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The sport is nothing like American baseball, but the easiest way to explain it is through that terminology. (A new Aussie friend of ours explained that you can tell when an American understands Cricket because they start getting offended when the baseball analogy is made.)
Basically, there are two batters (batsmen) who don’t bat as much as they protect the wicket (three croquet mallet handles stuck in the ground behind each of two home plates) from pitchers (bowlers) who hurl wooden balls trying to knock the wickets over.
There are “outs,” which comes if the bowler knocks down the aforementioned wicket, or the batsman makes a batting error (hits the ball to one of the outfielders, or uses something other than his bat to strike the ball). Two batsmen are on the field at once, and each stays until he is out once, scoring as many runs are possible. All members of one team bat before the other has their go.
Runs are scored when the ball is hit well enough that the two batsmen can exchange places. There are even two types of home runs (6 runs if the struck ball clears the park without touching the ground, and 4 runs if it just dribbles over the boundary). Good batsmen can score one hundred — or more — runs in a match.
There really isn’t the downtime here that you have in baseball, with nearly constant action through the whole match (except for when they break for tea, of course). Because each player does their batting all at once, there is a better opportunity for a “dual” to develop between batsman and bowler. Also, when the batsman or bowler is having a good go of it, there is a sort of “king-of-the-mountain” tension that develops as well.
The greatest thing about the game is that it is watched here by all kinds, though women do seem to roll their eyes when it is discussed at the dinner table.