How is cricket played? A simple illustrated guide

Al Jazeera breaks down cricket terms that will help you understand one of the most widely-played sports in the world.

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The 13th edition of the Men’s Cricket World Cup will take place in India from October 5 to November 19, 2023.

Ten teams will be competing for a chance to win the biggest prize in cricket - the ICC Cricket World Cup Trophy and $4m.

Which teams have qualified?

Interactive_Illustrated guide to cricket_TEAMS_REVISED

But cricket is a game which has a list of commonly used terms and phrases which might confuse those new to the game.

In this illustrated guide, Al Jazeera breaks down cricket lingo and helps you understand the game beloved by nearly two billion people.

The aim of the game

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Cricket is a bat-and-ball sport played between two teams consisting of 11 players each.

The game is divided into two parts known as an innings.

In the first innings, following a coin toss, the first team bats while the other team bowls and fields.

The batting team should try to score the most number of runs in the allotted time, while the bowling team has to try to prevent them from scoring through various means.

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The bowling team has dedicated bowlers, while the rest of the players spread across the ground try to prevent the batters from scoring runs as well as to catch the ball in order to get the batters out.

In the second innings, the bowling team now gets a turn to bat and try to score more runs than their opposition.

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The team with the highest number of runs at the end of the day wins the game.

Three formats in cricket

There are three different formats in cricket, each with its own duration and rules.

Each format has its own defined set of "overs".

An “over” consists of six deliveries by the bowler.

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A One Day International (ODI) match typically lasts around seven-to-eight hours. Each team is given a total of 300 deliveries, which are divided into 50 overs, to score the most number of runs.

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In a T20 match, which usually lasts three to four hours, each team is given 20 overs (120 balls) to score the most number of runs. This format of the game is designed to be shorter and more fast-paced which provides more excitement for spectators.

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A Test match is the longest and oldest format of the game, played over a maximum of five days. It is considered a test of endurance and skill. Each day has a minimum of 90 overs. Both teams have two innings each.

The cricket field and pitch

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Cricket is played in a large oval shaped field typically around 150 metres (492 feet) in diameter at its widest point and surrounded by a boundary rope.

In the centre of the field is the pitch, a rectangular area measuring about 20 metres long (22 yards) and 3 metres (10 feet) wide where most of the action takes place.

At each end of the pitch are three wooden sticks known as wickets or stumps, with two bails atop them.

The batter stands in front of these wickets inside a specified area known as the batting crease. It is from there where he or she will strike the incoming ball from the bowler.

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During the match, the batting team will actually have two players on the field, each on either end of the pitch to take turns in hitting the ball.

The bowling team meanwhile will have all 11 players scattered throughout the field to minimise the number of runs their opponents can score.

Some of the most common positions are shown below:

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How are runs scored?

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The aim for the batters is to score as many runs as possible by hitting the ball in the gaps between the fielders or over the boundary rope.

To score a run, the batter needs to hit the ball and then together with their batting partner run to the opposite side end of the pitch before the fielder returns the ball, otherwise, they can be run out.

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A single run is scored when both batters safely complete one run, a two-run when they complete two runs, and so on.

If a batter hits the ball along the ground and it reaches the boundary rope then four runs are awarded.

To signal that four runs have been scored, the umpire moves his right hand from one side to the other, repeatedly waving it back and forth horizontally.

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Umpire Paul Reiffel (R) signals four runs during a Test match between West Indies and India [Randy Brooks/AFP]

The maximum, six runs, is scored when the batter hits the ball directly over the boundary before it bounces. This shot is the most rewarding but also among the riskiest due to the chances of getting bowled or caught.

To signal a six, the umpire will raise both hands above his head which the fans will often imitate.

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Umpire Michael Gough (R) signals for six runs during a One Day International cricket match between Zimbabwe and Ireland [Jekesai Njikizana/AFP]

How does a player get ‘out’?

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There are several ways to get a batter out with each out referred to as “losing a wicket”.

Since cricket is played with pairs of batsmen, when 10 players from the batting team are dismissed, their innings concludes, and the sum of the runs they scored sets the target score for the bowling team.

The most common ways of getting a player out include:

Bowled: This happens if the batter misses the ball, and it goes on to hit the wicket.

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Caught: A batter is caught out when they hit the ball and a fielder catches it before it touches the ground.

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Run-Out: A run-out happens when the fielding team throws the ball at the wicket while the batter is trying to score a run and before they can reach the opposite side of the pitch.

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LBW (Leg Before Wicket): This decision depends on various factors but in a nutshell, a batter can be given out LBW if the ball hits their legs while they are standing in front of the wicket thus preventing the wicket from being hit.

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To signal an "out", the umpire who is standing in the middle of the field will raise his index finger to signify that a batter has been dismissed.

This gesture is often referred to as the umpire has "raised the finger" or "given the finger".

Cricket - Ashes - Fifth Test - England v Australia - The Oval, London, Britain - July 28, 2023 The on field umpire gives out for Australia's Pat Cummins before the decision is overturned following a review Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
The onfield umpire gives signals an out for Australia's Pat Cummins before the decision is overturned following a review [Andrew Boyers/Reuters]

How do you read the score?

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To follow the score in cricket you need to look at three numbers.

The first is the number of runs a team has scored - the higher the number the better.

The second indicates the number of “outs” or “wickets”. Once 10 players are out then their batting innings comes to an end, so it is important to not play aggressively too early on and try to minimise losing all your players.

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The third is the number of overs that have been bowled. In an ODI match the maximum is 50.

Combined, a score may look like this:

129-5 (25 overs)

This means that 129 runs have been scored, 5 players are out and 25 overs have been completed.

Typically speaking, batting teams make anywhere from 200 to 400 runs during an ODI match. A score of 200 is considered quite low to defend while 400 runs is usually very strong.

The highest score in ODI cricket was between England and the Netherlands in 2022.

England batted first and scored a massive 498-4 in their 50 overs. In response, the Netherlands only managed 266 runs before losing all 10 of their wickets.

England won by 232 runs.

The scoreboard shows Englands new World Record total for a 50 over International match of 498-4 during the 1st One Day
The scoreboard shows England's new World Record total for a 50 over International match of 498-4 against the Netherlands [Richard Heathcote/Getty Images]

Want to learn more?

India Australia Cricket

Here’s a glossary of other commonly used terms in cricket:

All-rounder: An all-rounder is a player who is good at more than just one skill for example batting and bowling or batting and wicket-keeping.

Batter (also, batsman or batswoman): A player who bats the ball. Some batters are good at anchoring the batting team and usually play with moderate pace while other batters are known for unleashing an attacking game by hitting boundaries.

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New Zealand's Glenn Phillips in action against England [Matthew Childs / Reuters]

Bowler: A bowler is a player who is primarily responsible for using their skill with the ball to get the opposing batters out. There are various types of bowlers, such as a fast bowler, a medium-fast bowler, or a spinner. All of them bring with them their own unique skill.

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India's Mohammed Siraj delivers a ball during the Asia Cup final cricket match between India and Sri Lanka [Pankaj Nangia/AP Photo]

Boundary: The boundary refers to the outer limit of the playing area, often marked by rope. Hitting a ball along the ground over the boundary results in four runs while a shot which crosses the boundary without touching the field scores six runs.

Bowled (or bowl-out): It is a mode of dismissal, where the bowler hits the wickets with the ball.

India's Jasprit Bumrah is bowled out
India's Jasprit Bumrah is bowled out during the Asia Cup cricket match between Sri Lanka and India [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

Bouncer: A bouncer is a ball which is bowled at a fast pace and is pitched in a way that it rears up at an awkward height, often chest or above, forcing the batter to evade the ball or protect themselves.

Catch: Arguably the most common form of dismissal, if a batter plays a shot which is caught by a fielder anywhere on the field without the ball touching the ground, the batter will be declared caught out.

Pakistan''s Mohammad Hafeez in action with England''s James Taylor (R)
Pakistan's Mohammad Hafeez in action with England's James Taylor (R) fielding [Jason O'Brien/Reuters]

Circle: On the pitch where batters are batting, there is a 30-yard circle on the ground, which is used to maintain fielding restriction. When powerplays are under way, only a certain number of players can stand inside or outside the circle.

Crease: Refers to the line located 48 inches (1.21 metres) in front of the stumps and denotes the batter’s “safe ground” where he cannot be stumped or run out.

Cricket World Cup: The biggest and most prestigious tournament in cricket, the Cricket World Cup (CWC) is a 50-overs format, also known as One Day International, tournament which takes place every four years.

Duck: If a batter is out without scoring a run, it is called scoring a duck. If he is out on the first ball he faces, it is referred to as a “golden duck”.

Decision Review System (DRS): An electronic review system, available for both batting and fielding teams, in which they can question key decisions made by umpires where a player is declared out or not out. In ODIs, which have two innings, teams are allowed two reviews per innings.

Dot-ball: A delivery where no runs are scored.

Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) Method: A mathematical calculation to calculate target scores when the rain interrupts the match. The formula is used for calculating the target score for a team batting second during a match which is interrupted by weather or any other reasons.

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Ground staff pull covers as it rains during the Asia Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan [Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo]

Fielder: A fielding team has one bowler, one wicket-keeper, and nine other players on the field, known as fielders, placed in strategic locations around the field to minimise the number of runs scored by the opposing team.

Free Hit: A free hit is given to a batter if a bowler bowls an illegal ball known as a no-ball. According to the rules, the fielding side cannot change the field arrangements, and on the free-hit delivery, the batter cannot get out with the exception of run out or stumpings.

Hawk-Eye: A modern video technology that is used to aid DRS. It is essentially a computer-generated tracking technology with high-end cameras that track the path of the delivery and predict which way the ball would go. It is a key component of the DRS and all the major ICC-sanctioned tournaments are mandated to use DRS.

ICC: The International Cricket Council is the global governing body for the sport of cricket and is headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Innings: The length of time a team bats is called an innings. In One Day Internationals, a maximum of 50 overs are allowed which constitute one innings.

Leg before wicket (LBW): A form of dismissal in which the ball hits body parts of the batter. The fielding team appeals that the delivery would have hit the stumps if it had not been stopped by the batter’s body. If the umpire makes the decision in favour of the bowling team, it means the batter is out by LBW.

Mushfiqur Rahim
Bangladeshi cricket captain Mushfiqur Rahim (C) and Nazim Uddin (R) appeal unsuccessfully for a Leg Before Wicket decision against Pakistani batsman Younis Khan (L) [Munir uz Zaman/AFP]

Maiden: If a bowler is able to finish one over (consisting of six deliveries) without conceding a single run, the over is considered a maiden.

No-Ball: Any ball bowled by a bowler which is delivered after overstepping the crease, or bounces above the batter's shoulder height, is declared a no-ball and is declared illegal. A free hit is given to the batting side if a no-ball is delivered.

One Day Internationals: ODIs are the second and once the most popular format of the game, before the advent of T20s. An ODI consists of 50 overs (300 deliveries), with both teams allowed to bat once.

Over: A collection of six legal deliveries bowled by the same bowler consecutively. After the over is complete another bowler must take a turn to bowl.

Partnership: The batting collaboration between two batters working together to score runs for their team while trying to avoid getting dismissed by the opposition.

Pitch: The most important part of the ground, the pitch is a 22-yard strip on which the bowler bowls and the batters bat. The pitch is made of mud, soil, and rock, and pitch conditions play a massive part in making play difficult for either batter or bowler.

Powerplay:  A concept introduced in ODIs and T20 in 2005. While it has gone through multiple amendments, the current rule for ODIs states that 50 overs are divided into three blocks. The first block lasts for the first 10 overs of the innings, followed by the second which lasts from over 11 to 40, and then the final block of 10 overs. Fielding teams are allowed to keep only a certain number of fielders within the circle, according to which powerplay block is going on.

Run out: A mode of dismissal in which a batter is declared out if the fielder is able to hit the wickets before the batter is able to reach the crease.

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England's Mark Wood (R), runs out Sri Lanka's Wanindu Hasaranga (L) during the T20 World Cup cricket match between England and Sri Lanka [Rick Rycroft/AP Photo]

Run rate: Run rate or runs per over (RPO) is a simple mathematical calculation in which a team’s scoring rate is calculated by dividing the number of runs scored at any given time, after the number of overs they have played till then.

Stumps: The three wooden sticks at each end of the pitch that have two bails set on top of them. These are also collectively known as a wicket.

Test match: The premier, and the oldest format of cricket, in which two teams play for five days, with both teams getting an opportunity to bat for two innings each.

Twenty20 cricket: The newest and the shortest internationally endorsed cricket format in which one innings consists of 20 overs (120 deliveries).

Wicket: A set of three stumps and two bails, which are affixed at either end of the pitch on which the game is played. But it is also used in reference to a bowler getting a batter out.

Wicket-keeper: Often referred to simply as the "keeper," this fielding player stands behind the batter and is responsible for catching incoming balls. The wicket-keeper is the only fielder permitted to wear gloves and wicket-keeping leg pads.

Wide: If a bowler bowls a delivery which pitches far away from a batter, at the umpire’s discretion, it can be declared a wide and one extra run is awarded to the batting team, and the bowler will have to re-bowl the delivery. The concept of a wide is to ensure that bowlers do not bowl such deliveries which make it impossible for batters to reach out to.

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Ireland's Mark Adair (L) reacts as the umpire signals a wide during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2022 cricket match between Australia and Ireland [Patrick Hamilton / AFP]
Source: Al Jazeera