Guide to the Rules of Cricket

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  • The Basics of the Game
  • Terminology
  • Formats
    • Test Cricket
    • One Day Cricket
    • T20
  • Further Reading

Invented in England and enjoyed all over the world, cricket is watched and played by millions of enthusiasts. However, if you aren’t familiar with the rules and formats of the game, it can be a tough to follow. In this guide we’ll try and demystify it all for you.

Basics of the Game

Cricket is a team game, contested between two sides of 11 who take it in turn to play alternate innings batting and bowling. Each innings will last for a set period of time, or until the batting side are all out. Whichever side is able to score the most runs in their innings will win the match.

In the centre of the field of play is ‘the pitch’, a 22 yard long strip of hard compacted ground. The rest of the field is short grass. At each end of the pitch is a set of three stumps (waist high, vertical wooden sticks) holding up a set of bails that rest on top of them. These are the wickets. There is a small area in front of each wicket called the crease.

cricket rules

At any one time two players from the batting side occupy each of the creases. The one who is ‘on strike’ (the end being bowled to) stands in his crease and receives a delivery from the bowler, who, after taking a run up, releases the ball from inside the opposite crease. The batsmen can then either let the ball go past him or try and hit it with his bat.

If he hits it, fielders (the rest of the players on the bowling side, who are stood around the ground) will attempt to collect the ball and return it to the bowler. Whilst they are doing this the two batmen can run down the pitch. Each time they successfully swap creases they score a run. Alternatively, if the ball runs to the boundary of the field they score four. If it goes over the boundary without bouncing, that’s six. (When a four or six is scored, the batters don’t swap ends).

If they hit the ball into the air and it is caught by a fielder, they’re out. If the delivery hits the wicket and knocks off the bail they are out. If, while they are running, between creases the ball knocks off the bails, they are out. They are also out if a delivery hits their leg without touching the bat first, but only if was on course to hit the stumps. This is called LBW (leg before wicket).

Once the bowler has the ball back and the on strike batsman is ready, they bowl again. Each set of six deliveries is called an over. After each over the strike end switches. Though bowlers can bowl several overs in a match, they cannot bowl two consecutively, so a different bowler takes over.

When one batsman is out, the next in the batting team’s ‘order’ (they normally send the best out first) comes to form a new partnership with the batter who is still in. When ten batsmen are out (getting out is also referred to as ‘losing a wicket’) the team is out, as the one remaining batsmen cannot continue alone. This means in every innings there is always one batsman who doesn’t lose his wicket.

Once the team is out, they now have to field and the team that was bowling bats for an innings, trying to score more runs than the other team managed. In test cricket each team bats twice, but in all other forms they just bat once. In all other forms of cricket aside from test cricket an innings will also end after a predetermined set of overs.


When you know these basics, you should be able to watch a game of cricket and follow what’s happening. If you’re listening on the radio however, the commentary may still be a mystery. Indeed, there are literally hundreds of specialist terms relating to every conceivable aspect of the game and only a real expert can hope to know all of them. Moreover, many of the terms vary between countries.

However, there are a few terms that are relatively common in the game. Here are just a few of the most-used terms and their meanings. Hopefully, these pieces of terminology will help you follow the game better (and sound like an expert in the pub...):

  • Bowling around the wicket: If you are right handed, you will usually bowl from the left side of the bowling crease. If you bowl from the right of the stumps, you are bowling around the wicket.
  • Back foot shot: A shot where the bowler mover their weight to their back foot before striking. This is normally used against a short ball.
  • A short ball: One that bounces well ahead of the batsmen so that is has time to rise up to waist, chest or head height by the time it reaches them. It’s a variation on bowling length.
  • Length: How far in front of the batter the bowler is landing his deliveries. The opposite of a short delivery is a full delivery. A delivery that lands right at a batters feet is called a Yorker, whereas one that doesn’t bounce at all is called a full toss. As well as line bowlers need to think about ‘line’.
  • Line: Also known as width, this refers to where along the width of the pitch a delivery goes. If a delivery is very wide it is called ‘wide’ by the umpire and counts as a run. Aside from this, wider deliveries can also be more tempting for batmen, especially if they are also short, as this allows for easy coring back foot shots. Of course, tempting batmen into shots can also help get them out.
  • Legside: The half of the field to the left of a right sided batter and vice versa.
  • Offside: The opposite side.
  • Century: As the name suggests, this is when a batsman scores 100 runs or more. It's possible to score a double century, or even a triple!
  • Declaration: A team captain may decide to 'declare' and bring his side's innings to an end prematurely. This is done in order to try and avoid a draw So, if a team have built up an impressive score while batting, the captain could 'declare' and hope to get the other side out in order to win the match outright. Failure to declare runs the risk that the team will be batting for so long that time runs out and a draw will have to be called. 
  • Duck: A player is said to be out 'for a duck' if they are out without having scored a single run. This expression comes rom the fact a '0' can look like a duck's egg when written in the scorebook.
  • Follow-on: In most matches, both teams have two innings each. If the team who bat first have a big lead after the second team have batted, their captain may ask their opponents to 'follow-on'. This simply means they have to bat again. For instance, if Team A scores 400 runs in their first innings and Team B then bats and gets just 130 runs, Team A may ask them to carry on and bat first in the second innings. In Test cricket, the minimum lead to request a follow-on is 200 runs. 
  • Maiden Over: Also known as simply a 'Maiden', this is an over in which a bowler concedes no runs at all. That is, the batsman he is bowling to does not get a single run from the six balls, nor does the bowler deliver any 'no balls' and concede any runs that way. 


There are various different formats of the sport. Whilst they all adhere to the basic rules described above, they can be quite drastically different in the way they are played and the spectacle they provide.

Test Cricket

This is the longest and most demanding format of the game, and is seen by many as being the true form of cricket. In Test cricket, there are no limits on how many overs might be delivered in the course of the innings. Only a declaration from the batting side or the loss of all their wickets will cause the sides to change over. Moreover, each team plays two innings each in the field and two with the bat.

Though, the length of an innings is not restricted, the play takes place over a maximum of five days. This means that, even if a team is dominating the match, they need to think carefully about the time left to reach a conclusion, or the game could just end in a draw regardless. For example, the team that batted first could be ahead by a 1,000 runs during their second innings on the fourth day with all ten wickets remaining, but to actually win, they still need to get their opponents back for their second innings and bowl them all out, so they want as much time as possible to do that in. This is why you don’t usually see innings reaching over 600 too often – usually by that time there’s enough of a lead to declare and let the bowlers get on with it.

The fact that there is a long time to play with means that, unless the specific circumstances of the game dictate, batsmen don’t need to score at any particular rate to end up doing well for their team. Indeed, many well regarded test batsmen are known for scoring slowly. As long as you don’t get out, you can steadily build a big score. As they don’t need too rush to much, Test batsmen are generally inclined to leave deliveries they think will be hard to score off and are not in danger of taking their wicket. As a result, getting them out often depends on taking them by surprise or getting them to misjudge the type of ball they are dealing with. A very basic example of this is bowling down ‘the corridor of uncertainty’- a width that make it hard to judge whether to ball will hit the stumps or not, leaving the batsmen unsure of whether he should play at it and increasing his chances of nicking it behind for a catch. The uncertainty may be compounded by the bowler, gradually moving his line from the stumps, into the ‘corridor’. Of course, there a huge number of ways to catch a batmen off guard. As well as variation in line, changing up the length, deceptive spin or swing can all be effective.

On each day of a Test match there is a break for lunch and a break for tea in the afternoon as well as numerous drinks breaks. Players traditional cricket whites for test cricket.

The Ashes is the most famous Test series in the world, pitting old rivals England and Australia against each other. Read more about this historic series with this comprehensive guide to the Ashes.

One Day Cricket

As the name suggests this is a much shorter form of cricket. Though it only lasts a day, it is actually the amount of overs that are played that are limited as opposed to the time span of the game. In ODIs (One Day Internationals) 50 overs are scheduled for each innings and they end after the scheduled amount of deliveries have been bowled regardless of how many wickets the batting team might still have standing. This means that sides need to pace their efforts accordingly, both when bowling and when batting.

Just as a batsmen cannot affords to score quite as slowly as he might in a test match, a bowler is also has to approach things differently. For instance, in a Test match a bowler may not mind giving away runs to a batmen if he is happy that they are the right kind of deliveries to set him up for a sucker punch (it’s pretty common to see a string of boundaries followed by a dismissal). However, in limited overs, a relatively small period of dominance can decide the match. If a bowler comes out and decides to focus on taking a key wicket rather than limiting the scoring, if his spell is unsuccessful, it may be too much to make up.

One day matches between county sides are usually 40 overs each.


T20 or twenty-twenty cricket is so named because each side’s innings lasts just twenty overs each. As there won’t be too many deliveries coming their way, batsmen need to score quickly in this format. So, rather than getting settled in the crease and being selective with shots, they will tend to play at the ball the majority of the time. This pressure to play scoring strokes can makes it more likely that batsman will play a bad shot and lose their wicket, which helps the game move along.

To make the batter’s life a little easier and further encourage them not to be conservative, there are restrictions placed on the fielding side. The bowler’s for example, cannot play with their width too much before the ball will be called wide. This means that compared to test cricket, there isn’t so much variety in line and there is more bowling at the stumps. Wides result in penalty runs but also free hits – an extra delivery in an over that a batsman can swing at without having to worry about being bowled or caught out.

There are also rules restricting the way a fielding captain can set his field. For instance, only five fielders are allowed on the legside at once. In addition, the first six overs constitute a batting power play. During this time, only two fielders can stop more than yards away from the crease (there is a circle to mark this area) and after it, the captain can still only place five of his side outside the circle. Finally, no bowler can deliver more than four overs. Given the brevity of the innings, it would be otherwise be possible for a captain to have the best two bowlers in his attack deliver almost every ball if their stamina was up to it. This way he needs to think about who he deploys and when.

In T20 brightly colour kits are worn and in some competitions there is a strong emphasis on spectacle, with fireworks and music incorporated into the experience. Unsurprisingly, some Test cricket purists are not big fans of this side of the sport!

Further Reading

  • You can place bets on cricket with these online bookies.
  • Learn more about one the sports best loved contests, the ashes, here.
  • Sadly KP is no longer part of the England set up. Relive one of his best moments.

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