Cricket, like baseball, is a team game that at its essence is a confrontation between two players; in cricket, it is between the bowler and the batsman, while in baseball, which is a sporting cousin of cricket, it is between the pitcher and the batter. The degree of the engagement in the game of the other 10 players in the field in support of the bowler, and the corresponding involvement of the batsman's partner in the opposite crease, depends entirely on the outcome of each ball bowled at the batsman's wicket.
The bowler and the batsman face one another on the pitch, the portion of the cricket playing surface that contains the wickets. The distance between the two cricket wickets is 66 ft (20.1 m). As the batsman facing a bowler has a distance of 4 ft (1.2 m) from the wickets to the edge of the crease, a bowler will deliver a ball, at the end of the run up, from a point approximately 62 ft (19 m) from the batsman. As the ball may be delivered by an elite-level fast bowler at speeds approaching 120 mph (180 km/h), a competent batsman must possess both quick reflexes and considerable nerve to make quick and accurate decisions about each ball that he faces.
The batting technique employed by a batsman will be dictated by the nature of both the bowler and each ball faced; it is difficult for the batsman to impose his will on a particular circumstance, by way of attempting to strike the ball in a particular direction or manner, if the ball bowled is unsuitable. Generally, a batsman will be adopting either a defensive or an offensive attacking approach; when a particular ball is not capable of being played as the batsman would like, it will generally be defended.
Cricket batting is also a partnership between two batsmen. The batsman facing the bowler is the striker: the second batsman is the non-striker. The chief responsibility of the non-striker is to be prepared to run to the opposite crease on a struck ball, and to call to the striker as to whether they may run without being out. Often in a batting partnership, one batsman is the designated defensive player, whose role is to stand in, to occupy the bowler, to create possible arm fatigue, and place the other batsman in a position where he has a greater chance of success.
Whether the batsman is seeking to drive the ball and create runs, or whether he is adopting a defensive posture, the physical stance of the batsman will have common features. The batsman will face the bowler in an athletic stance, the slightly crouched position similar to that of a defensive player in basketball, a baseball fielder, or a boxer. The batsman stands with his knees slightly bent, his weight balanced on the balls of the feet, and his head level, aligned directly above the bat that is gripped so that the top of the bat is touching the ground at the batsman's feet. This position permits the batsman to react quickly to both the line and the bounce of the ball, while protecting the wicket behind him. The bent knees allow for explosive power to be developed, both in a forward position and in a turning position, as the batsman may drive the ball in any direction once it is bowled.
Cricket has a variety of terms to describe the different types of batting strokes employed by a batsman. The primary defensive, or blocking, strokes are closely tied to the foot position in relation to how the ball is bowled. When the batsman is facing a very fast bowler, the rear foot, that closest to the defended wickets, will be the foot on which the batsman's weight will be placed when the bat is swung, as the movement of the batsman to his rear foot creates a slightly longer reaction time as regards the flight of the ball. A defensive shot has the dual purpose of both protecting the wicket and being driven directly into the ground, to prevent it from being caught in the air by a fielder and rendering the batsman out.
A variety of more aggressive strokes are employed by a batsman to put the ball into play and to create the potential for runs to be scored. Drive shots, where the swing of the bat is extended through the line of the ball's path, are used when the batsman is seeking to hit the ball with force into a particular place in the field. The square cut is a shot to direct the ball in a perpendicular direction from that at which it was bowled. The pull stroke is a ball struck by the batsman driving the ball hard to the side of the cricket field aligned with his body. The sweep stroke is a motion in which the bat is drawn across the body in a wide arc. The lofted shot is a motion to drive the ball into the air, often aiming for the boundary.
The rules of cricket (formally referred to as the "Laws of the Game") provide for 10 different ways in which a batter may be ruled out by the umpire. The four best known outs include:
- Bowled out is when the ball strikes the defended wicket, causing the bails positioned on the top of the wicket stumps to be dislodged.
- Caught out is when the ball, when struck by the batsman, is caught in the air by any one of the 11 fielding players.
- Run out is when one of the two batsmen, in exchanging positions after a ball is hit into the field, does not reach the opposite crease before the ball is thrown to the wicket and used to knock it down.
- "Leg before wicket" is when a batsman swings at and misses a bowled ball, and his leg prevents the ball from otherwise striking the wicket. This determination is a judgment call for the umpire.
No matter what changes are made to the format of cricket matches, the successful batsman makes his reputation on how many times in his career he has batted for 100 runs or more in a single match. This feat, known as the "century," requires both batting skill and stamina, as the batsman may be on the field for several hours. Sir Garfield Sobers, of the successful West Indies Test teams of the 1960s, and Sachin Tendulkar, India standout in the twenty-first century, are two examples of batsmen who achieved legendary status for their ability to deliver centuries for their countries in international competition.