The laws of cricket
are a set of rules framed by the Marylebone Cricket Club
(MCC) which serve to standardise the format of cricket
matches across the world to ensure uniformity and fairness. There are currently 42 laws, which outline all aspects of how the game is played from how a team wins a game, how a batsman is dismissed, through to specifications on how the pitch is to be prepared and maintained. Although the MCC is a private club based in London
and no longer the game's governing body, the MCC retains copyright in the laws and only the MCC may change the laws, although nowadays this would usually only be done after discussions with the game's global governing body the International Cricket Council
Interestingly, cricket is one of the few sports for which the governing principles are referred to as 'Laws' rather than as 'Rules' or 'Regulations'. However regulations to supplement and/or vary the laws may be agreed for particular competitions.
Cricket started out as a game played by children, but expanded to become a betting game, and where rich aristocrats were involved, the wagers could be large. The earliest laws were drawn up in that context, to help regulate a game on which large sums of money were being staked. The earliest existing known Code of cricket was drawn up by certain "Noblemen and Gentlemen" who used the Artillery Ground in London in 1744. In 1755 there is further reference to the laws being revised by "Several Cricket Clubs, particularly the Star and Garter in Pall Mall", followed by a revision of the Laws by "a Committee of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London at the Star and Garter" in 1774. A printed form of the laws was published in 1775 and a further revision to the laws was undertaken by a similar body of Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London in 1786.
However, these laws were not universally followed, with different games played under different guidance. On 30 May 1788, the Marylebone Cricket Club, which had been formed by the leading noblemen and gentlemen playing the game just one year before, produced its first Code of Laws. Whilst the MCC's version of the Laws were not accepted fully immediately, or applied consistently, it is the successor of these Laws that governs the game today. The next major change was in 1809 and saw the further standardisation of the weight of the ball from between 5 and 6 ounces (142 to 170 g) to between 5.5 and 5.75 ounces (156 to 163 g), and the width of the cricket bat was standardised for the first time. The length of stumps was increased from 22 to 24 inches and bails from 6 to 7 inches to help the bowlers, and the importance of umpires was further enhanced. Finally, a new method of dismissing a batsman was introduced. Previously, as cricket uses a hard ball and leg-pads were not used, players would naturally play with their legs away from the wicket. As batsmen started to wear pads, they became willing to cover their stumps with their legs to prevent the ball hitting the stumps and bowling them. Therefore a "leg before wicket" rule was introduced so that a batsman preventing the ball hitting his stumps with his legs would be out.
In 1829 the Length of stumps increased from 24 inches to 27 inches (559 to 686 mm) and the length of the bails was increased from 7 inches to 8 inches (178 to 203 mm), again to help the bowlers. For the first time, the thickness of stumps was mentioned. A new Code of Laws was approved by the MCC Committee on 19 May 1835, and another on 21 April 1884. In the 1884 laws the number of players was formalised for the first time (at eleven-a-side), and the size of the ball was formalised for the first time too. The follow-on rule was introduced. This was in response to the problem that to win a game a side needed to dismiss their opposition twice. A side that batted first and was fully on top of a match and scoring lots of runs would have to wait until it was dismissed a second time before it could attempt to dismiss the opposition a second time. As cricket is a time-limited game, it meant that sides that dominated the opposition could be forced to draw rather than win games. The initial follow-on rule was faulty, though, as it required a side to follow-on when it was behind. A side could deliberately concede its last wickets in the first innings in return for being able to bowl last on a deteriorating pitch. Later the follow-on rule was changed so that a team sufficiently ahead of its opposition has the option on whether to enforce it or not.
In 1947 a new Code was approved by the MCC on 7 May. In 1979 after a number of minor revisions of the 1947 Code, a new Code was approved at an MCC Special General Meeting on 21 November. This is known as the 1980 code. Amongst other changes, imperial units are now followed by metric units in the specifications.
In 1992 a second edition of the 1980 Code was produced. In 2000 a new Code, which for the first time included a Preamble defining the Spirit of Cricket was approved on 3 May. The code was rewritten into plain English and is more discursive than previous Codes. The length of an over was officially standardised at six balls for all matches, although in practice this had been the case for 20 or so years before that. In 2003 a second version of the 2000 Code was produced incorporating necessary amendments arising from the application of the 2000 Code.
Throwing was first regulated in laws produced in 1829. In 1864 overarm bowling was permitted for the first time.
In 1889, the length of an over increased from four balls to five balls. In 1900, the length of an over was increased to six balls. In 1922, variation was allowed in the length of the over (Australian overs to be eight balls). The 1947 Code stipulated that the length of an over was to be six or eight balls according to "prior agreement" between the captains.
The Marylebone Cricket Club is the framer of the Laws of Cricket, the rules governing play of the game. The Laws are intended to apply to all two innings matches; the International Cricket Council has implemented "Standard Playing Conditions for Test Matches" and "Standard Playing Conditions for One Day Internationals" to augment the Laws of Cricket. Similarly, each cricketing country has implemented Playing Conditions to govern domestic cricket. The Laws provide for One-day, or Limited overs cricket (including Twenty20) by stipulating that the number of innings per side may be one or two, and that each innings may be restricted to a maximum number of overs, or a maximum period of time.
The Laws retain the Imperial units as they were originally specified, but now also include metric conversions.
The Laws are organised into a Preface, a Preamble, forty-two Laws, and four appendices. The Preface relates to the Marylebone Cricket Club and the history of the Laws. The Preamble is a new addition and is related to "the Spirit of the Game;" it was introduced to discourage the increasing practices of ungentlemanly conduct. The Laws themselves deal with the following:
Players and officials
The first four laws cover the players, the umpires and the scorers.
- Law 1: The players. A cricket team consists of eleven players, including a captain. Outside of official competitions, teams can agree to play more than eleven-a-side, though no more than eleven players may field.
- Law 2: Substitutes. In cricket, a substitute may be brought on for an injured fielder. However, a substitute may not bat, bowl, keep wicket or act as captain. The original player may return if he has recovered. A batsman who becomes unable to run may have a runner, who completes the runs while the batsman continues batting. Alternatively, a batsman may retire hurt or ill, and may return later to resume his innings if he recovers.
- Law 3: The umpires. There are two umpires, who apply the Laws, make all necessary decisions, and relay the decisions to the scorers. 2 umpires are on the pitch and a third umpire is in the pavilion helping the 2 umpires.
- Law 4: The scorers. There are two scorers who respond to the umpires' signals and keep the score.
Equipment and laying out the pitch
After dealing with the players, the laws move on to discuss equipment and pitch specifications, except for specifications about the wicket-keeper's gloves, which are dealt with in Law 40. These laws are supplemented by Appendices A and B (see below).
- Law 5: The ball. A cricket ball is between 8 13/16 and 9 inches (22.4cm and 22.9cm) in circumference, and weighs between 5.5 and 5.75 ounces (155.9g and 163g). Only one ball is used at a time, unless it is lost, when it is replaced with a ball of similar wear. It is also replaced at the start of each innings, and may, at the request of the fielding side, be replaced with a new ball, after a certain number of overs have been bowled (80 in Test matches, 35 in ODIs). The gradual degradation of the ball through the innings is an important aspect of the game.
- Law 6: The bat. The bat is no more than 38 inches (96.5cm) in length, and no more than 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) wide. The hand or glove holding the bat is considered part of the bat. Ever since the Heavy Metal incident, a highly publicized marketing attempt by Dennis Lillee, who brought out an aluminium bat during an international game, the laws have provided that the blade of the bat must be made of wood (and in practice, they are made from White Willow wood).
- Law 7: The pitch. The pitch is a rectangular area of the ground 22 yards (20.12 m) long and 10ft (3.05 m) wide. The Ground Authority selects and prepares the pitch, but once the game has started, the umpires control what happens to the pitch. The umpires are also the arbiters of whether the pitch is fit for play, and if they deem it unfit, with the consent of both captains can change the pitch. Professional cricket is almost always played on a grass surface. However, in the event a non-turf pitch is used, the artificial surface must have a minimum length of 58ft (17.68 m) and a minimum width of 6ft (1.83 m).
- Law 8: The wickets. The wicket consists of three wooden stumps that are 28 inches (71.1 cm) tall. The stumps are placed along the batting crease with equal distances between each stump. They are positioned so they are 9 inches (22.86 cm) wide. Two wooden bails are placed on top of the stumps. The bails must not project more than 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) above the stumps, and must, for men's cricket, be 4 5/16 inches (10.95 cm) long. There are also specified lengths for the barrel and spigots of the bail. There are different specifications for the wickets and bails for junior cricket. The umpires may dispense with the bails if conditions are unfit (ie it is windy so they might fall off by themselves). Further details on the specifications of the wickets are contained in Appendix A to the laws.
- Law 9: Bowling, popping, and return creases. This law sets out the dimensions and locations of the creases. The bowling crease, which is the line the stumps are in the middle of, is drawn at each end of the pitch so that the three stumps in the set of stumps at that end of the pitch fall on it (and consequently it is perpendicular to the imaginary line joining the centres of both middle stumps). Each bowling crease should be 8 feet 8 inches (2.64 m) in length, centred on the middle stump at each end, and each bowling crease terminates at one of the return creases. The popping crease, which determines whether a batsman is in his ground or not, and which is used in determining front-foot no balls (see law 24), is drawn at each end of the pitch in front of each of the two sets of stumps. The popping crease must be 4 feet (1.22 m) in front of and parallel to the bowling crease. Although it is considered to have unlimited length, the popping crease must be marked to at least 6 feet (1.83 metres) on either side of the imaginary line joining the centres of the middle stumps. The return creases, which are the lines a bowler must be within when making a delivery, are drawn on each side of each set of the stumps, along each sides of the pitch (so there are four return creases in all, one on either side of both sets of stumps). The return creases lie perpendicular to the popping crease and the bowling crease, 4 feet 4 inches (1.32 m) either side of and parallel to the imaginary line joining the centres of the two middle stumps. Each return crease terminates at one end at the popping crease but the other end is considered to be unlimited in length and must be marked to a minimum of 8 feet (2.44 m) from the popping crease.
- Law 10: Preparation and maintenance of the playing area. In cricket, when a ball is bowled it almost always bounces on the pitch, and how the ball behaves depends very much on the condition of the pitch. Therefore detailed rules on the pitch itself are necessary. This law sets down rules governing how pitches should be prepared, mown, rolled, etc.
- Law 11: Covering the pitch. Covering the pitch affects how the ball will react when it bounces on it. For example, a ball bouncing on wet ground will react differently to one bouncing on hard ground. In general, a wet pitch will have uneven bounce, a dry pitch won't. The laws stipulate that the regulations on covering the pitch shall be agreed in advance. Bowlers' run-ups also need to be dry to reduce the chances that they will slip. The laws therefore require these to be covered wherever possible when there is wet weather.
Structure of the game
Laws 12 to 17 outline the structure of the game.
- Law 12: Innings. Before the game the teams agree whether it is to be over one or two innings, and whether either or both innings are to be limited by time or by overs. In practice, these decisions are likely to be laid down by Competition Regulations, rather than pre-game agreement. In two-innings games, the sides bat alternately unless the follow-on (law 13) is enforced. An innings is closed once all batsmen are dismissed, no further batsmen are fit to play, the innings is declared or forfeited by the batting captain, or any agreed time or over limit is reached. The captain winning the toss of a coin decides whether to bat or to bowl first.
- Law 13: The follow-on. In a two innings match, if the side batting second scores substantially fewer runs than the side batting first, the side that batted first can force their opponents to bat again immediately. The side that enforced the follow-on risks not getting to bat again and thus the chance of winning. For a game of five or more days, the side batting first must be at least 200 runs ahead to enforce the follow-on; for a three- or four-day game, 150 runs; for a two-day game, 100 runs; for a one-day game, 75 runs. The length of the game is determined by the number of scheduled days play left when the game actually begins.
- Law 14: Declaration and forfeiture. The batting captain can declare an innings closed at any time when the ball is dead. He may also forfeit his innings before it has started.
- Law 15: Intervals. There are intervals between each day's play, a ten-minute interval between innings, and lunch, tea and drinks intervals. The timing and length of the intervals must be agreed before the match begins. There are also provisions for moving the intervals and interval lengths in certain situations, most notably the provision that if nine wickets are down, the tea interval is delayed to the earlier of the fall of the next wicket and 30 minutes elapsing.
- Law 16: Start of play; cessation of play. Play after an interval commences with the umpire's call of "Play", and at the end of a session by "Time". The last hour of a match must contain at least 20 overs, being extended in time so as to include 20 overs if necessary.
- Law 17: Practice on the field. There may be no batting or bowling practice on the pitch except before the day's play starts and after the day's play has ended. Bowlers may only have trial run-ups if the umpires are of the view that it would waste no time.
Scoring and winning
The laws then move on to discuss how runs can be scored and how one team can beat the other.
- Law 18: Scoring runs. Runs are scored when the two batsmen run to each other's end of the pitch. Several runs can be scored from one ball.
- Law 19: Boundaries. A boundary is marked round the edge of the field of play. If the ball is hit past this boundary, four runs are scored, or six runs if the ball didn't hit the ground before crossing the boundary.
- Law 20: Lost ball. If a ball in play is lost or cannot be recovered, the fielding side can call "lost ball". The batting side keeps any penalty runs (such as no-balls and wides) and scores the higher of six runs and the number of runs actually run.
- Law 21: The result. The side which scores the most runs wins the match. If both sides score the same number of runs, the match is tied. However, the match may run out of time before the innings have all been completed. In this case, the match is drawn.
- Law 22: The over. An over consists of six balls bowled, excluding wides and no balls. Consecutive overs are delivered from opposite ends of the pitch. A bowler may not bowl two consecutive overs.
- Law 23: Dead ball. The ball comes into play when the bowler begins his run up, and becomes dead when all the action from that ball is over. Dead ball is also called if the ball pitches twice, and the second pitch lands before the batsman crease. While the ball is dead, no runs can be scored and no batsmen can be dismissed. The ball also becomes dead when a batsman is dismissed.
- Law 24: No ball. A ball can be a no ball for several reasons: if the bowler bowls from the wrong place; or if he straightens his elbow during the delivery; or if the bowling is dangerous; or if the ball bounces more than twice or rolls along the ground before reaching the batsman; or if the fielders are standing in illegal places. A no ball adds one run to the batting team's score, in addition to any other runs which are scored off it, and the batsman can't be dismissed off a no ball except by being run out, or by handling the ball, hitting the ball twice, or obstructing the field.
- Law 25: Wide ball. An umpire calls a ball "wide" if, in his or her opinion, the batsman did not have a reasonable opportunity to score off the ball. A ball is not called wide when the bowler bowls a bouncer that goes over the head of the batsman;such a delivery is a No ball. A wide adds one run to the batting team's score, in addition to any other runs which are scored off it, and the batsman can't be dismissed off a wide except by being run out or stumped, or by handling the ball, hitting his wicket, or obstructing the field.
- Law 26: Bye and Leg bye. If a ball that isn't a no ball or wide passes the striker and runs are scored, they are called byes. If a ball that isn't a no ball hits the striker but not the bat and runs are scored, they are called leg-byes. However, leg-byes cannot be scored if the striker is neither attempting a stroke nor trying to avoid being hit. Byes and leg-byes are credited to the team's but not the batsman's total.
Mechanics of dismissal
Laws 27 to 29 discuss the main mechanics of how a batsman may be dismissed.
- Law 27: Appeals. If the fielders believe a batsman is out, they may ask the umpire "How's That?", commonly shouted emphatically with arms raised, before the next ball is bowled. The umpire then decides whether the batsman is out.
- Law 28: The wicket is down. Several methods of being out occur when the wicket is put down. This means that the wicket is hit by the ball, or the batsman, or the hand in which a fielder is holding the ball, and at least one bail is removed.
- Law 29: Batsman out of his ground. The batsmen can be run out or stumped if they are out of their ground. A batsman is in his ground if any part of him or his bat is on the ground behind the popping crease. If both batsman are in the middle of the pitch when a wicket is put down, the batsman closer to that end is out.
Ways to get out
Laws 30 to 39 discuss the various ways a batsman may be dismissed. In addition to these 10 methods, a batsman may retire out. That provision is in Law 2.
- Law 30: Bowled. A batsman is out if his wicket is put down by a ball delivered by the bowler. It is irrelevant whether the ball has touched the bat, glove, or any part of the batsman before going on to put down the wicket, though it may not touch another player or an umpire before doing so.
- Law 31: Timed out. An incoming batsman must be ready to face a ball (or be at the crease with his partner ready to face a ball) within 3 minutes of the outgoing batsman being dismissed, otherwise the incoming batsman will be out.
- Law 32: Caught. If a ball hits the bat or the hand holding the bat and is then caught by the opposition within the field of play before the ball bounces, then the batsman is out.
- Law 33: Handled the ball. If a batsman wilfully handles the ball with a hand that is not touching the bat without the consent of the opposition, he is out.
- Law 34: Hit the ball twice. If a batsman hits the ball twice other than for the purposes of protecting his wicket or with the consent of the opposition, he is out.
- Law 35: Hit wicket. If, after the bowler has entered his delivery stride and while the ball is in play, a batsman puts his wicket down by his bat or his person he is out. The striker is also out hit wicket if he puts his wicket down by his bat or his person in setting off for a first run. "Person" includes the clothes and equipment of the batsman.
- Law 36: Leg before wicket. If the ball hits the batsman without first hitting the bat, but would have hit the wicket if the batsman was not there, and the ball does not pitch on the leg side of the wicket the batsman will be out. However, if the ball strikes the batsman outside the line of the off-stump, and the batsman was attempting to play a stroke, he is not out.
- Law 37: Obstructing the field. If a batsman wilfully obstructs the opposition by word or action, he is out.
- Law 38: Run out. A batsman is out if at any time while the ball is in play no part of his bat or person is grounded behind the popping crease and his wicket is fairly put down by the opposing side.
- Law 39: Stumped. A batsman is out when the wicket-keeper (see Law 40) puts down the wicket, while the batsman is out of his crease and not attempting a run.
Fair and unfair play
The four appendices to the laws, are as follows: