Cricket is a bat-and-ball game that originated in south-east England in the late 16th century and became an established sport in the 18th century. It is now played throughout the world, especially in countries that were once part of the British Empire, such as Australia, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, and the British Isles. Cricket is considered to be the world's second most popular spectator sport after association football (soccer).
Cricket involves two teams of 11 players each, who take turns to bat and bowl on a rectangular pitch in the center of a large oval field. The aim of the batting team is to score as many runs as possible by hitting the ball with the bat and running between two sets of wooden stumps, called wickets, at either end of the pitch. The aim of the bowling team is to prevent the batting team from scoring runs and to dismiss the batsmen by hitting the wickets with the ball or catching the ball after it is hit by the bat. The game is divided into innings, during which each team bats once and bowls once. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins.
The earliest known reference to cricket is from a court case in 1598, when a coroner named John Derrick testified that he and his school friends had played "creckett" on a common land in Guildford, Surrey, around 1550. It is believed that cricket was derived from older games, such as bowls or stoolball, by children living in the Weald, an area of dense woodlands and clearings in south-east England. The original equipment may have been a lump of wool, a stick, and a stool or a gate as the wicket.
Cricket gradually evolved into an adult sport in the 17th century, with formal rules and clubs being established. The first recorded match was played in 1646 between two parish teams in Sussex. The game spread to other parts of England and to other countries with British settlers and traders. The first international match was played between the United States and Canada in 1844. The first official Test match, which is the highest level of international cricket, was played between England and Australia in 1877.
Cricket has undergone many changes over time, both in its rules and its formats. The game has various formats, ranging from T-10 (Ten-10) played in around 90 minutes to Test matches which can last up to five days. The most popular format today is One Day International (ODI), which consists of 50 overs (six balls each) per side and lasts about eight hours. Another popular format is Twenty20 (T20), which consists of 20 overs per side and lasts about three hours. Cricket also has various tournaments and competitions, such as the Cricket World Cup, which is held every four years and involves the top ODI teams; the ICC World Test Championship, which is a league of nine Test teams; and various domestic leagues, such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), which features franchise teams with players from different countries.
Cricket is more than just a sport; it is also a cultural phenomenon that reflects the history, politics, and identity of its players and fans. Cricket has been associated with nationalism, colonialism, imperialism, democracy, social class, race, gender, religion, and more. Cricket has also inspired many writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and celebrities. Cricket is a game that can unite or divide people across boundaries and generations.