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Cricket Formats

Did you know that cricket has been played in 4 different formats historically, out of which 1 has been rendered obsolete?

The 3 currently contested formats at the highest international level include Test matches, One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 (T20) matches.

Who is in charge of defining and regulating matches, might you ask? The governing body, called the International Cricket Council (ICC), is responsible for all that as well as for providing match officials and umpires.

Unlimited Vs Limited Overs

The oldest and longest format, by far, is Test cricket: it spans 5 days.

Test cricket is the only form of ‘unlimited overs’ cricket played at the international level. ODIs and T20s, on the other hand, are considered ‘limited over’ formats due to the fact that both teams only play a stipulated maximum number of overs.

Since 1 inning each is played by both teams, matches are wrapped up within that day itself.

ICC Member Countries

12 countries are currently bestowed with ICC Membership, which grants them Test, ODI, and T20 status.

These are:

  • India
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • England
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • West Indies
  • Bangladesh
  • Zimbabwe
  • Afghanistan
  • Ireland

Another 4 countries (Scotland, Netherlands, Hong Kong, UAE) are registered with an ODI status, taking the total ICC Members with ODI status count to 16. T20 International status has been given to a further 2 teams, Oman and Papua New Guinea, thereby taking the count for eligible countries to 18.

Important Tournaments

Rankings are conferred upon these teams in the respective formats based on their performances.

The biggest cricket tournaments on an international level are played in the limited overs format, such as the ICC Cricket World Cup (50 Over), World Twenty20, Champions Trophy, and the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup.

Never has there been an international World-level tournament in the unlimited overs format as it is very time consuming; fans would rather see teams compete in the shorter versions of the game.

The biggest Test match rivalry is between Australia and England, who play a 5-match Test series every 2 years called the ‘Ashes’.

The 3 Formats Of Cricket

1Test Cricket

Cricket goes a long way back, so let’s begin with the oldest, purest, and most traditional format of the game: Test cricket.

Invented in 1877, the Test format is often considered the litmus test of cricket as it challenges and evaluates teams both mentally and physically over 5 days of play through two innings each. Success in this format requires tremendous stamina, technique, temperament, and dedication as different conditions and problems are faced throughout the 5 -day period.

There are no fielding restrictions in this format of cricket.

Players from both team sport white tees and trousers in this format. The game is played using a red leather ball which stands out from the white outfits all around. Although traditionally this format has only been played during the day (insufficient light causes play to be called off), 2015 witnessed the first day/night international Test match played with a pink ball.

Day/night Test matches are slowly gaining prominence but day Test matches still outnumber them by an overwhelming majority.

Here’s how it works:

Two teams, say Team 1 and Team 2, have to play out two innings each, if necessary. Each day is made up of two 3-hour sessions of play time spread either side of a 40-minute lunch break and a 20-minute afternoon tea break. The fielding team is required to bowl 90 overs before the day’s play ends. Who gets to bat first and who gets to bowl first? The winner of a coin toss between the captains of both teams settles this.

Suppose Team 1 bats first and scores X runs before either getting all-out or declaring their innings (a decision made by their captain). Team 2 then gets their chance to bat and score as many runs as they can. Ideally, they would want to score a minimum of X runs to be in with a good shout of winning the match. When Team 2 gets all out, it signals the end of 2 innings, one from each side.

The difference between the runs scored by both teams is used to decide which team bats next. If Team 1 leads Team 2 by at least 200 runs after the end of 2 innings, Team 1 can force Team 2 to bat again. For instance, if Team 1 scored 450, and Team 2 scored 200, then Team 1’s captain has the power to enforce a follow-on, i.e. force Team 2 to bat again right away. This gives them a greater chance of winning the match within the 5-day time-frame.

However, if Team 2 does not trail Team 1 by 200 runs after their innings, then Team 1 has to bat again and try to score as many runs. After they get all-out or declare their innings, Team 2 bats again. The only way for Team 2 to win the match now is by chasing the cumulative total of runs from both innings they still trail by. For instance, let’s assume Team 1 scores 350 runs, Team 2 scores 400 runs, and Team 1 score 300 runs in their second innings. This means that for Team 2 to win the match, they must score 250 runs to win the match.

If Team 2 is able to achieve the target within the allotted playing time and overs left to be bowled, they are declared winners. The other case involves Team 1 getting Team 2 out during the chase in the time and overs leftover before they get to 250 runs, which sees Team 1 declared winners. A match is declared a draw in case neither of the teams are able to fulfill the above-mentioned requirements needed to win the game.

As mentioned earlier, teams receive ranking points from ICC depending on whether they won or lost Test matches.

On April Fool’s Day every year (yes, it’s true!), the leader of the ICC Test Match rankings receives $1 million in cash prize. The teams holding the next three ranks also receive cash awards. Monetary prizes, though, are only a small reward for it; the respect that comes with being the world’s number 1 Test team is considered crucial in this gentleman’s game.

The term ‘First-class’ is occasionally branded about in the world of cricket. While it has held a different and much broader context historically, it now merely refers to domestic Test matches held in countries holding full ICC membership. First-class cricket matches can last anywhere from 3-5 days (usually 3).

Three day, First-class matches are increasingly being played at the international level as warm-up games for when a national side tours another country for a series of matches. These warm-up games help the touring team better understand the condition of the pitch, grass, and other variables that differ from country to country.

2One Day Internationals

One Day Internationals or ODIs, are ‘limited-over’ matches of cricket that were introduced in 1971 and became popular in the 80s. Initially, this format included matches that were played with 60 overs per side and with a dress code similar to that of the Test format. Drastic rule changes have completely altered the face of this format over the years though.

Teams now wear colored uniforms and play with a white leather ball instead of the red one used in Test cricket. These one-inning matches are now subject to a maximum of 50 overs per side and are thus pacier and more exciting than Test matches. Different rules and field restrictions have seen players of this format work hard to hone their technique, skill, and speed to succeed.

How are the rules different compared to Test cricket?

Well, each bowler can only bowl a maximum of 10 overs in ODIs. There are 3 Powerplays per innings in this format:

  • Overs 1-10: Only 2 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle.
  • Overs 11-40: Only 4 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle.
  • Overs 41:50: Only 5 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle.

While Test cricket may have sounded complex at first, ODIs are fairly straightforward and simple to grasp. Suppose Team 1 bats first and scores X runs in 50 overs (or less if they get all-out). Team 2 must then chase down the target of X in the 50 overs. A failure to do either due to getting bowled out before reaching X runs or running out of overs results in Team 2 losing the match.

Limited over matches cannot have a “draw” result, although they can be declared a ‘tie’ or a ‘no result’. Tiebreakers are sometimes held to determine a winner in tournaments, where net run-rate helps decide rankings if teams are level on points. ODI matches are usually completed in a single day’s play, although matches that are disrupted by bad weather might be played or finished on a reserve day (usually the next one).

Speaking of tournaments, ICC’s trophy event, the ICC Cricket World Cup is played every 4 years in the 50 over ODI format. The top 8 ranked ICC ODI teams also play a Champions Trophy tournament, which is second in importance to the World Cup, once in 4 years. ICC also holds the Women’s World Cup every 4 years, and the Under-19 World Cup every 2 years. Domestic games played in this format are categorized under the ‘List A’ format and can involve anywhere from 40 to 60 overs per side.


We saved the best for the last, Twenty20 is the newest, fastest, and most explosive format of cricket.

An action and entertainment packed condensed form of the game, it stipulates a maximum of 20 overs to be played per innings by both teams. Originating from England in 2003, T20 has quickly become the most popular format of the game and has drawn in new audiences as it finishes in just over 3 hours.

What happens when you mix cricket and partying? You get T20 matches that have music and cheerleaders entertaining the crowd in between deliveries and overs, creating a festive mood. Unlike other formats, the batting team does not sit in the dressing room. Instead, there’s a baseball like dugout area from where they come and go, adding to the buzz and excitement all around.

The rules for this version are somewhat refined from the 50 over ODI format. Bowlers can bowl a maximum of 4 overs. The penalty for a no-ball is a free hit on the following delivery. At any time, no more than 5 fielders can cover the leg side of the field.

Powerplays in T20s are also different from ODI Powerplays. No more than 2 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle for the first 6 overs. After that, only a maximum of 5 fielders are allowed outside the 30-yard circle. These fielding restrictions, combined with the fact that teams only get to bat 20 overs sees batsmen take way more risks as compared to other formats, which improves the excitement and reward factor for the crowd.

For instance:

West Indies’ Chris Gayle holds the record for the fastest century in T20, scoring 100 runs in just 30 balls. Compare that to Test cricket, where batsmen usually tend to score a century in around 150-200 balls on average, and one starts to understand why people have taken to T20 so quickly. Even new countries like USA, Canada, Netherlands, and Malaysia have embraced this new form of cricket, which is, in itself, a remarkable feat.

T20 matches are always played under floodlights with a white leather ball. Teams wear colored uniforms as with ODI matches. This short format has raised the bar of the sport and triggered new innovations and skill sets for both bowlers and batsmen, which makes for breathtaking viewing. Traditional, slow playing styles get thrown out the window and are replaced with high-intensity styles: hard-hitting powerful batting, skillful wily bowling, and athletic ninja like fielding.

T20s are played just like ODIs: Team 1 bats first and scores X runs within the stipulated 20 overs or till they get bowled out. Then, Team 2 has to chase the target batting second within 20 overs. If Team 2 fails to do so because they get out or run out of overs to bat, they lose the match. The match cannot end tied as there must always be a winner. A tie breaker, called a super over, is played as a one over per side eliminator.

Twenty20 competitions are not just held at an international level. Domestic T20 tournaments are just as popular and are played in all major cricketing nations. The Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s most popular professional cricket league, is considered the blockbuster of all domestic leagues. It is contested every year during April and May by Indian franchise teams, and players of several different nationalities ply their trade in this league. Founded in 2007 by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BBCI), the IPL has huge brand value and ranks 6th worldwide among all sports leagues.

The pinnacle of this form of cricket at international level is the ICC World Twenty20 tournament, which has been played a total of 6 times since the inaugural edition in 2007. Similarly, the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 has been hosted a total of 5 times since 2009.  

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