I’ve had something of a pattern over the last few years of latching onto a new sport roughly annually. I picked up on NBA basketball in 2016, tennis in 2018, golf in 2019, MMA in 2020, and college baseball in 2021. Last winter, around early December, I found myself craving a bat-and-ball sport. Between my work and college class schedule, I was on a very odd sleep schedule that had me up late at night. It was this confluence of events that led me to the Big Bash, a cricket tournament in Australia that is held during their summer (winter for us Americans).
I spent five years living overseas in countries where cricket is big, but I still knew little about the sport. Having done no research, I tuned in for a match between the Perth Scorchers and Hobart Hurricanes and arbitrarily decided I would be a Scorchers fan. I was immediately enthralled. Perth cruised to a victory behind a ferocious display of power hitting from Mitch Marsh and would eventually go on to win the title.
Perhaps you are looking for a bat-and-ball sport to watch for the next couple months until spring training starts. However, just reading the rules or flipping on a match might leave you dazed and confused. “What the hell is an over? What about a dot? Why are there different formats?” you may find yourself asking. I intend today to cut through the confusing terminology and explain cricket in a way that makes sense to baseball fans.
There are several variations of cricket, but today I will focus on T20. This is the most easily digestible format as matches take around the same amount of time as a typical MLB game, compared to the much longer formats such as One Day Internationals or Test. In T20 cricket, each team can bat for up to 20 overs. Think of overs like an inning, except instead of an inning being three outs, it’s six balls (also referred to as deliveries), which you can think of as pitches. The 20 overs in which a team bats is referred to as their innings, which is used as a singular term.
Regardless of the format, teams are composed of 11 players. As in baseball, they bat in a pre-specified lineup. Bowlers, the equivalent of pitchers, can bowl in any order throughout the match and can rotate between bowling and playing the field throughout.
Teams take their innings one at a time. One team will bat and try to score as many runs as possible before being all out (more on this later) or reaching 20 overs. The opposing team then must exceed the first team’s run total to win.
The field of play in cricket is simply called the field. The field is a grass oval that is variable in exact dimensions. At the edge of play is a rope called the boundary. The rectangle at the center is the pitch. Much like the pitcher’s mound, home plate, and the space in between, this is where most of the action takes place. Those white lines towards the ends are the crease, which you can think of as the batter’s box. The small sticks just outside the crease are the wickets. Teams may employ different strategies depending on how hard and/or wet the surface is, but this generally only comes into play in longer formats.
So we’ve got our teams and we’ve got our field, let’s play some cricket. The batting team has a batter (or batsman) at each end of the pitch. The two batters are together referred to as a partnership. The fielding team has a bowler at one end and their other ten fielders around the field. I won’t get into the specifics of the fielding positions beyond saying one fielder will be positioned behind the wicket throughout the match. This is the wicket-keeper, similar to a catcher. The game starts with the bowler throwing the ball (an act referred to as bowling), generally off a bounce, to the first batter. In this situation, the bowler and batter are on the attack and on strike, respectively.
The ball is in the air headed towards the batter, what do they do now? Walks and strikeouts don’t exist, so crush the hell out of it! Well, ideally anyway, but it’s not so easy. There is no strike zone, so batters must be able to hit a ball literally anywhere from head to toe, although there are some limits. There are multiple ways to score runs in cricket:
- The batter can hit the ball, at which point both batters run to the other side. Each time the runners reach the other side is worth one run. A hit in cricket is generally called a shot. Note that batters do not necessarily run on every shot as that puts them at risk of being run out (more on this later). There is no equivalent to foul territory, the batter can hit the ball in any direction.
- Hit boundaries. If the ball reaches the boundary on a bounce (like a ground-rule double), it’s four runs. If it clears the boundary on the fly (like a home run), that’s six runs.
- If the bowled ball gets past the wicket keeper, the batters can run or even get four if it reaches the boundary, much like how baserunners might score on a wild pitch.
- Extras, or penalty runs, may be given due to a wide delivery (more on this later).
The goal for the batters is simple: score runs and don’t get dismissed, or out. A big difference between cricket and baseball is that in cricket, you keep batting until you get out. In longer formats, this leads batters to play very defensively. In T20, however, the limited-overs format necessitates aggression. A dismissal may also be referred to as a wicket. Generally, teams in T20 reach that 20 over mark before reaching all out, which would be ten wickets.
Bowling and fielding
Let’s take a look at the other side now. The wicket functions somewhat as a target for the bowler, though they can bowl the ball anywhere within the batter’s reach that isn’t over their head. If it isn’t within reach, it is wide and the batting team gets a run. Much like the strike zone in baseball, this is somewhat of a judgment call on the part of the umpire. If the batters do not score on a given ball, it is called a dot. The batter remains on strike, but a dot is a win for the fielding team. Now let’s get that batter out. There are a few ways to accomplish this:
- If the batter hits the ball in the air and a fielder catches it on the fly, they are caught out. This is just like a flyout or lineout in baseball, but it also counts if the batter tips the ball back to the wicket-keeper. Similar to a foul-tip in baseball, this is often called an edge.
- If the ball hits the wicket behind the batter, often as a result of a swing-and-miss, the batter is bowled out. This is the closest thing to a strikeout that exists in cricket.
- If the ball hits the batter when it would have otherwise hit the wicket, they are out on a leg before wicket. These calls are often challenged and there are advanced tracking systems used to determine the ball’s path had the batter not been there.
- If the ball hits the wicket when the batter is not behind the crease, they are run out. This is why batters only run on a shot they are confident they can cross on. Comparable to a force out or tag out.
- You may also see a batter stumped, which in principle is the same as being run out. You’ll see what I mean if you watch it.
There is plenty of other minutiae involved, but that is fundamentally the game of cricket. Now with all that in mind, let’s take a look at some broadcast graphics. The bug and scorecards might not make intuitive sense, so let’s break it down. The following screenshot is from a recent match between the Adelaide Strikers and Melbourne Stars:
Obviously not every score bug is the exact same - some might list a team’s runs before their wickets, for example - but they generally show the same information. The Stars went on to win this match as the Strikers were unable to reach 187 runs. Here is what a typical post-match summary would look like:
Stoinis did the heavy lifting for the Stars with an outstanding night, while the Strikers fell short despite valiant efforts by Hose and Hunt.
With all that out of the way, I hope cricket makes more sense to you now than it did 15 minutes ago. This is meant only to be a primer, enough that a baseball fan could tune in to a cricket match and generally understand what’s happening, nevermind the many cricket terms I did not mention today as well as some of the more minor rules. Much like baseball, once you get past the surface-level stuff, cricket becomes something of a thinking person’s game. Strategy plays heavily into bowling styles, batting shot selection, and fielder positioning. This runs parallel to baseball’s pitch sequencing, approach at the plate, and... well, fielder positioning.
If you are interested in following along with cricket, the best place to watch if you’re in the United States is willow.tv. Willow provides live feeds for just about every cricket match imaginable, as well as highlight videos and full match replays. It is available via subscription and is also included in some cable TV packages. Alternatively, many cricket matches are streamed on ESPN+ (though the BBL is not). So if you’re looking to watch people throw balls hard and hit them far this winter, try tuning in to a cricket match and see if it pulls you in like it did to me. Go Scorchers!