Understanding the 'gentleman's game'

3:01 pm on 26 March 2015

New Zealand's cricketing success has captured the imagination of even those with the most passionate indifference to the sport.

Veteran Black Cap Daniel Vettori's glasses have earned him the nickname 'Harry Potter'.

Veteran Black Cap Daniel Vettori's glasses have earned him the nickname 'Harry Potter'. Photo: AFP

Fans have been bowled over by some of the most thrilling moments in the country's sporting history, as Guptill, Elliott, and Boult have become household names.

Cricket is no longer just known for its Persil-white sleeveless jumpers, five day snore fests, and delightfully colonial terms like 'howzat', 'stumps', and 'jaffa'.

Nor is it just a middle class game for middle-aged men.

But it does remain a mystery to many.

New Zealand cricket team in 1894.

Cricket has moved on from New Zealand's first official match in 1894 - they lost by 160 runs. Photo: New Zealand Cricket Collection

Understanding the intricacies of the sport can be at times brain-melting.

So, before the Black Caps take to the field on Sunday, in what will be the biggest thing since the All Blacks lifted that tiny gold trophy, here are some cricket basics, and some not-so-basics.

After all, the last thing you want when every other nail-biter in the living room is on the edge of their seat on Sunday is to yell, "What is happening?!"

The basics

If you are a seasoned spectator and scoff at the simpletons who think the sport is just a bastardised version of baseball, feel free to skip ahead now.

There are two batsmen, each standing in front of three wooden sticks known as 'wickets'. The batsmen stand apart on a 20 metre pitch, and run between the wickets to earn runs.

If they hit the ball to the edge of the circular field - or the 'boundary' - they earn an automatic four runs; if the ball is hit over the boundary without bouncing, they earn six runs.

When a batsman is out, he must walk a slow, painful walk of shame back to the pavilion, where he will be replaced by someone else.

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Batsman Martin Guptill holds the record for the most runs by an individual in a World Cup match. Photo: AFP

Once ten out of 11 players are out, that team's innings is over. In a World Cup match, each side gets 50 overs to bat, and the winning team is simply the one that scores the most runs.

Meanwhile, there is a bowler at each end of the pitch. Each bowler delivers six deliveries per 'over', trying to get a batsmen out for what is also known as a 'wicket'.

A wicket can be achieved if the ball hits the wickets, if the batsman's shot is caught by a fielder, or if the ball hits the batsman's pads while on a clear trajectory towards the wickets. This unique sporting gem is known as 'LBW' (leg-before-wicket).

Batsmen can also be 'run out' if they are caught out of their crease.

New Zealand cricket umpire Billy Bowden signals a six.

Umpire Billy Bowden is known for his dramatic signalling style. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Each match is officiated by a set of referees known as 'umpires'. An umpire's word is gospel, unless a video replay shows their decision to be wrong -- in which case they shuffle sheepishly on the spot, and play resumes.

The more complicated stuff

One-day international:

There are multiple forms of cricket, depending on a game's duration. It can be played over five days ('test match'), 50 overs ('one-day international'), or 20 overs ('twenty20').

The Cricket World Cup is essentially a tournament of one-day internationals, which can last for up to eight hours per game, so make sure to plan ahead when it comes to snacks.

Former Australia pace bowler Merv Hughes was always combative on the pitch.

Former Australia pace bowler Merv Hughes was always combative on the pitch. Photo: Photosport

Sledging:

Taunting, essentially. Here are some classic sledges from the now-retired Australian master Merv Hughes.

  • "It's four years since I bowled to you and you haven't improved," to England batsmen Robin Smith. (Smith smashed Hughes' next delivery for four, and responded: "Neither have you.")
  • "Would you like me to bowl a piano and see if you can play that?" to England's Graham Gooch.
  • "If you turn the bat over, you'll get the instructions, mate," to South Africa's Robin Smith.
  • Duck:

    If a batsman fails to score a single run in an innings, he is out for a 'duck'. Though it may sound like a Chinese takeaway, a 'golden duck' can be achieved if a batsman is out the first ball he faces.

    Swing/spin bowling:

    Swing bowling is a style employed by the faster bowlers. Facing a rock hard ball traveling at 150 km/h can be daunting enough for batsmen; a swinging rock hard ball can be terrifying.

    Spin bowling is a much slower form, where the bowler tries to deviate the ball from its normal straight path.

    For die-hards

    Duckworth-Lewis:

    The mathematical cricket formula that would make even Pythagorus' head hurt, 'Duckworth-Lewis' is the method by which umpires can work out a target score for the team batting if a game is delayed by rain.

    Got it? No? Me neither. I think it's essentially the same as E = mc2.

    Underarm:

    If the Black Caps end up facing Australia in the final, there will be the inevitable smart aleck who off-handedly mentions the 'underarm'.

    Trevor Chappell in the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981.

    Trevor Chappell in the infamous underarm bowling incident of 1981. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

    This refers to an incident during a trans-Tasman clash in 1981 where Australia, needing to limit New Zealand to fewer than six runs from the final ball to win the game, bowled an underarm delivery along the pitch to avoid that possibility. It still hurts.