I've never understood cricket, but I've wanted to for quite a while. Alas, no resource I came across so far actually managed to give an easily-understood *overview* of what cricket was about without getting bogged down in special terminology (only explained in a glossary decidedly not intended for novices) or details. But last night, moth_wingthane and canisrufus_uk were kind enough to explain the whole thing to me. *s*
So, for the benefit of others who might be in the same situation, here's what I gathered:
A cricket match features two teams; the objective of the game is to score "runs", and the team that ends up scoring the higher number of runs wins.
Unlike other team games like football, basketball etc., cricket is not symmetrical: at any given point, the teams are not interchangable. Rather, there is a "batting" and a "bowling" team, with the bowling team throwing balls at the batting team and the batting team, well, batting them.
Just like e.g. a football match is divided into two halves or an ice hockey match is divided into three periods, a cricket match consists of two innings; each inning is further divided into two halves (my terminology), so that both teams will both bat and bowl during each inning. If we assume that, without loss of generality, team A bats first, the basic sequence would be:
- Inning 1: team A bats, team B bowls.
- Inning 1: team B bats, team A bowls.
- Inning 2: team A bats, team B bowls.
- Inning 2: team B bats, team A bowls.
The last "quarter" (my terminology) may be eschewed if team B is already winning at this point, as only the batting team can score "runs" (so if team A is not ahead at this point, they have no chance of winning anymore).
Since the objective of the game is to score "runs", how are runs scored? Basically, in order to score a run, the batsman (the batting team's player who happens to be batting at the given moment), after hitting the ball thrown at him by the bowling team, needs to run across the field and make it to the other side. The opposing team, naturally, will try to stop him.
A batsman gets stopped if the bowling team either catches his ball without it hitting the ground first, or if they otherwise manage to catch it and throw it at a construction known as a "wicket" (three poles in the ground with some smaller pieces of wood on top of them), knocking those smaller pieces down. Either of these needs to happen before the batsman actually reaches the end of the field, indicated by a line.
If the batsman does not make it, he's "out", and the batting team's next player comes in as a batsman. Once all the players are "out", the teams switch positions, as before, with the batting team becoming the bowling team and vice versa.
That said, a batsman, after batting the ball, does not HAVE to attempt a run. If he thinks that his batting wasn't so great and that he wouldn't have a chance to score a run, he can stay put, and another ball will be bowled (thrown at him).
The only complication to the above is that there's actually two batsmen on the field at any time, on opposite ends of the field. The second batsman is a backup (my terminology); he doesn't bat, and he has to run iff the "real" batsman (my terminology) does. If the run is successful (which requires that BOTH successfully reach the other side of the field), the two batsmen, having switched positions, will naturally reverse their roles.
There's a large amount of things not covered here, and indeed, if you read the above, you'll probably find yourself asking quite a few questions, such as "how often can the batsman decide not to run", "if only one batsman does not make it to the other side of the field, are they both out, or just the one who didn't make it", and so on; but at the very least, you'll now have a rough idea of what the game is about in principle, and what the basic mechanisms are.
(Nota bene: I'm sure that what I wrote above is not just oversimplified but in fact outright wrong in places. If you're a cricket afficionado and notice a genuine mistake, please point it out below, but do keep in mind that this isn't supposed to be an exhaustive treatment.)