The Long and Short of It: Types of Cricket

The primary difference in types of cricket lies in the way that overs are regulated (there are also differences in the number of overs a bowler can play and in some specific overs, but we won't get into those). The three basic types, as far as professional cricket goes, are Twenty20 (where 20 overs are bowled per team), One Day International (where typically 50 overs are bowled per team) and Test (where overs are limited according to daylight's play). The number of overs played, understandably, controls the speed of the match, with T20 being very quick and Test lasting for days. When cricket is played informally, teams can choose to limit the overs as they wish, such as playing 10 overs — or 60 balls bowled — per team. In all forms, an innings may also end when 10 wickets are taken; this is (almost) always the end to a Test innings* but happens much less in T20 because matches are so brief.




A 2009 Twenty20 World Cup warmup match between Pakistan and South Africa.

Twenty20, or T20, is the shortest form of professional cricket and lasts about the length of a baseball game. Each team is allowed 20 overs.

The goal is to score more runs than the opposing team. For the first team at bat, the goal is to set a very high bar and then bowl the other team out before it can reach the mark you've set. For the second team, known as the chasing team, the goal is to score one more run than the first team, preferably with very few wickets and plenty of overs to spare.

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For discussion of T20's rapid centuries and relationship to runs, see this blog.

Of all the cricket forms listed, T20 cricket, with its quick pace and short length, is the least focused on strategy and the most focused on runs. Wickets (and thus batsmen) are expected to fall quickly because there are only 20 overs (120 bowling deliveries) to work with.

For baseball watchers, T20 cricket is probably the easiest form to understand. Tournaments held by the lucrative Indian Premiere League (IPL) are played in the T20 format.

One Day International


The Guardian

Pakistani fielder Misbah-ul-Haq misses a shot from Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar during a match in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

One Day International, or ODI, is the medium-length form of cricket played in the Cricket World Cup, which happens every four years. As the name says, One Day International, with usually 50 overs per team, is designed to be played during the course of a day (as opposed to multi-day Test matches). Matches last around seven or so hours.

In basic premise, ODI is the same as T20, simply longer. The first team aims to set a high bar in terms of runs, and the chasing team aims to get that score plus one more. ODI also features a set of overs known as the "powerplay" in which special rules go into effect, temporarily offering an advantage to the batting team, and special (and confusing) restrictions on fielding positions.



AP Photo

Kraigg Brathwaite of the West Indies bats during a Test match against India in Mumbai on Nov. 25, 2011.

Test is the original and thus oldest form of cricket — and probably the most confusing as it's the least like baseball. Out of respect for tradition, cricketers wear all-white clothing for Test matches.

Overs in Test cricket aren't really limited per team but rather by how many can be fit into a day's play; umpires set a number of overs to be played per day, and there are breaks for lunch and tea. A team may take up as many overs as necessary before its 10 wickets are up — meaning that it has finished its innings and all players except one are out. That means a team could potentially take more than half of the match. *The exception to this is that if a team thinks it has reached a score so high the other team simply cannot reach it, that team can "declare" and end its innings. The reasoning for this will become clearer in a moment.

The goal in Test cricket is not simply to score the most runs in a single innings, as is the case with T20 and ODI. With Test cricket, the goal is to set a high benchmark in the first innings, bowl a team out, bat again to increase your score and then bowl the team out again before it reaches your combined score. If one team does not bowl the other team out twice with a combined score lower than its own, the match is drawn. Thus, even with five days of play, a match may be drawn and no winner declared — a rather frequent outcome. This is why teams choose to "declare" and end their innings after reaching a high score: They need time to bowl the other team out again.

If you didn't understand that — and rest assured, I didn't understand it for a long time — here's a scenario:

  • Team A bats a first innings and ends 100-all out (a very low score for Test).
  • Team B bats its first innings, but Team A bowls them all out at 90 runs.
  • Team A bats a second innings and reaches 100, bringing its combined score to 200, before it is all out.

Now here are four ends to this match with Team B's second innings:

  • If Team B bats 111, reaching a combined score of 201, Team B wins.
  • If Team B bats 109 or less (combined score 199 or less) and is all out, Team A wins.
  • If Team B bats 110 (combined score 200) but is all out before 111, the match is drawn.
  • If the overs run out before Team B can reach 111 runs (201 total), the match is drawn.

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If you're an American looking to understand the sport cricket (sometimes called baseball's lost twin), this is the website for you. From a fellow American who was once as confused as you are, you can learn the sport's basics, terminology, relation to baseball and a brief history.

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