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The Importance of Cricket

While football is clearly the most popular sport in the world, the competition for the world’s second most followed team sport remains close. Sports such as Baseball, American Football, and Basketball are popular in the United States, but not played with such great passion elsewhere in the world. Hockey and Volleyball are sports that don’t really have much of a following. Rugby is popular in a few countries. What about cricket?

Cricket? Well, very few sports around the world, apart from football or soccer are followed with the sort of passion as cricket arouses. Let’s talk a bit about cricket, why it’s so popular and introduce you to the basics of the game. Yes, cricket is complicated, but it’s also a whole lot fun!

Cricket – How Popular is it, really?

Had we been asked about what makes cricket such a great sport a couple of decades ago, we would talk about team spirit, about cricket being a gentleman’s sport, about the intense battle that lasts for 5 days and so on. But today’s cricket is nothing like that. Today’s cricket is all about money, professionalism and about winning at all cost.

Cristiano Ronaldo may be the highest paid athlete in the world, earning $80 million, but Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian cricket team captain, comes close – making $30 million a year. Clearly there is a lot of money in cricket. But what’s also clear is that much of the money in cricket comes from India, which is a fast rising economy and where the people are absolutely nuts about cricket.

Cricket is played in England, but it is way behind football in the popularity stakes. Australia is another country where cricket is massively popular. For Australians, cricket is just a way to beat old rival England and earn bragging rights by beating the living hell out of them, as they did in the last Ashes series between, blanking out England 5-0.

Cricket is one of the many popular sports in South Africa, and a distant #2 to rugby in New Zealand. Cricket is popular in the Caribbean, but not as much as it used to be.

It is in the Indian subcontinent – in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where cricket is by far the #1 sport, followed by almost 2 billion people. It is here that cricket manages to rival even football in popularity and arouses crazy passion, likes of which seen is only in Latin America for football.

In India, cricket is more than a sport; it is a religion and hold the 1.3 billion strong and very diverse country together, acting as an unifying force. A past cricketing legend such as Sachin Tendulkar is treated like a God in India, and much like Pele in Brazil and Diego Maradona in Argentina.

That’s great. So how does one play Cricket?

Actually, cricket is a sport that can be understood well only if it’s played since an early childhood. There are several rules in cricket and dozens of variations. It’s not an easy sport to explain. But we will try all the same.

Cricket is played with a bat and a ball in a large ground. At the center of the ground, there is a dry hard surface called a pitch. There are wickets on either end of the pitch.

Cricket is played between 2 teams. A cricket team has 11 players. Each team takes turns to bat while the other team bowls. A bowler runs and hurls a ball at great speed towards the batsman, who has to prevent the ball from hitting the stumps and strike it with his bat, for runs.

Runs are akin to points in cricket. If the batsman hits the ball beyond the boundary line, he will be give 6 runs, and if the ball reaches the boundary line along the ground, he will be given 4 runs. The batsman is allowed to run between wickets and for 1, 2 or 3 runs, as long as he doesn’t lose his wicket to a run-out.

A batsman can be given out when he gets bowled by the bowler, as the ball hits the wickets, gets caught by a fielder, is declared Leg before wicket by the Umpire or gets run out by a fielder.

Confused already? Well, we did tell you it was complicated! Let’s continue!

Cricket is played in 3 different forms. Test Match cricket is the oldest form of cricket in which both teams are given 2 innings each and the match stretches for 5 days, 8 hours each day, or until one team comprehensively beats the other by bowling it out twice and scoring more runs

One day cricket is a shorter format where each team is given 50 overs each to bat. The team that scores more runs is declared the winner. One day cricket, as the name suggests, lasts for a day.

Twenty20 cricket is the most popular cricket format and also the newest. Teams are given only 20 years each to bat to make an impact. The team that scores more runs is declared the winner. A Twenty20 game lasts no more than 3 hours, which is why it is so popular with families and busy professionals.

Who are the Top Cricket Teams in the World?

India: Easily the most important cricket playing nation in the world, responsible for 66% of the money that goes into cricket. But the Indian cricket team leaves a lot to be desired. Recent defeats against England and Australia have demolished the morale of the Indian cricket team just before the start of a crucial World Cup in Australia, to begin in mid-February, 2015.

India are the current World Cup champions in cricket, but it looks increasingly likely that their hold over cricket’s biggest competition will be a short lived one. Great players for India in the past have included the phenomenal Sachin Tendulkar, the greatest batsman of the modern era of the game, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. Among the current Indian players, M S Dhoni and Virat Kohli are highly talented and very popular.

Australia: Australia are currently the best team in cricket, although South Africa come close. For a long time, Australia were in a losing streak, losing as many as 3 consecutive Ashes to bitter rivals England. But the 5-0 demolition of England in the Ashes contest of 2013 has completely turned around Aussie fortunes and they are once again on the top of the cricket world. A win against South Africa further burnished their credentials.

Australians are known to be unshakeable fighters, who never give up, even for a moment. However, there is a bad side to the Australian cricket team as they are known to sledge or verbally attack the opposition. Aussies are a highly aggressive bunch, and very talented. Nobody would be surprised to see them win the World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand this February, March of 2015.

Sir Don Bradman, the greatest batsman in the history of the game is an Australian icon. Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh and Glen McGrath are other Australian heroes, and born winners. Among current players, captain Michael Clarke and the world’s fastest bowler Mitchell Johnson are phenomenal.

England: England have always been the good boys of cricket, polite, well mannered, methodical and humble. Much like their captain Alastair Cook. In a lot of ways, English cricketers are the exact opposite of the loud, garish, arrogant English footballers, and English cricket fans the polar opposites of English football fans. England cricket fans are among the most knowledgeable, well behaved and polite sports fans in the world, very sporting in defeat and gracious in victory.

England’s status as the super power of cricket may have been taken over by India and Australia, but there cannot be cricket without England being a part of it. Cricket originated in England and cricket will remain a competitive international sport only as long as the English take it seriously. Unfortunately, there are signs that cricket is losing popularity fast in England, which is not great news for cricket fans world over.

Among the greatest English cricket players are WG Grace, Ian Botham and the now discarded, the highly controversial Kevin Pietersen. Fast bowler James Anderson is perhaps the best English player currently playing for them.

South Africa: South Africa is handicapped by the fact that for until 1992, they were never allowed to play international cricket because of the Apartheid system of racial inequality that was in place in their country. South Africa were welcomed into the world of cricket following the end of Apartheid and have been an integral part of the cricketing fraternity ever since. They are also among the top two sides in world cricket, along with Australia.

South African players such as Dale Steyn and AB De Villiers are phenomenal cricketers, perhaps the best of their generation. It’s always a pleasure to watch South Africa play cricket, as not only are they supremely gifted, but give it their all in every single match, whether they win or lose. Along with Australia they are favorites for the World Cup to be played soon.