Beginner's Guide to Watching Cricket

New to cricket but have no idea what's going on? You're in the right place.

Men Watching Cricket Game
Watching cricket. Axiom Photographic / Getty Images

Cricket isn't the easiest game to pick up. The equipment looks different, the ground layout is virtually unique and the game has its own vocabulary. Unlike football (soccer), which has one clear objective for both teams and can be understood in minutes, cricket can seem utterly bewildering at first.

So how does a newcomer watch, understand and (hopefully) enjoy a game of cricket? Let's start with a basic overview of the game.

The Basics:

Cricket is played between two teams of 11 players. The team that scores the most runs in its innings wins the match.

Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport -- like baseball, except with a long, rectangular, wooden bat instead of a cylindrical one, and a ball made of leather, cork and string.

The game is played on a large oval or circle, with a smaller inner oval as a field placement guide and a 22-yard pitch in the center. At each end of the pitch is a set of wickets: three long, wooden stumps with two wooden bails resting on top.

Cricket is broken up into separate events called balls, or one delivery of the cricket ball by a bowler to the batsman. Six balls constitute one over, and each team's innings is either limited to a specific number of six-ball overs -- usually 20 or 50 -- or time-limited to a certain number of days, as in Test and first-class cricket.

Two batsmen must be on the field for the innings to continue, while all 11 players of the bowling team field at various parts of the ground (unless they are the bowler or wicketkeeper).

Two on-field umpires make all decisions on the field regarding the rules of the game. There can also be a third umpire and a match referee, depending on the match level.

Scoring & Winning:

A run is scored each time the two batsmen on the field run between the white creases at either end of the pitch. These can be scored whenever the ball is 'in play', i.e. the time between when the ball leaves the bowler's hand and when it's returned to the wicketkeeper or bowler.

The further the ball is hit away from any fielders, the more runs can be scored. The best shots reach the field boundary and are awarded four runs (if the ball bounces first) or six (if it doesn't).

The object of cricket is to score more runs than the opposing team -- also like baseball, but with longer innings and much higher scores. There are no bonus points during the match; just runs and wickets (a "wicket" is also the name given to getting a batsman out).

Matches result in a tie if both teams finish on the same number of runs after completing all of their innings. A tie is different from a draw, which is declared if all the expected innings in a match are not completed. This often happens when times runs out in first-class and Test matches.

Run of Play:

When each ball is bowled, the batsman on strike tries to:

  1. hit the ball so that he/she can score runs;
  2. avoid getting out.

If the bowler manages to hit the wickets with the ball, the batsman is out. This is called being 'bowled'. The most common ways a batsman can be dismissed are bowled, leg before wicket (LBW), caught, run out and stumped.

The batting team tries to score as many runs as it can in its innings, while the bowling team tries to restrict them to as few runs as possible or get all of their players out.

Things to Watch For:

Types of bowling:

  • Fast bowlers bowl off a long run-up and try to generate as much ball speed as possible out of the hand.
  • Spin bowlers bowl slowly but try to make the ball spin sideways off the surface of the pitch.

Common umpire signals:

  • Four runs: arm moves back and forth in front of the umpire
  • Six runs: both arms raised aloft
  • Out: index finger on one hand raised
  • Wide ball: both arms extended horizontally
  • No ball: one arm extended horizontally (usually when the bowler has stepped completely over the crease in the delivery stride)

Numbers and statistics:

  • Scoring rates. Scoring too slowly can lead a team to fall short of a competitive total while scoring quickly requires taking more risks. On average, five to six runs an over is a good run rate in a one-day match.
  • Batting and bowling milestones. Batsmen are applauded if they reach 50 or 100 runs in a single inning while taking five wickets in an innings is an exceptional effort for a bowler.
  • Fielding restrictions. The fielding team sometimes has restrictions on the number of players it can place outside the inner circle -- usually for about 40% of a limited-overs inning. This is to encourage batsmen to take risks and hit the ball in the air, making the game more exciting.