Cricket is an amazing game.
A lot of people find it baffling though, and this isn't helped by people explaining it in the confusing cricket terminology. Yorkers, stumps, out swing, crease, overs, maidens, innings, etc.
I think most of the difficulty understanding it is that it's played in an unequal way. It's not an equal game like tennis, football, rugby, or most other games where each team plays in a symmetric way, doing the same thing as the other team.
When cricket is being played, there are two players from one team against 11 from the other.
The other difficulty is that it can be a long game (up to 5 days), and it can end in a draw. How can that be?
Often, people explain the game in confusing terms, so here is my attempt at explaining with minimal cricket-specific terms. I will use incorrect terms and analogies that may sound rather over-simplified to people who know cricket.
I describe the most confusing traditional "test match" format of the game here - there are other formats which are played in half a day, and always end up with a winner.
Each team has 11 players. Decided by a coin-toss, one team will be the attackers, and two players from the other team will be the defenders. The rest of the defending team aren't on the field - they sit and watch from the sidelines, waiting until it's their turn.
So when a game is in play, there will be 15 people on the field at any one time: 11 attackers, 2 defenders, and 2 umpires.
But who is who? Everyone looks the same!
In test cricket, both teams wear similar clothes. However, it's easy to tell who's who.
There will be two players with bats in their hands, wearing a lot of padding*, helmets, gloves, and a groin protector standing in front of the sticks. Those are the defenders.
There will be two umpires who will be dressed slightly differently, and then the other 11 are the opposing team.
* The ball is very very hard (harder, heavier and smaller than a baseball), and can travel at over 160kph (100mph). If it hits a player which is entirely possible given the spin and swerve that the attackers put on it, it can break bones. You can search on Youtube for cricket bouncers if you want to see some. The idea of standing in front of a fast bowler is very scary.
How the game is played
The two defenders stand in front of the wooden sticks, and it's their job to stop the attackers getting them "out".
The attackers "bowl" the balls at the defenders, possibly making the ball swerve in the air, and usually making it bounce first, which when coupled with the speed of the ball and spin can make it very difficult.
The attackers can get a defender out in a number of ways.
- The first is to knock over the sticks the defender is in front of. The most simple, irrefutable and easy to understand method. (In fact, it's if either of the two small horizontal bits of wood resting on top of the three vertical sticks are dislodged)
- The second is to catch the ball after it's been hit. Again, the only question is did it touch the bat, and then not touch the ground before being caught.
- The third is if the defender gets his legs in the way of the ball. Now this is a very complicated method, with lots of exceptions and rules.
- The fourth is if when the defenders are running between the sticks and are outside their safe area, the attackers can throw the ball and knock over the sticks. If both defenders are running, and the sticks at one end are hit, then the first guy who can get to the safe area at the other end is safe.
The attacking team measure their score in terms of the number of attackers they have out (from 0 to 10)
Why would the defenders be running between their safe zones then?
The defenders score by running between the sticks. This scores them one "run". If they hit the ball, and it goes over the boundary of the ground, they score 4 runs, and if they hit it over without it touching the ground first, they score 6 runs.
So a score could be something like 0-0 (0 runs scored, and 0 defenders "out", or 7-7 (a terrible score for the defenders - 7 defenders out for only 7 runs scored), or 290-2 (a very good score for the defenders).
Teams put their best defenders in first, so the runs should go up quickly up to maybe the 5th or 6th defender, at which point the rest often don't manage to score too many more.
When one of the defenders is "out", another one comes in, until all 11 players have had a go.
When that happens, the teams swap roles, and the same thing happens.
When both sides have each had a go being defenders and attackers, they do it all again.
For a game to end, both teams will usually have had to have had two goes in each role. (However, if one team can score enough runs in one go that the other team doesn't beat their score in two, then the final go isn't required).
As it can take a long time, and the weather can prevent play, it's not unusual for there not to be enough time in five days to get through it all.
Often it's glaringly obvious which team would have won, but because you can't strictly know which team would have won, it has to be declared a draw.
I can't watch five days of anything!
You're not meant to sit glued to your television for 5 days, watching every minute of action. You can, of course, but that requires dedication.
It's more the sort of thing you have on in the background, you keep half an eye on, watching the interesting spells of play.
Indeed, in fact you can go to work with the team you're supporting batting, and in trouble on 23-5 (having only managed 23 runs for the loss of 5 defenders). You then get home from work, and find out that they've played valiantly all day, and are now on 310-5. Unless they're England, in which case they most likely have collapsed to 45-all out.
I'm sold - who should I support?
As with any sport, it's much more fun if you want one team to win. If you watch a sport, and don't care who wins, then you don't get involved with the highs and lows of the game.
If I don't have an interest in either team, I always support the underdog. If you don't have a team to support, may I suggest England? You'll often be disappointed, but we sometimes do well!
The weather makes a large difference - a cool, damp moist day will provide a lot of swerve of the ball, and the pitch makes a difference too to the bounce, spin, etc. A match can be completely different from one day to the next. A team that's smashing balls out of the ground one day, can collapse the following day. The captain of the attacking team will have a choice of different "bowlers" to use - and he will pick the right one (fast, slow, spin) based on which he thinks will be best.
There's a lot of psychology in cricket. You would expect the attackers to have the upper hand, but if the weather and the pitch mean they can't get swerve and spin on the ball, their heads will drop, as they're the ones expending all the energy, bowling, and chasing the ball around.
Technology too. There is Hawkeye (radar based ball trajectory system), the Snickometer (sound-based ball hit detection), and infra-red cameras (infrared-based ball detection system), and coupled with an experienced TV team, they can really make the TV viewing experience interesting.
And if your thang is stats, then boy - are there all the stats you can eat.
I thought this would be a lot shorter than it is. There are an awful lot of exceptions to what I've explained above, but they shouldn't detract from enjoying it - I've covered the things that I think complicate it.
Let me know if this has helped, or if there's anything that needs clarification.