Ask the bloke who's forgotten more about cricket than you'll ever know

Back by popular demand to explain the game of cricket and take any questions you might have about The Noble Art, The Sport of Kings.

No recourse to Google for me - okay, from hereon in - and even then… I will draw from the deep well of my experience and insight into the great game, from years of playing, watching and umpiring at the highest level. Cricket to me is a way of life - it’s in my bones.

First, then, a brief description of the game. It is played between two sides of 11 players. One side bats first and the other side fields first (this being decided by the toss of a coin). The idea of the game is to beat the other side. If you can’t beat them, the idea is not to lose to them. Neither to win nor to lose is called a draw (unless you end up with the same number of runs and have lost all your wickets, in which case it’s called a tie). So a tie is not the same as a draw. Simple so far?

So what are runs and wickets? A run is scored each time two members of the batting side (two batsmen) run from one end of the wicket to the other (22 yards) after the ball has been bowled by a member of the fielding side (the bowler) - the batsmen starting at opposite ends and then crossing. The batsmen can run under the following circumstances: a) the batsman who is receiving the ball from the bowler hits it (the batsman scores a run(s)); b) the batsman misses the ball but in attempting to hit it, the ball hits his body (an extra run(s) is scored, called a Leg Bye - since it’s typically the leg (protected by a leg-guard, called a pad) which the ball hits); c) the batsman misses the ball completely (or leaves it) and, typically, the one fielder who is allowed to wear gloves (the wicket-keeper) also misses it (an extra run(s) is scored, called a Bye). If the ball touches or crosses the boundary, usually marked by a rope or a white line on the grass, having first touched the ground in the event of it being hit by the batsman, four runs are added to the score. If the batsman hits it in the air and it lands on or over the boundary, then six runs are scored.

I said “typically” in c) above because the two batsmen can actually dash to the other end as soon as the bowler releases the ball, gambling on the fact that the wicket-keeper will be unable to run them out. So, what’s a run-out? A run-out is one of the eleven different ways in which a batsman can be dismissed. A run-out is effected when the batsman is unable to make his ground. This means that he is unable to run fast enough down the wicket to reach the white line that is painted 4 feet in front of the three wooden stumps with the little bits of wood (bails) on them. The fielder throws the ball and knocks off one of the bails before the batsman has reached that white line (the popping crease). Who decides whether the batsman has reached the crease? Why, the umpire of course. (Or, in these days of technology, if the competition rules provide for it, a fellow in a room with a TV monitor, who has access to slow motion replays (the third umpire).) That means of course that there are two umpires on the field - one of whom stands along the line of the popping crease (square of the wicket) but not too close in case he gets bopped by the batsman, with the other in line with the two wickets (here used to refer to two sets of three stumps with the bails on them), and standing behind the wicket at the end from which the bowler is bowling. (The bowler is allowed to bowl 6 deliveries (called an over) before another bowler does the same from the other end. Thus, play switches continuously from one end to the other at intervals of around 3-4 minutes.)

The other ten ways in which a batsman may be dismissed are as follows (in order of commonness):

Caught (the batsman hits the ball with his bat - even a fine edge - or with his hand holding the bat (which is usually gloved because getting hit on the hand isn’t much fun) and the ball is caught before it touches the ground)

Bowled (the ball delivered by the bowler hits the stumps and dislodges a bail - at least)

Leg Before Wicket (LBW) (the ball, before touching the bat, hits the batsman on his body (typically his leg), and would in the umpire’s opinion have gone on to hit the stumps if the batsman hadn’t got his body in the way)

Stumped (the batsman vacates his crease (i.e. lets his feet slip onto or over the popping crease, or charges down the wicket to hit the bowler’s delvery and misses) and the wicket-keeper with the ball in his hand (gloved or not) dislodges a bail from the stumps)

Hit Wicket (the batsman hits the stumps with his bat or with any part of his body or clothing causing a bail to be dislodged)

Handled the Ball (the batsman with a hand not holding the bat touches the ball while in play without the consent of the other side)

Hit the Ball Twice (the batsman deliberately hits the ball with his bat or body, except to stop the ball hitting the stumps, before the ball has been touched by a fielder)

Obstructing the Field (the batsman deliberately obstructs or distracts the opposing side)

Timed Out (the batsman fails to get to the wicket within three minutes of the previous batsman being out)

Retired Out (the batsman either walks off the field during play or he doesn’t appear after an interval (e.g. lunch))

Now we’ve got that sorted out, how does a side actually win a game of cricket? Either one side scores more runs than the other side (this is the case in most one day games, in what are called Limited Overs games, where, say, each side has 50 overs (one over = 6 balls, remember) in which to score as many runs as it can). Or one side scores more runs than the other side, and the other side has completed its innings (this is the case in all 2, 3, 4 or 5 day matches, and in some 1 day matches too). A side completes its innings either by declaring its innings closed (which only the captain may do) or by losing the wickets of all its batsmen (not counting the single batsman who remains after one member of the final pair at the wicket has been dismissed).

Glad we cleared that up. I don’t suppose there will be any questions, but just in case, I’ll do my best to answer them.

Okay. How the heck does one get them to stop chirping in the dead of the night?

Well, just about everything I allegedly know about cricket I learned from the wonderful Indian musical Lagaan.

Did you see it? If so, did it portray cricket accurately? Knowing the actual rules, did it generate as much suspense as it might have for us know-nothings?

Also, have you seen Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes? If so, do Caldicott & Charters actually make sense, or are they talking out their wicket?

Do any cricketers use 'roids? Are any of them turning into hulking, lumbering, sides of cricket playing beef? Or are you all as lithe and graceful as ballet dancers?

I saw a Python sketch about cricket that depicted the announcers drinking while calling the match. They also showed the players taking some sort of break in the middle of the match to have drinks. Is there any basis in truth to this?

I didn’t see it, and we call them Laws, not rules. Rules also exist, but they pertain to special regulations for, say, One Day Internationals, or local league regulations.

They do make sense, as I recall. I’m sure I would have spotted gross inaccuracies. For a nice example of deliberate talking out of one’s wicket, see Blackadder Goes Forth (Episode 1, I think), where Blackadder talks guff about some tour to the West Indies. Perhaps an echo of Caldicott and Charters?

Astro, Torgo, how similar your minds are!!

Steroids - very rare, I would say. Recreational drugs, much less so. The odd expose and banning.

Boozy commentators. Quite possible, especially back in the 60s. Provision is made in the Laws for drinks breaks for players. Useful if it’s very hot; a truly bizarre ritual in an average English summer.

My family is South African. I’m American. I haven’t actively followed the sport in years. Several questions:

  1. Tendulkar – better than Bradman?
  2. I spent an enjoyable week once watching an India v. South Africa test match on television. Hansie Cronje was the captain. It was right before all the match fixing stuff broke. How much has that affected the sport, especially with hints that even the big names like Kapul Dev and stuff may have been implicated? How much of Cronje’s non match fixing legacy is he remembered for? Are there new oversights and rules (erm… laws) to prevent match fixing? Were a lot of players banned for life?
  3. We had a double wicket tournament roll through town a few years ago (I believe Gavaskar was one of the people competing). How is this played? Do you think it has a long term future or the potential to be a good way to introduce people to the sport?
  1. Not by any measure

  2. Little effect except to gut the South African team. Cronje is almost exclusively remembered for his sins outside SA, but they are mostly disbelieved within SA. AFAIK the existing rules and laws were considered adequate. I’m not aware that any players were banned for life.

  3. I have no idea what you mean by “a double wicket tournament”.

All IMHO of course.

My take, Edwino:

  1. Agree with Askance. Bradman was to cricket as Pele was to football.

  2. I think a number of subcontinentals have been banned for varying periods. Not sure about a life ban as such.

  3. I used to play in these things. Even won one once organised by the Sussex Invitation League. Basically, teams of two compete. They play each other, with each pair batting for a predetermined number of overs, regardless of how often they are out. The other pair bowl the overs alternately. Thus, in a game of 6 over innings, each bowler will bowl three overs. Batsmen score runs as per the laws of cricket; each time there is a dismissal, this results in a deduction of runs, perhaps 10. The other fielders are provided by teams who are not directly involved in that match.

I see where in some instances the…landing-strip thing on which you bowl and bat is made of coconut matting instead of cropped grass(?). What are the details of this; when did it start, is this comparable to “Astro-Turf” in baseball, and anything else you might know?

Are things like spitballs, Vaseline-balls, and sanding it—practices designated illegal in baseball—legal in cricket?

I understand that willow is used for the bats. What is the logic, since isn’t willow a softer wood?

Many thanks.

The landing strip is called the pitch, though many also call it the wicket or the strip. In Test Matches (5 days), One Day Internationals, and I think all First Class (Major League) cricket, a grass wicket must be used. In practice, however, the grass wicket is often (especially in the subcontintent) rolled mud - with very little grass to speak of. As a rule, these type of pitches tend to be slower (as clay is slower than grass in tennis), lower (as grass is lower than hard courts in tennis??) and to take more spin.

Various types of artificial pitches are available, and widely used, in lower forms of cricket, with provision being made in some cases that an artificial pitch may be used instead of a grass pitch in the event of inclement weather. There are different type of carpet-like surfaces - laid on a variety of foundations, including concrete and soil. Matting wickets, of the type you refer to, used to be common in the “West”, but are less so now with the advent of astro technology. Matting wickets are still common in the subcontinent and in the West Indies, I believe.

I’m not sure I understand. But if you mean can you alter the state of the ball, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Here’s a snip from Law 42.3:

The match ball – changing its condition
(a) Any fielder may
(i) polish the ball provided that no artificial substance is used and that such polishing wastes no time.
(ii) remove mud from the ball under the supervision of the umpire.
(iii) dry a wet ball on a towel.

(b) It is unfair for anyone to rub the ball on the ground for any reason, interfere with any of the seams or the surface of the ball, use any implement, or take any other action whatsoever which is likely to alter the condition of the ball, except as permitted in (a) above.

© The umpires shall make frequent and irregular inspections of the ball.

As far as I know, its advantages are that it’s light and tough, in addition to being soft. Only certain types of willow are used to make bats.

Yep. I’m sorry that I wasn’t specific, but as far as I know, a spitball and Vaseline-ball are names for two now-illegal practices—lubricating the ball so that a unique action is applied, and systematically (and discretely) applying either saliva or Vaseline (historically kept on the brim of the cap, I guess) to the same spot of the ball, thereby imparting a bias. Sanding the ball was done in at least one case by using an emery board possessed under the initial pretext of callous-control. The frequency with which balls are changed nowadays limits the latter two possibilities.

Thanks again!

Basically, saliva and sweat okay (because they’re natural) - everything else (dirt, vaseline, etc) illegal.

Incidentally, a famous cricketer went out to bat with a bat made of aluminium about 20 years ago. Shortly after, the Laws were amended to specify that the bat must be made of wood.

As a South African, I feel honour bound to correct this :slight_smile:

The accusations against Hansie were widely disbelieved when they first came out - he had an untarnished image at the time. Indeed the whole national squad was almost squeaky clean - there were several outspoken Christians (including Hansie) in the team. Hansie was the first “real” captain of the post-isolation team (I say “real” because Kepler Wessels, the first captain was a naturalised Australian who had settled here after touring with a rebel team), and under his leadership, South African cricket began to really succeed in the international arena. He was a courageous batsman and a gutsy leader - the archetypal “captain’s knock” kind of guy. When he confessed - suspiciously, just before the evidence against him was due to be presented - there was great shock among followers of the game throughout the country. He then made it worse by trying to shift blame onto everyone else, including the devil. I lost a lot of respect for him then… Hansie was found guilty and banned, as was only right - but many South Africans could not forget his pre-conviction contributions to the game, and still held him in great affection. It was nothing short of tragic that Hansie died when he did, just a week after having initial talks with the SA Cricket Board about getting involved in the game again - not as a player, that wouldn’t have been right (as much as some might have wished for it), but in grassroots coaching.

As a result of all this, many South Africans prefer to remember Hansie’s positive contributions to the game in our country and gloss over the negative. I don’t think anyone (not even the most hard-core Hansie fans) would “disbelieve” that he cheated, but it must be remembered that in the country as a whole, we were going through the whole Truth and Reconciliation Commission experience. We were learning that it was possible to forgive those who had beaten, tortured, bombed and imprisoned us - somehow forgiving someone who had cheated for money wasn’t so hard…


So, if the batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willie… :slight_smile:

Seriously, though, I agree with grim , most people acknowledge the deed, but also remember he was a good captain too. Dying out of time may have made up for some of the bad…

Question: Do you regard test cricket (multi-day) as the real thing, and one-days as a pale shadow? I’ve encountered this prejudice full-blown in some people, and am ever so slightly inclined that way myself.

I’m not that knowledgeable a cricket fan, but I am pretty sure that doctoring the ball is just as popular in cricket as it was in old-time baseball, probably more so. This is because you don’t change the cricket ball that often. You start with a new ball and basically use it till its pretty busted up, (not sure how long this takes, maybe one day?) then you get a new ball. Discrete lifting of the seam, roughing up one side etc. gives the bowler an advantage, and there have been plenty of examples of cricketers been caught doing this. I recall the England captain Mike Atherton was captured on film doing precisely this. For reasons I don’t recall right now he got away with it.

Incidentally, the prolonged use of a single ball introduces a nice rhythm to cricket. The batsmen might be abusing the bowlers when the ball is old, but when the new ball is introduced, frequently into the hand of the best bowler on the fielding side, things can change round immediately.

Making illegal alterations to the ball is indeed still done. It is almost impossible to prevent as well. Most people who do it are fairly adept. During the dabte about (especially Pakistani) bowlers and ‘reverse swing’, New Zealander Chris Pringle showed the ICC exactly how to do it.

I suspect that it is something that will not be done away with completely. It is an important part of the game that the ball wears over time - which prevents it being changed unless damage is severe. In this case it is replaced with a ball which has been played a similar number of overs anyway.

Roger Thornhill - Thanks for starting this thread, I am absolutely starved for cricket here in the US. Hopefully that will change after the next World Cup.

The Ashes - Any chance? I think we might have an outside chance if we have the gumption to drop Thorpe and play Pietersen, and if Harmison starts firing properly again.

The Ashes (that’s the name given to the England-Australia series of Test Matches, in case they’re any really bored lurkers) - England have no chance, except for when the series has already been won, and the Ausies relax. My prediction: 3-1.

I believe the new ball is taken after 90 overs in Test Matches. It’s in a pretty tatty state by then. Atherton was filmed with dirt in his pocket. Since he wasn’t lifting the seam or applying vaseline, he got away with a warning, as I recall. I think his excuse was that he wanted to keep his fingers dry.

MrDibble, I share your prejudice. When I go back to Blighty, I prefer to attend one day of a Test Match rather than one ODI.