The World of Cricket

The World of Cricket

Playing time in Cricket

Games in the sport of cricket, are played over a number of hours or days, making it one of the sports with the longest playing time, though sailing, yachting, road cycling and rallying are sometimes longer. Typically, first-class cricket are played over three to five days with at least six hours of cricket being played each day. One-day cricket matches last for six hours or more. Cricket therefore has special rules about intervals for lunch, tea and drinks as well as rules about when play starts and ends. These rules are outlined in Laws 15 (Intervals) and 16 (Start of play; cessation of play) in the Laws of cricket.

When the game is played

The game is only played in dry weather. Additionally, as in first-class cricket it is not unusual for balls to be bowled at over 80mph, the game needs to be played in daylight that is good enough for a batsman to be able to see the ball. Play is therefore halted when it rains (but not usually when it drizzles) and when there is bad light. Some one-day games are now played under floodlights, but, apart from few experimental games in Australia, floodlights are not used for first-class games, including Test matches. Apart from some experimental one-day international series' in Australia's roofed Telstra Dome, professional cricket is played outdoors.

These requirements mean that in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Zimbabwe the game is played in the summer. In the West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh games are played in the winter. In these countries the hurricane and typhoon season coincides with their summers. This has another effect. Games start earlier in these places than in the countries which play cricket as a summer sport. In these countries games start at around 9.30am rather than the 10.30am or 11am start time used in England, say, so that play for the day is complete before dusk, which may be as early as 5.30pm.


Starting and finishing play

A game starts when the umpire at the bowler's end calls ‘Play’. ‘Play’ is also called to restart the game after an interval or interruption. Before an interval in or interruption of play, and at the end of a match, the umpire at the bowler's end calls ‘Time’ and removes the bails from both of the wickets. The bowling side cannot make an appeal for a dismissal after ‘Time’ has been called.

The game finishes when the first of three things happens:

  1. There is a result, so that one of the teams has won or the team batting last has lost all its wickets with both teams having the same score thereby giving a tie;
  2. The later of the minimum number of overs for the last hour are completed and the agreed time for the end of the game has been reached (see notes below);
  3. If the players leave the field, either for adverse conditions of ground, weather or light, or in exceptional circumstances, and no further play is possible.


  1. In one-day cricket the second of these is replaced by the requirement that the agreed number of overs has been reached.
  2. The term last hour can be a misnomer. One hour before the scheduled end of the game, the last hour starts. An agreed minimum number of overs (usually 15 in Test match cricket and 20 in other first-class cricket games) is bowled. The last hour therefore lasts either for the longer of 60 minutes, or the time it takes to bowl the agreed minimum number of overs. This rule is there to prevent time wasting by a team that looks likely to lose a game.
  3. Today, Test matches are played under a set of conditions agreed by the boards of the competing countries. These are highly standardised. Days are scheduled as six hours of playing time, but there is a requirement that a minimum of 90 six-ball overs are bowled, and the third session may run overtime if the over rate has been slower than this. If there is a change of innings, two overs are deducted from the requirement.
  4. If there are interruptions to play for weather or light, the scheduled stumps time may be extended by up to one hour to compensate (light permitting). If more than an hour's play is lost, time may be added on subsequent days.


Because of the length of the game, there are a number of intervals that occur in a game of cricket. These are:

  • The period between close of play on one day and the start of the next day's play.
  • Intervals between innings.
  • Intervals for meals (lunch and tea).
  • Intervals for drinks.

There are special rules setting out the duration of each interval. The interval between innings lasts for 10 minutes.

Before the coin toss to determine which side bats first, the hours of play, including the timing and duration of intervals for meals or any non-standard interval, is agreed. Though if nine wickets are down when the agreed time for tea is reached so that the bowling team only needs one more wicket to end the batting team’s innings, tea is delayed to the earlier of that wicket being taken or 30 minutes elapsing. In a one-day game the teams may agree to take an interval for tea between the innings rather than have a separate interval. Also, the teams and umpires sometimes agree to have other intervals. This may be to allow the teams to be presented to an important visitor or to allow time for a presentation or acclamation when a player breaks a significant record. Other intervals may be varied slightly if a wicket falls just before the interval is due to be taken.

Drinks intervals are agreed at the start of each day, but are not taken during the last hour of the match. Drinks intervals are particularly important when the game is played in particularly hot climates. Games being played in heat of 40 degrees Celsius and above are not unknown. Drinks intervals may not last for more than 5 minutes.

Notable games

A number of games are notable for either their length or because they were played through adverse conditions that would usually see the game called off.

The longest Test

Test match cricket is international cricket played over 3 or more days. Nowadays almost all Test matches are scheduled over 5 days. In the past some Tests were ‘timeless’, that is, they were scheduled to be played to their conclusion regardless of how long that took. The longest Test on record was between South Africa and England in Durban, South Africa. The game started on 3 March 1939 and play continued on the 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 13th and the 14th. Play was scheduled for the 11th, but none was possible because of rain, giving 9 days of actual, and 10 days of scheduled play. By the evening of 14 March England were 316 and 654 for 5 chasing South Africa’s 530 and 481 needing just 42 more runs for victory. But England needed to leave Durban on the 15th to catch their boat home, so, despite being a ‘timeless’ Test, a draw was agreed. England’s 654 is the highest score ever recorded batting last (beating the next highest by over 200 runs).

Gloaming in Karachi

England entered into the 3rd Test against Pakistan in Karachi on 7 December 2000 nil-nil after drawing the first two Tests and had not won a Test series in Pakistan since 1961. At the end of the fourth day of the five day match, Pakistan were 92 ahead having scored 405 and 75 for 3, with England having scored 388 in their first innings. Pakistan had never lost a game at the National Stadium in Karachi, and with just one day remaining, it looked unlikely that they would lose now: the game was headed for a draw.

England had other ideas. Thanks to a good all round bowling performance England dismissed Pakistan 35 minutes before tea for 158 runs. This left England needing just 176 runs to win, but just 44 overs left to be bowled, it was going to be tight. England kept up well with the run rate, so Pakistan tried slowing the pace of play. Usually in Test matches teams should bowl 15 overs an hour, Pakistan reduced the over rate to 9, knowing it would get dark, very dark.

Shadows lengthened, the umpires offered the light to the batsmen, meaning that they were asking them whether they wished to come off because of the difficulty in picking up the ball. They declined, knowing that coming off meant the game would be drawn. It got darker. Pakistan appealed for the light, but as only the batting side can take the option of coming off for bad light once the umpires offer it, this appeal was turned down.

Dusk came, the muezzin called the faithful to evening prayers. The England batsmen, principally Graham Thorpe found the gaps in the field, rarely missing the opportunity of a run and yet playing no risky strokes. With lights in the pavilion and outside the ground shining brightly England finally made their target. They had made 176 for 4 off 41.3 overs to win by 6 wickets, with only 2.3 overs (15 fair deliveries) left.

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