The laws of cricket

The rules of cricket in a nutshell

Cricket should be a straighforward game with the simple aim of scoring more runs than you opponents, but over the years a system of laws has developed to make it seem more baffling to the newcomer than it really is. If you're trying to get to grips with the rules of cricket, then our guide to laws of the game should have you as well versed as an umpire – well almost!

  • 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.
  • Each team consists of 11 players, including a wicket keeper, several specialist batsmen and bowlers and some who do a bit of both (an all-rounder). Cricketing legends Ian Botham, Jacques Kallis, Gary Sobers and Kapil Dev were considered genuine all-rounders, being able to both bat and bowl to a good 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.
  • The length of games depends on the type of cricket being played. 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 bowl an over at a time which amounts to six balls.
  • The object for the batting side is to score as many runs as possible before the bowling side have got them all out, while the bowling side tries to minimise the amount of runs that are scored. The side that were batting then bowl and the bowling side then take their turn to bat.This reversal happens only once in the one day ‘limited overs’ games, but may occur twice in international test match cricket.

How are runs scored?

Runs can be scored in a number of ways:

  • By a batting pair running between the stumps after the ball has been bowled and crossing over before the bowling side has been able to take the bails 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, equals four runs.
  • If the ball does not touch the ground on its way out of the playing area, equals six runs.
  • Additional runs can be given if the bowler does not deliver the ball correctly, such as overstepping the mark, which results in a ‘no ball’ and one run is added to the score, or by bowling a ball too wide for the batsman to reasonably hit it which would result in another run added to the score. 

How can a batsman be given out or dismissed?

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 got 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 batter may be out, such as treading on their own stumps or handling the ball, but these rarely occur and are not worth concerning yourself about at this stage.

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