Basics of the Cricket Pitch

cricket pitch markings including popping crease, bowling crease, and return creases
One end of a cricket pitch, with creases marked. mikecogh (Flickr)

The cricket pitch, also known popularly as the 'wicket' or the 'track', is where most of the action happens in a game of cricket. The bowler releases the ball from one end, the batsman hits at the other; and every time, the eyes of everyone present -- players, umpires, and spectators alike -- are focused on that 22-yard pitch.

The ground type and pitch length can vary in informal games, such as street cricket or tennis ball cricket. For a proper cricket match, though, here's what a cricket pitch has to look like.

Dimensions and Markings

The cricket pitch is essentially a long, narrow rectangle. It's 22 yards (2012 cm) long from one set of stumps to the other and 10 feet (3.05 m) wide. On and around those 22 yards are a number of markings, mapped out with white painted lines.

The bowling crease is a straight line across the width of the pitch that passes through the three stumps, and there's one at each end of the pitch.

Likewise, the popping crease at either end is 4 feet (1.22 m) in front of the bowling crease, to which it runs parallel. The bowler's foot has to be grounded behind the popping crease when he bowls, and the batsman must have some part of his bat or body grounded behind the popping crease to be safe from being run out or stumped.

Finally, there are two return creases at each end, each 4 ft 4 in (1.32 m) from the center of the pitch. They run at right angles to the bowling and popping creases, and like the popping crease, the bowler must have some part of his back foot grounded within them to bowl a legal delivery.

If you're finding all this technical information confusing, it might easier if you look at this detailed diagram of a cricket pitch, including markings, here.

Pitch Types

A cricket pitch can be made of natural or artificial components, as long as it is flat. Top-level cricket is usually played on a rolled clay or grass surface, while other levels of cricket often use an artificial pitch.

Artificial pitches tend to maintain the same level of bounce and movement for an entire match. On natural surfaces, however, the pitch will deteriorate over the course of a match, particularly in a Test match lasting five days. Generally, this means that the pitch will offer more assistance to bowlers after about the second or third day as it dries out. Cracks and footmarks will develop, meaning the ball will spin more off the pitch or move sideways off the seam.

The ground staff is responsible for the condition of the pitch before the start of a match. After the toss is made, the umpires take charge of its fitness for play. This includes preventing bowlers and batsmen from running on the middle of the pitch and directing ground staff to cover the pitch during wet weather.

If the umpires deem a pitch to be unsafe for play, an adjacent pitch (most top-level grounds have a number of pitches across a central 'block') can be used with the consent of both captains. Usually, however, the match will be abandoned instead.