Test Cricket: a Novice’s Guide

Cricket and especially test cricket seems like something of an anathema in today’s world that demands instant gratification and fast-paced entertainment. The very concept of a game that can take up to five days to complete, without there being a certain winner at the end of it all is incomprehensible to many millions. Yet it still entrances millions across the world with its history and intense rivalries. Who, for example, hasn’t heard of The Ashes? The bi-annual contest between England and Australia that represents one of the most intense rivalries in world sport.

The Basics of Test Cricket

As with all forms of the game, each side plays with 11 players, each of whom tends to specialise in one area of the game, usually either batting or bowling. The closest any team will usually have to a specialist fielder is the wicket keeper, who is often a specialist batter as well as a wicket keeper. This makes them what is known as an all-rounder, i.e. they are excellent at least two of the three disciplines involved in cricket – batting, bowling and fielding.

Cricket is played on a field, with the pitch (or ‘wicket’) being a 22-yard strip in the centre of this field. To decide who bats or bowls first, there is a coin toss, and the winning captain decides what they would like to do. Most of the action takes place on the aforementioned 22-yard strip and it’s here that the bowlers attempt to bowl out the opposing batsmen who, in turn are attempting to score runs.

The aim of the game is to score more runs over the course of two innings than the opposing team. An innings is over when either 10 of the 11 batsmen are out or, if the captain believes they have enough runs and chooses to declare. If all four innings are unable to be completed over the course of five days, then the game is declared a draw.

Scoring runs in Test Cricket

In order to score a run, the batting team must hit the ball and run to the other end of the pitch before the bowling team can remove the bails on the stumps (a set of three poles at each end of the wicket). Multiple runs can be scored from one hit, but only if the batters believe they have the time to complete more than one.

If the batter manages to hit the ball to the edge of the field – otherwise known as the boundary – then they and their team are immediately awarded four runs. If they can hit the ball over the boundary without it bouncing first, then they and their team are immediately awarded six runs. These give higher reward because they require the batter to take more of a risk in the shot in order to achieve it.

Bowling in Test Cricket

The aim of bowling in test cricket is to bowl as many batters out (or take their wickets) while conceding as a few runs as possible. There are a number of different ways for a batsman to get out. The most common of these is to be caught out, where a member of the fielding side catches the ball after the batter has hit it without it having hit the ground. Second, there is Leg Before Wicket (LBW) which is where the ball hits the batter on their body (apart from their hands) in front of the stumps and the umpire judges that without this intervention the ball would have hit the stumps. Thirdly, there is bowled, where the bowler hits the stumps with the ball.

Next is run out, where the fielding team uses the ball to the bails on top of the stumps with the batters attempting a run and failing to get to the other end in time. A similar mode of dismissal is to be stumped out, which entails the wicket keeper (usually) using the ball to remove the bails with the batter out of what’s known as the crease – the line that they must reach when attempting a run. Batters can also be out judged to have obstructing the field, either by purposefully getting in the way of the fielding team doing their job or by handling the ball.

A much less common way for a batsman to be out is to be ‘timed out’ which is where it takes them too long – more than three minutes – to get to the field after the previous dismissal. They can also be out hit wicket, where they dislodge the bails with any part of their person, hitting the ball twice or retired out – which is where a batter retires without the permission of the umpire and the opposing captain. In order for a batsman to be given out, the fielding team must appeal to the umpire, usually by enquiring “Howzat!?”

There are two main types of bowler in test cricket – fast bowlers and spin bowlers. Fast bowlers (sometimes referred to as fast medium or medium fast) depend on bowling the ball as quickly as possible, as well as moving the ball through the air (called ‘swing’) and off the pitch (called ‘seam’) to take wickets. Spin bowlers, meanwhile, bowl more slowly and put side spin on the ball to try and get it to move into or away from the batter and deceive them into giving their wicket away.