted, and the two batsmen on the field successfully exchange positions, crease to crease, one run will be scored. If the ball is hit far enough to permit the batsmen to run between the creases twice, two runs will score. When the batsman strikes the ball and hits along the ground over the boundary of the oval, four runs score and the batsmen are not required to run between the creases. When the ball is hit in the air and it crosses the boundary to the oval in the air, six runs score.
Consistent with the nature of a game that developed with no time limits, a batsman may remain at bat indefinitely, subject to any tactical decisions made about the conduct of the team's innings, or the special rules associated with different formats such as one-day cricket.
As with baseball, which owes some of its structure to cricket, the batsmen on a cricket side have different specialties and defined roles within the match. Some batsmen are required to occupy the bowler, especially if partnered with an adept batsman. These players typically take a defensive stance, protecting the wicket and running when their batting partner is facing the bowler and makes contact with the ball. Early in an inning, often the role of the batsman, known as the opener, will be to wear down the opposition by being on the receiving end of the fastest opposition. In games where a new cricket ball is being used in play, the new ball will often be faster. The batsmen in the middle of the team's order will be the best, most free-swinging batsmen of the side. The last batsmen tend to be the weaker members of the side, often the team bowlers. A player who is both an adept batsman and a bowler is referred to as an "all rounder."
One of the many intricacies of cricket is found in the fact that there are 10 different ways in which a batsman may be called out on a bowled ball. The most common ways to get a batsman out are to be bowled out by the bowler (the ball strikes the wickets and dislodges the bails), caught out when the batted ball is caught by a fielder without the ball first hitting the ground, run out, if the batsman hits the ball but fails to reach the opposite crease, or "leg before wicket" (LBW), when the batsman swings and misses at a bowled ball, and part of leg or pad block the ball from striking the wicket.
Games can have a variety of lengths and structures. The traditional cricket game consisted of one inning per side, and such a match could take hours or more than one day to complete. The English game was famous for the break for the teams to take tea and other refreshment. In international test competitions, the countries involved will set rules for how long the matches will take; test matches usually run for a number of days. In recent years, the one-day cricket concept has evolved to a relatively fixed series of rules, where each team gets a specified number of overs, the typical number being 50 overs. While there is no time limit as to how long each over may take, the overs limit greatly shortens the traditional cricket match. Kerry Packer of Australia (1937–2005), a cricket fan and television impresario, spearheaded the formation of the World Series of Cricket and the one-day, television-friendly cricket match in the 1970s.
While cricket has enjoyed a growth in professional competition in a number of countries throughout the world, including Australia and England, cricket supremacy is measured on a world scale through the test matches. Countries are certified as being worthy of participating in test matches by the International Cricket Council, the supreme governing body of world cricket. Ascendancy to test status is the supreme indication of the cricketing status of a nation. The current test membership includes Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, and Zimbabwe.
The longest held and best-known international competition is that of the the Ashes, which originated in the defeat of the English team by Australia in 1882, an event referred to as "the death of English cricket." When England traveled to Australia to resume the rivalry in 1883, the English captain was presented with an urn, purporting to carry the ashes of dead English cricket. The urn and the Ashes have been the prize contested between those countries since that date.