The ball is a hard leather-seamed spheroid, with a circumference of 22.9 centimetres (9.0 in). The ball has a "seam": six rows of stitches attaching the leather shell of the ball to the string and cork interior. The seam on a new ball is prominent and helps the bowler propel it in a less predictable manner. During matches, the quality of the ball deteriorates to a point where it is no longer usable; during the course of this deterioration, its behaviour in flight will change and can influence the outcome of the match. Players will, therefore, attempt to modify the ball's behaviour by modifying its physical properties. Polishing the ball and wetting it with sweat or saliva is legal, even when the polishing is deliberately done on one side only to increase the ball's swing through the air, but the acts of rubbing other substances into the ball, scratching the surface or picking at the seam are illegal ball tampering.
The 19th century saw underarm bowling superseded by first roundarm and then overarm bowling.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.
More than 900 species of crickets are described; the Gryllidae are distributed all around the world except at latitudes 55° or higher, with the greatest diversity being in the tropics. They occur in varied habitats from grassland, bushes, and forests to marshes, beaches, and caves. Crickets are mainly nocturnal, and are best known for the loud, persistent, chirping song of males trying to attract females, although some species are mute. The singing species have good hearing, via the tympana on the tibiae of the front legs.
Cricket is a multi-faceted sport with multiple formats that can effectively be divided into first-class cricket, limited overs cricket and, historically, single wicket cricket. The highest standard is Test cricket (always written with a capital "T") which is in effect the international version of first-class cricket and is restricted to teams representing the twelve countries that are full members of the ICC (see above). Although the term "Test match" was not coined until much later, Test cricket is deemed to have begun with two matches between Australia and England in the 1876–77 Australian season; since 1882, most Test series between England and Australia have been played for a trophy known as The Ashes. The term "first-class", in general usage, is applied to top-level domestic cricket. Test matches are played over five days and first-class over three to four days; in all of these matches, the teams are allotted two innings each and the draw is a valid result.
The game on the field is regulated by the two umpires, one of whom stands behind the wicket at the bowler's end, the other in a position called "square leg" which is about 15–20 metres away from the batsman on strike and in line with the popping crease on which he is taking guard. The umpires have several responsibilities including adjudication on whether a ball has been correctly bowled (i.e., not a no-ball or a wide); when a run is scored; whether a batsman is out (the fielding side must first appeal to the umpire, usually with the phrase "How's that?" or "Owzat?"); when intervals start and end; and the suitability of the pitch, field and weather for playing the game. The umpires are authorised to interrupt or even abandon a match due to circumstances likely to endanger the players, such as a damp pitch or deterioration of the light.
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Cricket has had a broad impact on popular culture, both in the Commonwealth of Nations and elsewhere. It has, for example, influenced the lexicon of these nations, especially the English language, with various phrases such as "that's not cricket" (that's unfair), "had a good innings" (lived a long life) and "sticky wicket". "On a sticky wicket" (aka "sticky dog" or "glue pot") is a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult batting conditions in cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch.
Crickets are small to medium-sized insects with mostly cylindrical, somewhat vertically flattened bodies. The head is spherical with long slender antennae arising from cone-shaped scapes (first segments) and just behind these are two large compound eyes. On the forehead are three ocelli (simple eyes). The pronotum (first thoracic segment) is trapezoidal in shape, robust, and well-sclerotinized. It is smooth and has neither dorsal or lateral keels (ridges).
Some species, such as Gryllus assimilis, take off, fly, and land efficiently and well, while other species are clumsy fliers. In some species, the hind wings are shed, leaving wing stumps, usually after dispersal of the insect by flight. In other species, they may be pulled off and consumed by the cricket itself or by another individual, probably providing a nutritional boost.
The captain is often the most experienced player in the team, certainly the most tactically astute, and can possess any of the main skillsets as a batsman, a bowler or a wicket-keeper. Within the Laws, the captain has certain responsibilities in terms of nominating his players to the umpires before the match and ensuring that his players conduct themselves "within the spirit and traditions of the game as well as within the Laws".
Crickets feature as major characters in novels and children's books. Charles Dickens's 1845 novella The Cricket on the Hearth, divided into sections called "Chirps", tells the story of a cricket which chirps on the hearth and acts as a guardian angel to a family. Carlo Collodi's 1883 children's book "Le avventure di Pinocchio" (The Adventures of Pinocchio) featured "Il Grillo Parlante" (The Talking Cricket) as one of its characters. George Selden's 1960 children's book The Cricket in Times Square tells the story of Chester the cricket from Connecticut who joins a family and their other animals, and is taken to see Times Square in New York. The story, which won the Newbery Honor, came to Selden on hearing a real cricket chirp in Times Square.