These are the basic rules of the game of cricket

First of all you need somewhere to play. Find yourself a large circular or oval-shaped area of grass, and in the centre mark out an area 22 yards long by 3 yards wide. This is the batting area. At either end of this area put some sticks in the ground. Specifically, create yourself a wicket. This looks something like:

   _-==-_-==-_  <---- bails (2 of)
  | |  | |  | |
  | |  | |  | |
  | |  | |  | |
  | |  | |  | |
  | |  | |  | |
  | |  | |  | | <---- stumps (3 of)
  | |  | |  | |
  |_|  |_|  |_|
That is, you have three stumps which are poked into the ground and stand 28 inches high. Resting lightly on top of the stumps are two bails which are also wooden. These are perched somewhat precariously because their purpose is to fall off if the stumps are moved.

Now find yourself two teams. Get 11 players in each and make them wear lots of white clothing (this is mandatory unless you are playing at County or International level). Toss a coin to find out which team will be batting and which will be fielding.

The fielders spread out across the ground. There are all kinds of daft names for different fielding positions but we won't go into this here, except to say that the person throwing the ball is called the bowler and the person immediately behind the batsman is the wicket keeper.

Two members of the batting team can now come out to play. One batsman stands near each wicket.

The bowler throws the ball overarm with unbent elbow (bowls the ball) from one wicket towards the other with the aim of hitting the target wicket. The batsman at that end tries to hit the ball with his bat. The aim of the batsmen is to score runs for their team. There are two ways they can get these runs:

  • 1. By hitting the ball out of the field (ie over the boundary line). If the ball does not bounce before it crosses the boundary he scores 6 runs (a six) and if it does bounce he scores 4 runs (a four).
  • 2. By hitting the ball within the field and running from one end of the batting area to the other. The other batsman runs in the opposite direction. One run is scored for each length of the pitch they run.
The aim of the fielding team is to prevent the batting team scoring runs and to get each batsman out. There are 4 main ways a batsman can be out:
  • 1. If the bowler can throw the ball and hit the wicket then the batsman has been bowled out. Clearly the batsman must use the bat to try to defend his wicket from being hit by the ball.
  • 2. If the batsman hits the ball and a fielder catches it before it lands on the ground then the batsman has been caught out.
  • 3. A fielder can hit the wicket with the ball while the batsmen are still running (run out).
  • 4. If a ball delivered by the bowler hits any part of the batsman (but not the bat) and it is judged by the umpire (referee) that the ball would have hit the wicket if the batsman had not been in the way. The part of the body usually hit is the leg and so this type of out is called LBW (leg before wicket).

When a batsman is out he is replaced by another member of his team. Once the fielding team gets 10 of the 11 batsmen out the fielding team becomes the batting team and vice versa. The new batting team then has to try to beat the other team's score.

And basically that's it! Of course there are lots of things that I haven't yet explained, like overs, byes etc, but really what's all the fuss about? Cricket is an easy game to understand!

Anyone with an even half-hearted inclination towards pedantry will need to be aware that cricket does not have rules. It has laws. These are, however, much as outlined by iain above; for the full set (copyright the ICC) the reader is referred to a recent edition of Wisden's cricket almanac.
The laws form the earliest codification of a modern sport, having taken shape in the 1700s, when some degree of uniformity was imposed on what had hitherto been a purely local rural pastime; village teams were given patronage by local landowners whose interest mainly involved betting; the idea of cricket as the archetypical amateur sport in which money played no role was a rather later development. Although there have been some changes over the last couple of centuries - particularly the move from underarm and then roundarm bowling to overarm bowling during the 19th centuries, limitations on legside fielders in the wake of the bodyline controversy in 1932, and various changes to the rules governing where bowlers' feet could land and the technicalities of lbw (which tended to remain contentious for about 50 years) - the modern laws are essentially similar to those under which the eleven men of Hambledon beat the eleven men of All England on Broadhalfpenny Down in the 1780s, or under which Canada beat the USA in the first ever international game in September 1844.

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