The captain of the side winning the toss decides whether his team should bat or field.
The batting team posts one batsman at each wicket; the batsman taking the bowling first must keep one foot behind the popping crease, and his partner must remain entirely behind this crease.
The bowler and wicketkeeper face each other at opposite wickets. The fielders are positioned roughly in two rings around the striker.
Theoretically, an inner ring is placed to save one run, that is, to intercept or trap ground hits.
The outer ring is positioned to save runs that might occur from long hits to the boundary. Two umpires, one at each end of the pitch, rule on the game.
A ball is bowled from each wicket alternately in a series of six, sometimes eight, balls, called overs. When an over is completed, the wicketkeeper moves to the other wicket, and a different bowler (a starting fielder) begins the next over from the opposite end. A bowler’s objective (and the fielders’ as well) is to break the wicket (displace the bails), which retires the batsman.
If the bowler fouls in his stride or his bowl (he cannot jerk or throw the ball; he must bowl overarm), the umpire rules no-ball; if he bowls so high or so wide that the ball passes out of the batsman’s reach, the umpire calls wide ball. No-balls and wides count as runs for the opposition but not as legal deliveries.
The striker tries to hit the ball sufficiently hard in any direction to enable him to exchange wickets with his partner before any fielder can get the ball to the stumps. Each time a batsman exchanges wickets he scores one run; on a long hit he may make as many as four runs. He need not, however, run on a short hit if he deems it risky.
In addition to no-balls, wides, and hits, runs may be scored from a bye (a ball that passes the wicket without touching the batsman’s bat or person and which the wicketkeeper fails to stop); and from a leg bye (a ball that touches any part of the batsman except his hands). Only runs scored from the bat are credited to the batsman. Runs from no-balls, wides, byes, and leg byes are added to the side’s score. A ball reaching the boundary is an automatic four runs; a fly ball hit over the boundary is six runs.
A striker can be declared out bowled (the ball breaks the wicket); caught (a fielder catches a ball before it touches the ground); stumped (a batsman moves out of the crease and the wicketkeeper dislodges the bails); hit wicket (a batsman dislodges a bail unintentionally); or leg before wicket (the striker’s body, not his hands, intercepts a ball deemed likely by the umpire to strike the wicket). He also is out hit the ball twice, if he strikes the ball twice or if it hits his person and he strikes it again. Either batsman can be run out if a fielder breaks his wicket while he is outside his crease. Either can be declared out obstructing the field (interfering with a fielder) or out handled the ball (touched by hand during play). No batsman can be retired for failing to hit a bowled ball.
An innings is completed when ten batsmen have been dismissed. (The partner of the man who is tenth out, having no one to bat with, is credited with being “not out.”) Matches are decided by the aggregate of runs made by each side in two innings or, if the side batting last passes the other team’s total before all their batsmen have been retired, by the number of their wickets (batsmen still to be dismissed) remaining.