Let’s talk about those outs, one of the stickiest bits of cricket. There are a lot of ways to get a player out, and the bowling team wants to get 10 outs (10 wickets) before the batsmen score too many runs. When watching or listening to a match, you might notice that sometimes it takes A-G-E-S between outs, but other times they come jammed together. A match might be going along swimmingly for the batting team, maybe 100/2 (100 runs to 2 wickets lost), and then all of a sudden WHAM and it’s 150/8. Now the batting team is in major trouble. How did they get there?
One way to get an out is for the bowler to hit the wicket with the ball he’s thrown. That’s called being “bowled out.” It’s difficult, of course, because the batsman is doing his protecting with the bat, hitting the ball all over the place (even backward–it’s all good!), and of course it’s hard to hit the wicket in the first place.
More common is a catch; if a fielder catches a ball that’s been hit, the player is out. Watching the fielders, you can see that there is a small set that stand right behind the batsman and off to each side. Balls tend to get chipped to those directions fairly often.
Here’s a fun one: If the batsman is out of his safe zone by the wicket at any time, and a fielder knocks the bails off the wicket, the batsman is out. If he is in the middle of attempting to score a run, he is “run out.” If he is just out of his ground for some reason, he is “out stumps” or stumped.
Okay. Get ready for some confusion. A batsman is standing forward and off to one side of his wicket. He can’t actually be in front of it (much like a baseball batter can’t be on the plate). If the ball hits the player when he is not trying for a hit, and the ball would have hit the wicket if he weren’t there, he is out “leg before wicket.” I know; that one is tricky. When I’m actually watching cricket, I have a hard time seeing an lbw, as they are called. When you think about it, it makes sense. A batsman’s job is to hit the ball with his bat, not his person. If you didn’t have the lbw rule, then there would be a lot of body deflections going on. Technology has helped the lbw in making it clearer whether a ball would have hit a wicket if it hadn’t hit the batsman.
But wait, you may well be asking: Who is making all these decisions? Here we come to one of my favorite components of cricket.
There is an umpire out there (several in fact), helpfully distinguishing himself with a floppy hat. Sometimes, if an out is obvious (like many catches and bowl-outs), then a batsman will leave the pitch without demur. But otherwise, the bowling/fielding team has to make an appeal. That’s right! They actually have to request that the umpire make a decision. They do so loudly and quickly, shouting “How’s that?” or more commonly, “HOWZAT?!” The fielding team members around the pitch raise their arms up and act very excited indeed. If the umpire shakes his head, no out. If the umpire raises a finger, the batsman lost his wicket and must depart (I know, it’s very sad).
Isn’t that tremendous? It’s so deliciously, old -fashionedly British, to my view. “I say, I do believe this gentleman has lost his wicket. What say you?” I can’t think of any other sport in which the umpire doesn’t just make the call automatically, maybe being challenged after, but still producing an initial decision.
There are other ways to get out in cricket, many which are very uncommon; one I’ve seen is the dreaded handling the ball. A batsman can’t handle the ball with his non-bat hand within a play. The guy I saw do this had a brain glitch and thought a play was dead when it was not. He knew immediately and walked away.
And, of course, a batsman can’t knock down his own wicket, or he’ll be out “hit wicket.” Even if the ball hits him then hits the wicket, he’s out. Basically, THE WICKET/BAILS MUST NOT FALL.
So: If you’re watching or listening to a cricket match, and you hear what sounds like an interrogative with no actual words, the bowling/fielding team is asking an umpire to call out an opponent. For an entertaining vision of some of these goings-on, see the Midsomer Murders episode “Secrets and Spies,” starting at about 27 min.