The cricket ground is an oval grass field (as opposed to a baseball "diamond") with a thin rectangular area in the middle called the "pitch". The entire ground is symmetrical about the pitch. If you were to stand on your head and look at the picture below you'd see what we mean. We urge you to verify this for yourself as soon as possible.
The cricket ground with the pitch in the center
In a cricket match, there are two "sides" (teams) with eleven players per side. The typical side is made up of 4-5 specialist batsmen, 3-4 specialist bowlers (in cricket, the ball is not "pitched", it is "bowled"), a couple of players handy with both bat and ball and a wicket-keeper (similar to the catcher in baseball). These 11 players do it all. There aren't separate squads of batsmen and bowlers. Specialist bowlers are generally poor batsman and vice-versa. This adds to the strategic aspect of the game.
In a "Test" match each side is up to play twice. The first side bats, then the second side bats, the first side bats again, then the second side bats once more. Each turn is called an "innings" (what baseball calls half an inning, cricket calls an innings — singular same as plural). Thus, the first side has its first innings, then the second side has its first innings, then each side has its second innings. As in baseball, one side bats while the other side fields and the side at bat tries to score runs while the side doing the fielding tries to prevent them. Whichever side has scored the most runs at the end of both innings wins. Test matches are played over a period of 5 days.
In "Limited Overs" Cricket, however, each side has only one innings and the duration of the match is fixed so as to complete the game in a day. The number of balls the batting side faces in its innings is limited. These matches are also called "One Day Matches".
The bowling side (also called the fielding side) bowls the ball in increments of "overs". In one over, a bowler delivers six balls to a batsman. When he has done so, a different bowler delivers another six balls from the other end of the pitch (i.e., using the center of the pitch as a pivot, the whole fielding side moves from one end of the ground to the other) and this constitutes another over.
Over # 1 (left) Over # 2 (right)
Note that in over # 1, North is at the top. In over # 2, South is at the top. But the fielders (white dots) are all in the same position. They crossed over to the other side of the ground after the first over. They need not be in the same positions, actually. The fielders can stand anywhere. The Captain, in consultation with the bowler, sets the field.
Then another bowler (or the first bowler again — the only restriction is that no bowler may bowl two consecutive overs) bowls the next over after moving back to the side of the ground they started from and so on and so forth till the batting side gets out or declares their innings to be over (if a side has accumulated what it considers to be enough runs to win and, in true gentlemanly fashion, decides they wish to avoid completely humiliating the other side, they may call it a day. It's a strategic decision made by the side's captain). The bowling side may use any number of bowlers from any end of the pitch. In "Limited Over" matches, no bowler is allowed to bowl more than 1/5th of the total number of overs. For example, in a 50-over match, each bowler is allowed a maximum of 10 overs. There is no such limitation in Test matches.
During an innings, the batting side sends up its first two batsmen. The one who is actually facing the ball is called the "batsman" (he is also said to be "on strike"). The other chap is called the "non-striker" and he stands at the opposite end of the pitch, beside the bowler. The batsman on strike receives the ball and can hit it in any direction, even behind him (there is no "foul" zone in Cricket). After hitting the ball, the batsman does not have to run. He may run if he wants to or he can stand there for hours just tapping the ball away from the wicket (more on this in a moment).
Please note! batsmen never, ever throw away the bat after they've hit the ball! Keep the bat with you at all times!
While the fieldsmen are chasing the ball and trying to throw it back toward the pitch, the two batsmen, if they have decided to run, exchange places. There are no bases to run around — just back and forth, back and forth, from one end of the pitch to the other. Each time the players pass each other they score a run. They will do this as many times as they can before the fielding side can return the ball to the pitch. When they score an odd number of runs, the batsman who hit the ball will end up at the non-striker's end and vice versa. In this manner they take turns being at bat.
The batsmen continue batting until one of them gets out (the ways in which this is accomplished will be explained in due course) and then the next batsman whose turn it is replaces him. Then those two players continue to bat until one of them is out and the process is repeated until ten of the eleven are out (then the innings is over because a batsman cannot bat alone). Now the side that has been fielding gets to bat.
In cricket, the pitchers are called "bowlers"and for a dashed good reason! The bowlers cannot pitch the ball as in baseball; they must bowl it. The crucial difference is in the motion used to deliver the ball. In cricket, the bowler's elbow is kept straight (except at the very beginning), causing him to make a wide, circular arc with his arm straight over his head rather than an angle. When the ball is bowled to the batsman, it's okay for the ball to bounce off the ground before it reaches the batsman. In fact, this is preferred. A ball that doesn't bounce on the ground before reaching the batsman (called a "full-toss") is too easy to hit. This is where cricket gets tricky because bowlers can swing (curve) the ball in the air as in baseball, or get the ball to change direction after it hits the ground. And then there are the wily spin-bowlers who bowl ever so slow, but spin the ball so much that it changes it's direction completely after bouncing on the ground. Batsmen have to be very careful because of this. Where will the ball bounce — close to the feet or far away? Will it swing in the air? How much will it rise after bouncing? Which way will it turn after bouncing or will it keep coming straight? The bowlers keep the batsmen guessing all the time.
Now we come to what is arguably the most fundamental difference between baseball and cricket. Instead of trying to "strike out" the batsman, the bowler is trying to "take" his wicket. There is a wooden thingummy called a "wicket" directly behind each batsman. This wicket is comprised of three vertical pieces called "stumps" and two horizontal ones called "bails". The stumps are staked into the ground. The rounded top of each stump is grooved and it is into these grooves that the bails are placed. Since the bails are more or less just resting on top of the stumps they are easily displaced when struck by a cricket ball and therein lies the crux of the matter.
The Almighty Wicket
When the bowler delivers the ball to the batsman, he isn't simply trying to prevent him from making runs, he's trying to knock down the batsman's wicket. And the batsman's first priority is not to score runs, but to defend his wicket (because if his wicket gets knocked down, he's out). This is the reason why a batsman doesn't have to run when he hits the ball. If a batsman hits the ball and it only goes ten feet and there is no chance for him and his partner to change places safely, they don't even try. They just stand there (but you can bet they don't like it much!) This concept can, at first, be very trying on the nerves of the baseball enthusiast who expects to see someone running every time the ball is hit. For the cricket enthusiast, however, it is sheer joy to see the way batsmen defend their wicket against good bowling. It is positively artistic.
Like we said earlier, the batsmen (the striker and the non-striker) will run when they hit the ball if they think it is safe to do so. So where's the danger? Well, if they are running and a player from the fielding side knocks down either of the wickets with the ball, the batsman closest to that wicket is out. This is very similar to baseball where the batter doesn't make it to his base before the ball does. When this happens it is called a "Run-out".
You see, the batsmen are only safe when they are behind a line called the "crease" (about a yard and a half out in front of their wicket). The area between the wicket and the crease is known as the batsman’s "ground" and when either batsman is outside of his ground (such as when they're running to exchange places as shown in the figure above), they can be got out by having the wicket closest to them knocked over (remember, there are two wickets — one behind each batsman). To "make their ground" it is not necessary for the batsmen to physically cross the line of the crease; all they have to do is touch safe territory with the tip of their bat (bear this in mind and it may help you to remember to take your bat with you when you hit the ball).
There are several ways a batsman can be got out besides being "bowled" (having his wicket knocked over by the ball) or being run-out. Here are some of the other common ways in which batsmen get out:
As we said before, batsmen get runs by running between the wickets after hitting the ball. Then there are the boundaries. When a batsman hits the ball and sends it sailing through the air to land outside the boundary of the ground (like a home run in baseball), he automatically gets 6 runs. This is called a "six". If the ball rolls along or touches the ground before crossing the boundary, he gets 4 runs. This is called a "four". When a batsman hits a four or a "sixer", he doesn't have to run.
There are also more ways for a side to get runs besides the batsmen running physically and these are called "extras". The main ones are "no balls" and "wides." A "no-ball" results when the bowler bowls the ball illegally. For example, if the bowler throws the ball with a flick of the wrist rather than bowling it, or oversteps the batting crease with his front foot before the ball leaves his hand, the umpire declares it a no-ball. No-ball laws, like the LBW laws, are frequently changed to confuse the players and umpires. The administrator's mantra is "No sense letting the boys get complacent" and they work hard at it. A "wide" is a ball that is bowled so far wide of the batsman that the umpire feels it is unreachable (when you resist the urge to strike at such a ball you may feel the giddy satisfaction of having one of your teammates crow "well left!" at you, by which he means he applauds your discretion). In either case the batting side is awarded one extra (a free run), and the illegal ball is not counted as part of the over (say the bowler has bowled three balls. He has three balls left to bowl in his over. Then he bowls a wide or a no-ball. Then there are still three balls left in the over because wides and no-balls don't count) A bowler who intends to touch his captain for a few quid at the end of the day should not bowl too many no-balls and wides. It is difficult for a captain to shell out with a good grace when his best bowler has given away 13 wides and 5 no-balls before lunch.
Finally, when a batsman is out in cricket, he is not automatically out. Say a chap hits an easy catch, or his wicket is smashed to pieces by the ball. THE CHAP IS NOT TECHNICALLY OUT YET. Someone on the opposing side has to ask the umpire "is this blighter out?" before the next ball is bowled and the umpire will then pronounce the batsman out. The umpire WILL NOT declare a batsman out unless he is asked (the cricket term is "appealed") to by a member of the fielding side. The actual phrase used to appeal to the umpire is "How's that?," but it is universally pronounced "Howzat?" The signal the umpire makes to indicate that a batsman is out is the holding up of his index finger. There is absolutely no arguing with the umpire over his decisions (except perhaps LBW and that only after the game, perhaps while enjoying a nice beer together). Cricket is called the gentleman's game and gentlemen (and ladies) keep the upper lip stiff even when they do not agree with umpires. Leaving the pitch with dignity is what is expected when the index finger points skywards.
NOTE: This is a very simplified explanation of the game of cricket for the uninitiated. However, if it does not make any sense to you at this time, don't worry. Just show up at a TWS Convention match and everything will be made clear via demonstration. It's really rather simple once you see it (the way we play it, at least).