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In broad terms, the two main types of cricket matches are those where each team has two innings and are played over several days, and limited overs matches where each team bats once and the game is usually confined to one day. Both games have 11 players on each team plus a “12th man”.

Traditional cricket followers prefer the longer version, but the popularity of the limited overs versions, especially Twenty20, may eventually result in fewer Test matches and a greater number of shorter games played at a fast pace in an almost carnival-like atmosphere at night.

Other types of cricket include indoor cricket, backyard cricket, French cricket, beach cricket, and Kwik cricket.

Cricket – the long game

Most matches that are played over several days are first class matches and this includes “Test” matches between nations and also matches between counties, states or other regions within a country. Each team has two innings or bats twice. Test matches last up to five days, unless a result is reached before this time because one of the teams has been bowled out twice and the other team has a greater number of runs when the scores of the two innings are added together.

Test matches are usually played on five consecutive days. Until around 1980, teams would play for three days, followed by a rest day, and then two more days of cricket. There have been instances of timeless tests lasting up to nine days but this format proved unsuccessful as batsmen became too defensive, instead of scoring runs and trying to force a result.

Play lasts for six hours a day. The game usually starts around 11am, although it can be earlier in some countries. Early starts in England are not practical because of dew. The day’s play is divided into three sessions: morning, afternoon and evening, each of two hours. The morning session goes from 11am until 1 pm when players adjourn for lunch for 40 minutes.

After a further two hours of play, a 20 minute “tea break” is taken, where players traditionally drank tea. A final session lasts from 4pm to 6pm. This session can be extended if time has been lost to rain or to achieve a minimum number of overs in a day. A drinks break is taken in the middle of each session for about five minutes and there is a 10 minute break between innings. If a result is not reached in five days, the match is drawn, even if one team has clearly outperformed the other.

Five day test matches are played between England and its various former colonies which are now countries. These include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh, though Zimbabwe hasn’t played test match cricket since 2006 for political reasons. The first Test match was between England and Australia in 1877, long before these games were actually called Test matches. The games are usually played in a series of 3-5 matches between the two teams.

First class cricket is played in all the leading cricket playing nations. England, Australia, South Africa, India and West Indies in particular have strong domestic competitions. These matches are usually scheduled over four days with the rules being the same as for Test matches. Good performances in these matches are the criterion for national selection.

Club cricket is very popular too. Matches are 2-4 days in duration and can be played over consecutive weekends as players at this level are not professionals and have to work during the week.

Cricket – the short game

The second main type of cricket match is limited overs matches, where each team bowls a certain number of overs, usually 50. An over consists of six deliveries and takes about 3-5 minutes to bowl. Each innings therefore takes about three and a half hours and the game is over in one day. A break of about 45 minutes is taken between innings. It’s often called one day cricket.

This form of cricket only started in 1963, in England. International one day matches began in 1971 and soon captured the public’s interest. The game is faster and scoring is generally quicker than in Test matches. The inaugural Cricket World Cup was held in England in 1975, a type of competition that is impractical for test matches because of their long duration. Domestic one day competitions are held in all the main cricket playing nations.

A new variety of limited overs cricket is Twenty20, where each team bowls only 20 overs. The big hitting associated with this format, as batsmen try and score as many runs as possible within the small number of overs, has grabbed the public’s imagination even more than 50 overs a side matches. These games take about three hours or slightly more and can be completed in an afternoon or evening. The Indian Premier League is a 20 overs a side competition and players are attracted from around the world with offers of huge payments.

This shortened version of limited overs cricket started in England in 2003, although the concept is not new. For example, 15 overs a side matches were played at club level in Brisbane, Australia for a few seasons in the 1980s. The first Twenty20 World Championship or cup was in South Africa in 2007.

Interesting and unusual forms of cricket

There are several other types of cricket.

Indoor cricket is played in a number of countries. Rules need to be different from outdoor cricket due to space restrictions. Teams of eight play two innings each of 16 eight ball overs. A batsman must score off each delivery or go out and a softer cricket ball is used. The only venue where conventional outdoor cricket has been played under a roof is at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, where a few international limited overs matches have been held. The ground is normally an Australian Rules football venue.

Another variety of limited overs cricket is beach cricket. A competition is held between retired international players at the Gold Coast, Australia, each summer. These matches are played on the sand of an ocean beach and use a tennis ball. Informal family cricket games are common on Australian beaches in summer.

Kwik cricket is a fast game played by children where the bowler can bowl the ball as soon as they can, even before the batsman is ready.

French cricket is an informal type of cricket played at the park or school ground. The batsman’s legs become the stumps and he or she is out if the bowler can hit their legs. Interestingly, its origins are not French but English. We used to play this one at school sometimes, using a tennis ball of course.

Backyard cricket is played in backyards, driveways and streets, and is particularly popular in the backstreets of India and Pakistan.