Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played on a cricket field (see image, right) between two teams of eleven players each. The field is usually circular or oval in shape and the edge of the playing area is marked by a boundary, which may be a fence, part of the stands, a rope, a painted line or a combination of these; the boundary must if possible be marked along its entire length.
Crickets have a cosmopolitan distribution, being found in all parts of the world with the exception of cold regions at latitudes higher than about 55° North and South. They have colonised many large and small islands, sometimes flying over the sea to reach these locations, or perhaps conveyed on floating timber or by human activity. The greatest diversity occurs in tropical locations, such as in Malaysia, where 88 species were heard chirping from a single location near Kuala Lumpur. A greater number than this could have been present because some species are mute.
A phylogenetic study by Jost & Shaw in 2006 using sequences from 18S, 28S, and 16S rRNA supported the monophyly of Ensifera. Most ensiferan families were also found to be monophyletic, and the superfamily Gryllacridoidea was found to include Stenopelmatidae, Anostostomatidae, Gryllacrididae and Lezina. Schizodactylidae and Grylloidea were shown to be sister taxa, and Rhaphidophoridae and Tettigoniidae were found to be more closely related to Grylloidea than had previously been thought. The authors stated that "a high degree of conflict exists between the molecular and morphological data, possibly indicating that much homoplasy is present in Ensifera, particularly in acoustic structures." They considered that tegmen stridulation and tibial tympanae are ancestral to Ensifera and have been lost on multiple occasions, especially within the Gryllidae.
Females are generally attracted to males by their calls, though in nonstridulatory species, some other mechanism must be involved. After the pair has made antennal contact, a courtship period may occur during which the character of the call changes. The female mounts the male and a single spermatophore is transferred to the external genitalia of the female. Sperm flows from this into the female's oviduct over a period of a few minutes or up to an hour, depending on species. After copulation, the female may remove or eat the spermatophore; males may attempt to prevent this with various ritualised behaviours. The female may mate on several occasions with different males.
The 19th century saw underarm bowling superseded by first roundarm and then overarm bowling. Both developments were controversial. Organisation of the game at county level led to the creation of the county clubs, starting with Sussex in 1839. In December 1889, the eight leading county clubs formed the official County Championship, which began in 1890.
The folklore and mythology surrounding crickets is extensive. The singing of crickets in the folklore of Brazil and elsewhere is sometimes taken to be a sign of impending rain, or of a financial windfall. In Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's chronicles of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the sudden chirping of a cricket heralded the sighting of land for his crew, just as their water supply had run out. In Caraguatatuba, Brazil, a black cricket in a room is said to portend illness; a gray one, money; and a green one, hope. In Alagoas state, northeast Brazil, a cricket announces death, thus it is killed if it chirps in a house. In Barbados, a loud cricket means money is coming in; hence, a cricket must not be killed or evicted if it chirps inside a house. However, another type of cricket that is less noisy forebodes illness or death.
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Cricket has close historical ties with Australian rules football and many players have competed at top levels in both sports. In 1858, prominent Australian cricketer Tom Wills called for the formation of a "foot-ball club" with "a code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during the off-season. The Melbourne Football Club was founded the following year, and Wills and three other members codified the first laws of the game. It is typically played on modified cricket fields.
In the approximate centre of the field is a rectangular pitch (see image, below) on which a wooden target called a wicket is sited at each end; the wickets are placed 22 yards (20 m) apart. The pitch is a flat surface 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, with very short grass that tends to be worn away as the game progresses (cricket can also be played on artificial surfaces, notably matting). Each wicket is made of three wooden stumps topped by two bails.
First-class cricket in England is played for the most part by the 18 county clubs which contest the County Championship. The concept of a champion county has existed since the 18th century but the official competition was not established until 1890. The most successful club has been Yorkshire, who had won 32 official titles (plus one shared) as of 2019.
Off the field in televised matches, there is usually a third umpire who can make decisions on certain incidents with the aid of video evidence. The third umpire is mandatory under the playing conditions for Test and Limited Overs International matches played between two ICC full member countries. These matches also have a match referee whose job is to ensure that play is within the Laws and the spirit of the game.
Several types of cricket songs are in the repertoire of some species. The calling song attracts females and repels other males, and is fairly loud. The courting song is used when a female cricket is near and encourages her to mate with the caller. A triumphal song is produced for a brief period after a successful mating, and may reinforce the mating bond to encourage the female to lay some eggs rather than find another male. An aggressive song is triggered by contact chemoreceptors on the antennae that detect the presence of another male cricket.
Crickets have from time to time appeared in poetry. William Wordsworth's 1805 poem The Cottager to Her Infant includes the couplet "The kitten sleeps upon the hearth, The crickets long have ceased their mirth". John Keats's 1819 poem Ode to Autumn includes the lines "Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft / The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft". The Chinese Tang dynasty poet Du Fu (712–770) wrote a poem that in the translation by J. P. Seaton begins "House cricket ... Trifling thing. And yet how his mournful song moves us. Out in the grass his cry was a tremble, But now, he trills beneath our bed, to share his sorrow."