Beginner's Guide To Cricket Rules

Whether you’re eager to experience a live match or want to get out on the wicket yourself, learn what’s what with our beginner's guide to cricket.

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Cricket, with its bizarre terminology and games that can last five days and still end in a draw, can be confusing to a beginner. But take a look at our beginner’s guide to cricket to help you get to grips with the sport.

Whimsically named field positions aside, the game of cricket is simple – the idea being to score more runs (points) than the opposition. Whatever the form of cricket, whether it is a Test Match (played over five days) or one day (limited overs) event, each side will have 11 players taking it in turns to bat and bowl in an effort accrue more runs than their opponent.

How are runs scored?

Runs can be scored in a number of ways:

By the batting pair running between the stumps after the ball has been bowled - crossing over before the bowling side has been able to take the bails (cross bars of the stumps) off with the ball.

If the ball travels outside the playing area (marked out with a boundary rope) but has touched the ground prior to leaving, the batting side earns four runs.

If the ball does not touch the ground on its way out of the playing area, they earn six runs.

Additional runs can be given if the bowler does not deliver the ball correctly, such as overstepping his mark (the line which marks the front of the batsman’s crease as we’ll explain later) which results in a ‘no ball’ or by bowling a ball too wide for the batsman to reasonably hit it - both of which result in one run being added to the score.

Length of games

Games are measured in ‘overs’. An over consists of six consecutive balls bowled by the same bowler from which the batsman will attempt to score runs.

The majority of games played at amateur level will be limited over games, generally ranging in the number of overs from anything between 15-50 overs per side – it all depends on the level you are playing at. There are a few different variations of professional cricket for your viewing pleasure these include:

Test Match – usually played over five days with two innings per side.

Limited overs (one day) cricket – usually 50 overs per side (300 balls per side) for one innings each.

Twenty20 cricket – amounting to a 20 overs (120 balls) slog per side.

The rules of cricket in a nutshell

Over the years a system of laws has developed to govern cricket some of which can make the game itself seem more baffling to the newcomer than it really is. There are some essential rules that once understood will allow almost anyone to play and enjoy cricket.

The laws of cricket are enforced by the umpires – two of whom will be out on the field of play. A third umpire (off the field) will make some of the difficult decisions, such as whether a catch has been taken correctly or if a ball has gone over the boundary, often using television replays in professional cricket.

Each team consists of 11 players, including a wicketkeeper, several specialist batsmen and bowlers and some who do a bit of both (all-rounders). Cricketing legends Ian Botham, Jacques Kallis, Gary Sobers and Kapil Dev were considered all-rounders, being able to both bat and bowl to a high standard.

In front of each set of stumps is drawn a chalk line or ‘crease’ to mark the area which essentially ‘belongs’ to the batsman. As long as he remains inside his crease (or at least keeps his bat planted within it) the batsman is safe from being ‘run out’.

A toss of a coin decides which side bats first with the other bowling to them. The batsmen play in pairs, each equipped with a bat, one at each end of the wicket. The bowlers then bowl an over at a time trying to dismiss the batsman, or get them ‘out’.

Dismissal of the batsmen can occur in a number of ways, the most common being:

Bowled – The batter can be bowled out if he or she fails to prevent the ball hitting his stumps.

Caught – If the batter hits the ball and it is caught by one of the fielding side before it bounces, then he or she is out.

Stumped – A batter can also be ‘stumped’ by the wicketkeeper (who stands immediately behind the stumps and the batter). If they step out of their crease leaving no part of their body or their bat behind, and the wicketkeeper is able to remove the bails with the ball.

LBW – A batter can also be out 'leg before wicket' or 'lbw' if the umpire rules that the ball has hit the batter’s protective leg pad when it would have hit the stumps had their leg not been in the way. (There are various circumstances in which a batter would not be given out.)

Run out – Either batter can be 'run-out' if the stumps towards which they are running are hit by the ball before they are inside their crease.

There are several other ways in which a batsman may be out, such as treading on their own stumps or handling the ball, but these rarely occur and are not worth worrying about as a beginner.

The objective for the batting side is to score as many runs as possible before they lose 10 of their 11 wickets, while the bowling side tries to minimise the amount of runs that are scored and get them out.

The sides then switch with the bowling side taking their turn to bat and vice-versa. This reversal happens only once in the one day ‘limited overs’ games, but may occur twice in international test match cricket.

Cricket is an extremely skillful sport which requires high levels of concentration, good hand-eye coordination, precision and fortitude as well as speed, strength and agility. It’s a very good workout and, what’s more, it’s also great fun so hopefully this guide will help you make the most of the sport.

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