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The 5-minute cricket primer

Cricket is bigger than you think. It’s now second only to soccer in terms of global popularity, with nearly a third of the world’s population—2.5 billion—counted as fans.

Canadians haven’t latched onto this centuries-old sport as fervently as other countries, but its popularity here is growing. This is due in part to the success of our national Twenty20 International men’s team, which is currently ranked 20th by the International Cricket Council (ICC), as well as the 2018 launch of Global T20 Canada, the first major cricket tournament sanctioned by the ICC in North America.

Clearly, we have teams worth cheering for. So, what will it take for cricket to catch on with more Canadians? Getting to know more about how it’s played is a good start. And with the ability to bet on major cricket matches around the globe, some Ontario sports fans are finding new motivation to become a little more familiar with this beloved and storied sport.

Despite some pretty clear similarities to baseball—a sport most Canadians know very well—cricket has a reputation for being difficult to figure out, perhaps because of its colourful terminology (you’ll get to learn about “googlies” and “doosra” in a minute) and its potential for days-long matches.

That’s why we’ve put together a quick cricket primer to help ease Canadians into the game.

Cricket History 101

The first reference to cricket was made in an English court document in the 16th century, which suggests the sport has been around for about half a millennium.

Historians believe that rudimentary field games, played in the southeast of England during the Saxon and Norman periods, formed the foundation of what would eventually become cricket. The earliest surviving written references to “cricket”, one of which is a dictionary definition that denotes it as a “game”, date from the early 17th century.

The sport’s rules—known as the Laws of Cricket (always with a capital L to show respect) have been maintained by the London-based Marylebone Cricket Club for the past 235 years.

Cricket spread quickly throughout the British colonies and remained a welcome pastime among many local populations even after the withdrawal of British influence. It is now hugely popular in countries like India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies, which cumulatively account for hundreds of millions of fans. The best professional cricket players in the world earn as much as athletes in other major sports. Indian player Virat Kohli, for example, made the Forbes list of the 100 highest-paid athletes of 2022, making more than $30 million in salary and endorsement deals.

The sport now comes in a variety of formats, from the traditional—some would say defining—version of the game known as Test cricket, which is played in several six-hour sessions over a period of up to five days, to One Day International (ODI) matches that last seven hours or less, to the more audience- (and broadcaster-) friendly Twenty20 (T20) matches, which limit innings so matches last between three and four hours.

A starter glossary for cricket newbs

Part of the fun of being a sports fan is knowing terms and slang so you can keep up with the commentators and feel like you’re in the know and part of the community.

Those unfamiliar with cricket can intuitively understand the meaning of terms like “bat,  “out” and “field”. But other bits of jargon might seem…well, silly. Literally. Like the “Silly Mid Off” (a position on the field) or a “googly” (a type of unexpected ball spin).

Here are a few other cricket terms that’ll help form a basic glossary for newcomers.

Batter (AKA batsman): The player wielding a cricket bat and facing the bowler.

Bowler: The player on the fielding team who bowls (throws) the ball toward the wicket and batter.

Doosra: The off-spinner’s curveball, spinning in the opposite direction of an off-break.

Wicket: The bowler’s target. It’s composed of three vertical sticks atop which rest two bails. Batsmen try to protect the wicket from bowled balls by batting them away.

Run: Cricket’s unit of scoring.

Over: A series of six legally delivered throws made by the bowler to the batting player.

There are hundreds of other terms that help form cricket’s unique lexicon, but knowing these should help rookie spectators find their cricket legs.

Know the odds and play smart   

Getting to know the teams, players and rules of a sport in which you’ve just begun to take interest is like exploring a whole new world.

But regardless of how well you come to understand cricket, outcomes are never a sure thing (just ask anyone who watched the 1996 World Cup, where Sri Lanka came from behind, scoring 245 runs to edge out the heavily favoured Australian squad and win the tournament).

As you begin betting on cricket matches, consider easing in. Start by placing small bets, then gradually increase as you feel more comfortable in your understanding of the sport and its teams. Also, make sure you understand the odds system being used, and set your bankroll by establishing a spend limit using My PlaySmart Tools.

And with Canada’s national squad having earned its first-ever berth to the T20 Cricket World Cup by beating Bermuda last fall, there’s never been a better time to become a cricket fan than right now. Just remember that your newfound ability to tell a pace bowler from a spin bowler doesn’t make you a cricket fortune teller. Wins and losses are never guaranteed no matter how much you think you know. Keep your wagers fun and just sit back and enjoy the game.