Twenty20 Cricket – A Guide For Neophytes

I’ve got several friends coming over tomorrow to watch last week’s final of Australia’s KFC Big Bash Twenty20 cricket final; however, they basically know little or nothing about cricket.

I was going to mail them this guide, but why should I waste pages of writing that I can blog instead? 🙂 So here it is… warning, some of it might be apocryphal.


Cricket is an internationally-played sport, with strong support amongst mostly former-British colonies. The major cricket-playing countries are India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand (Go Black Caps!), Pakistan, The West Indies and Sri Lanka. I’m told England is a major cricketing nation also, but all their best players are South African…

In part because of the enormous population of India and the relative rabidness of several of the nations involved, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world by some measure. (I don’t know what that measure is, though.)

There are three basic formats of cricket: First Class, One-Day and Twenty20.

First-class cricket has been around the longest, quite literally hundreds of years, and has been a major influence on the English psyche. The next time someone says “they’re bowled over” or “they’re stumped” you can reflect upon how cricket has invaded the English language. (It’s not just phrases like, “That’s a sticky wicket, old boy” or “I say, that’s just not cricket!”)

First-class cricket is also the only form you’ve probably heard about if you’re the average American. With it’s all-white, antique uniforms, leisurely play and restrained, politely clapping audiences it’s the image American’s most associate with the game and the eccentric English. It’s a game that plays all day, for 3 to 5 days, includes lunch and tea breaks and often ends in a resultless draw. The international form of first-class cricket is known as Test Cricket.

While first-class cricket really does offer the opportunity for teams to plan and execute strategic campaigns and for players to really exercise all their skills and endurance, it also encourages slow, conservative play. As such the game is best (IMHO) only watched in 30 minutes highlight reels at the end of the day of play. I can appreciate the Mona Lisa, but I wouldn’t have wanted to watch Leonardo painting it stroke-by-stroke.

One-day cricket was developed in the 1960’s-1970’s as a way to overcome testing the endurance of the audience at first-class matches. One-day cricket is also known as limited overs cricket, and in it’s most common forms are 50 or 40 overs per side. This effectively puts a time limit on the game, making it last only one (full) day. One-day cricket is played both domestically and internationally. (One-Day Domestic [ODD] and One-Day International [ODI])

One-day cricket will be dead and buried in 10 years in favor of Twenty20 (again, IMHO) as it no longer fills a meaningful niche.

Finally, Twenty20 (or T20) cricket, started in 2003, is the newest form of the game, designed for the era of working people and television audiences, neither of whom can devote even a single day to come out to watch a match.

T20 is also a form of limited overs cricket; this time capped at 20 overs per side (hence the name) which, combined with time penalties for delaying the game, gets the match finished in 3 hours – consistent with most other televised sports. Unlike first-class cricket, T20 can be played under stadium lights and is more suited for matches to be played in the evenings on workdays.

T20 is often criticized because, without the luxury of days for playing, players are forced to accelerate their game and take “excessive” risks for the sake of scoring or entertaining the audience. Critics argue that many of the more subtle skills developed over the centuries are being lost.

Perhaps they are, but all I can say to those critics is, “evolution is a harsh mistress,” and “say ‘hi‘ to the stegosaurus for me when you get there.”

New skills and tactics are being developed rapidly in T20, and the old ones still have their uses, plus, T20 is bringing in new and larger audiences. Young audiences that are encouraging kids to take up cricket again. T20 is the future of cricket.

Things common to all three forms of cricket.

The ball

  • The ball is just a hair larger and heavier than a baseball, and is of a similar construction.
  • The ball as a single, raised seam around the circumference of the ball. This seam is used by the bowlers to control the ball’s behavior.
  • The ball is red (the traditional color) in 1st-class cricket and white is limited overs cricket. This is because limited overs cricket can be played at night and the visibility of the red ball is difficult.
  • The white ball also has visibility problems, particularly as it gets dirty, and they are experimenting with other colors, such as a pink ball.


  • Each team consists of 11 players and a “twelfth man” who brings the tea. (These days, it’s gatorade.)
  • The twelfth man is also the substitute player for an injured fielder but not for an injured batsman.
  • A team consists of a mix of four types of players, “batsmen”, “bowlers”, “all-rounders” and a “wicket-keeper” Except for wicket-keeper, these are not formal positions but are considered the players specialty.
  • Batsmen bat, bowlers bowl, all-rounders do both and wicket-keepers perform a task equivalent to a catcher in baseball – although any and all players may be called upon to do any particular job.
  • There is also a captain (often called the skipper) who is usually a senior player. The skipper, not the coaching staff, makes all the decisions on the field during play.

The Field

  • A cricket field is called “an oval”
  • The oval is an irregularly shaped field (roughly oval) with a boundary rope approximately 55-75 meters out from the center.
  • Boundary ropes are placed closer to the center in T20 matches to encourage higher scores.
  • There is also a marked “inner circle” which is an oval measured 30 yards from the “stumps”
  • In the center is the “pitch”. The pitch is a 20 meter strip of hardened surface that most play takes part on.
  • At either end of the pitch are the “stumps” – three wooden poles, with small cross-pieces on top called the “bails”
  • The stumps are also called the “wickets”, but so too the pitch is sometimes called the “wicket”. This is a little confusing.
  • The bails are placed so that the slightest disturbance of the stumps will cause the bails to pop off.
  • There are two lines painted perpendicular to the pitch just in front of the stumps. These lines are “batting crease” and the “bowling crease”
  • The bowler must deliver the ball from behind the bowling crease.
  • The batsmen must be safely behind the batting crease to avoid being “stumped” by the wicket keeper.
  • The creases represent the “safe” line for batsmen who are making runs between the stumps.

Play of the game

  • A cricket match consists of two or fours innings.
  • An innings is considered one side’s turn to bat (unlike baseball, in which an inning consists of both teams getting to bat once.)
  • A team bats until ten wickets have fallen or the captain “declares” his team’s innings to be finished or, in limited overs cricket only, the total number of overs has been played.
  • An innings is broken down into “overs.” An over is a unit of play in which one bowler bowls six balls from one particular side of the oval.
  • At the end of an over, the bowler must change, and play shifts to the other side of the oval. In other worlds, they go over to the other side of the pitch.
  • As each over is bowled by a single bowler in a single direction. This means that if batsmen hits the ball and runs only a single during that over, the non-striker becomes the striker and vice-versa.
  • At the end of the over, a new bowler must take over and bowl from the opposite end but the batsmen stay in their current place, therefore the striker becomes the non-striker.
  • An over consists of 6 legal deliveries. Certain types of throws are not allowed and if the bowlers bowls an illegal delivery, one run is given to the batting side and the ball must be bowled again.
  • A coin toss determines which team captain gets to pick if they wish to bowl or bat first.
  • This decision is usually based on the weather, the perceived characteristics of the pitch and a team’s general preferences.
  • The first side batting’s total score is called “the target” In 1st class, the target is the sum of their two innings. In limited overs it is their score from their first (and only) innings.
  • The second side batting must then “chase the target”, attempting to exceed it by 1.
  • A game stops immediately if the second team surpasses the target.

The Batting Side

  • Two batsmen must always be on the field, which is why there are only 10 wickets available. Once the tenth man is out, there would only be one batsman left on the field.
  • A batsmen bats until his wicket is taken (AKA, he’s out)
  • A batsmen stands at the crease, generally in front of his stumps, defending his stumps. (In cricket, the batting side is considered the defensive side.)
  • A batsmen can only defend the stumps with his bat. If he uses his body to prevent the ball from hitting the stumps, he looses his wicket. (This is called “Leg before wicket” or “LBW”)
  • If a batsman hits the ball, he and the other batsman on the field (called the striker and the non-striker, respectively) attempt to “run between the wickets (stumps)” – that is, they try to exchange places, scoring one run each time they change ends.
  • Runs can be scored by hitting the ball in all directions. The field of play is 360º.
  • If a batsmen hits the ball that lands anywhere inside the oval and then rolls or bounces outside the boundary rope, they score an automatic four runs without having to run. (A score of four in this way is also called a “boundary” – again, a bit confusing, so often just called “a four”.)
  • If the ball is hit directly outside the boundary without touching inside the oval, six runs (a “maximum”, “maximum boundary” or “a six”) is scored.
  • Unlike in baseball, a ball hit into the audience must be returned. A single ball is used during an innings and the gradual breakdown of the ball during play and the different play characteristics of an old ball is part of the strategy of the game.
  • If a fielder catches a hit ball on the fly, the batsman looses his wicket.
  • If the bowler can strike the stumps (dislodging the bails) with the ball while the batsmen is defending, the batsmen looses his wicket.
  • If a batsmen running between the stumps fails to reach his crease before the fielding team can dislodge the stumps with the ball, the batsmen looses his wicket.
  • In T20, in most instances, the 20 overs are bowled rather than all 10 wickets being taken.
  • For a batsman, significant milestones in scoring come at 50 runs (a “half century”) and 100 runs (a “century” or a “ton”) in a single innings.
  • Few half centuries are scored in T20, perhaps less than 1 per match, and centuries are very rare and represent a major achievement. In 1st-class cricket, some of the all-time greats have managed to score triple centuries.

The Bowling or Fielding Side

  • Bowling is an overarm, straight elbow throw, usually bounced on the pitch before it reaches the batsman.
  • The ball can be thrown anywhere within a fairly large area, roughly from the ground up to the batsman’s head, and from just behind the batsman’s legs to a point about bat-length in front of him. (A batsman typically is standing perpendicular to the bowler so “in front of” or “behind” really means left and right of the batsmen, depending on his left or right-handedness.)
  • In cricket, bowlers will attempt to hit the batsmen with the ball, which is completely legal in most instances. They do this to intimidate them, incapacitate them or to get them out LBW.
  • Bowlers are broken down into two major categories: “Seam Bowlers” and “Spin Bowlers”
  • Seam bowlers rely on speed (reaching 90+ MPH speeds), swing (a curve in the air before the ball bounces) and seaming (the ball bouncing unpredictably when it hits the seam of the ball against the pitch.)
  • Spin bowlers are much slower, but use a variety of finger and wrist techniques to put English on the ball, causing the ball change course as it hits the pitch. The greatest spin bowlers can get the ball to deviate 30 degrees at times.
  • The bowler (and the side’s captain) can control the field positions at will, and depending on what the bowler plans, they will set the field and try to force the batsman to hit the ball to a fielder.
  • In T20, a bowler can only bowl a maximum of 4 overs in a match, therefore a team must have 5 bowlers, minimum.

T20 Specifics

  • A ball being bowled is called a “delivery” (That’s not specific to T20)
  • In T20 there are 20 overs per side, therefore (20 overs * 6 balls per over * 2 teams = 240 deliveries per game.)
  • There is a 75 minute per innings time limit. This limit is imposed on the fielding side.
  • The umpire can also penalize either team for excessive delays
  • In T20, there must be a winner. If the scores are level at the end of the second team’s innings, a “Super-Over” is bowled. Each team picks three batsmen and one bowler and a single over is bowled for each team. Highest score in the super-over wins.
  • In T20, as well as other forms of limited overs cricket) there are certain “fielding restrictions” – that is, certain rules regarding where a captain can position his fielders.
  • The first six overs of a teams innings are called the “Powerplay”
  • During the Powerplay only two fielders are allowed outside the inner circle – this encourages batsmen to play riskier shots to hit the ball over the heads of the in-fielders.
  • Teams have colorful uniforms.
  • T20 has cheerleaders, loud music, wild crowds and often fireworks while 1st class cricket audiences are expected to be quiet, with only clapping. No music or other distractions is allowed. It’s not unheard of for an audience member to be asked to stop talking on their cell phone.


  • Umpires will not call a player out unless asked for a ruling by the bowling side, therefore, in any instance where the bowlers think they’ve taken the batsman’s wicket, they will scream an appeal at the umpire, usually the phrase “how is that?” – often shortened into “HOWZAT?!?!?” or something even less intelligible.
  • Batsman, in keeping with the traditions of “playing cricket” are expected to “walk” off the field if they know they’ve lost their wicket without the need for the umpire to give a decision.
  • Fielders, in the same vein, are expected to honestly report if the failed to catch a ball or prevent a boundary.
  • That’s considered “cricket” however, in these days of television-assisted umpiring, it’s not uncommon for a player to wait until a final call has been made.