So I've recently been to a cricket game and spent approximately three hours learning all the rules. After that my theoretical knowledge was complete and I was about to watch the game and see how well I did in the practical application section ... unfortunately, that was when it started raining. I am now also an expert in the field of in-park karaoke and beer snakes, but I shall endeavor to focus on explaining cricket to you instead. In three minutes.
In short, the main thing to remember is is that cricket is not baseball. An easy mistake, I know, but they are well and truly different sports. In cricket, the main idea is still to get as many runs as possible, but instead of one guy running around the bases, you have two guys from the batting team running back and forth between two stumps (see the vocabulary section, which, incidentally, should not be counted in your three minutes of reading time). Each time they trade places, they get one run.
To start things off, one team is on the field and one team is batting. The team that is batting has two guys out there, though (thankfully) only one attempts to hit the ball at any given time, though, when he does, they both run back and forth as many times as possible without getting out. There are several ways to get out --
--bowled (if the ball hits the stumps)
--caught (like a fly out)
--LBW (leg before wicket, though no one seems quite able to effectively explain this one)
--run out (like a ground out, more or less)
--stumped (the wicket keeper steals the ball before the batter can hit it)
-- and outs are not nearly as common as they are in baseball, because it's really more the sudden death method than the "three strikes and you're out" (er, "three outs and you're out") method. As in, once you get out, you're OUT. Period. For the rest of the game. You see, there are 11 guys on a team, and each gets one (ONE) turn to bat. You can keep going as long as you don't get out, but once you're out, that's it. There are ten outs (or, in the version I saw, 50 overs (I'll explain that later), whichever comes first) per team per game. (Not 11, because there always have to be two guys running back and forth -- after his buddy goes, the last one can't do it alone.) So, it's actually really quite a long time that one side plays for and then it really quite a long time (rain notwithstanding) that the other team plays for. None of this silly taking turns business. (A coin toss decides who gets to pick who goes first.)
I should back up. There are actually three different versions of cricket -- a 5-day test match (deemed to be the "purest" cricket), a 1-day match, or a 20/20 match. There's various differences in rules and strategy, but to the casual observer the most noticeable difference is that the first lasts five days, the second one and the third several hours. Before I explain the differences, though, we need a quick vocabulary lesson:
Over = six balls (balls being the noun, but bowls the verb, as if this weren't complicated enough already). Basically six times the ball is bowled (aka pitched).
So. In a 5-day match, there are unlimited overs and (I lied before) each team gets two turns for its players to all bat. (i.e., In this version, you've got to make outs because if you don't, well, it's going to go on for five days.) In a 1-day match (what I saw), the overs are capped at 50 per side (50x6=roughly 300 bowls for the day, depending). So, if you don't make your ten outs, at least there is an end to the misery in sight. In this version, the first team's turn is over when they either have ten outs or 50 overs and the second team's turn (and the game) is over when they have either ten outs or 50 overs or have beaten the first team's score. In a 20/20 match, each team is allowed a maximum of 20 overs (20x6=roughly 120 bowls for the day, depending).
And then, whichever team has most runs (in the vicinity of 200-300), wins. Easy, right?
There are a lot of other rules, some of which I have even written down in my handy pink notebook, but I think your three minutes have ticked away. I shall content myself with leaving you with a more complete vocabulary lesson:
Wicket keeper: catcher
Stumps: long vertical set pieces that delineate where the runners run from and to. Kind of sort of roughly akin to bases
Bails: little horizontal piece that goes at the top of the stumps (I believe this is an extra credit sort of vocabulary word, stumps being the more common noun in the game)
Wicket: trick question! There are two definitions! 1, noun, set of stumps and bails; 2, noun, an out
Wide: a ball (as in, not a strike but a ball; one penalty run applies)
No ball: term for if the bowler steps over the line; one penalty run also applies
On the full/a 6: fly ball out of boundary; roughly equivalent to a home run; awarded 6 runs
a 4: a ground ball that goes past the boundary; also very good; awarded 4 runs
Boundary: the line that marks the edge of the field
On strike: the batsman facing the bowler
Off strike: the batsman not facing the bowler (incidentally, these two might not get equal turns, depending if odd or even numbers of runs are scored)
12th man: the sub, though really only brought in for emergencies. It's 11 guys and that's that, none of this subbing around willy-nilly business.
Fieldsmen/fielders: the players on the team not batting
Batsmen: the players on the team batting
Mid-on/mid-off/mid-wicket/square leg/fine** leg/slips/third man/point/cover: the positions on the field (in addition to the bowler and wicket keeper)
*Special rules/notes about the bowler: no one can bowl more than 10 overs. So, the bowler changes, but isn't benched -- he just goes to a different location in the field. Everyone kind of takes turns in different places; there's probably some "oh-he-usually-plays-deep" to it, but it's not so delineated as baseball players' positions.
**Not "fire" leg, as illegible handwriting (not mine!) first led me to believe.
A note on reading the exceptionally confusing supposedly helpful signs at the stadium. Ahem. If you see: 3/65, this means there are 3 outs and 65 total runs. (In this scenario, 3 is out of a maximum of 10 and 65 is, from this point onward, a minimum figure.) If you see 16.2, this means there are 16 overs completed and we're on the second ball of the current over. (In this scenario, 16 is out of a maximum of 50 and 2 is out of a maximum of 6, though I don't think it ever goes up to 50 or 6 on the scoreboard (49 or 5 it would be) since it would turn over to the next number at that point -- like you don't see "3 outs" in baseball, because it just starts the next inning if that happens.)
Pop quiz: what does 4/93 mean? 21.3?
Answer: 4 outs and 93 total runs ... and 21 overs and the 3rd ball of the current over. (And there are 6 balls in one over. Just in case you forgot.)
Oh, and the maximum number of runs per ball is six (that home run type scenario) unless there's something really complicated and tricky, but basically the max is six.
Oh, and there's no double plays. No fair making two outs at once, these guys are nice guys!
Okay, now that is really pretty much everything I know about cricket, aside from a few little notes that no longer make any sense to me.
Ah, wait, really well and truly my final note now: it's not cricket where you eat strawberries and cream, it seems. (Why else would I have gone?) Turns out that's Wimbledon.