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Cricket, the ball-and-bat game played chiefly in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, holds an especially important place in Australian culture. The traditionally genteel game was taken to the bosom of the British colony and somehow changed into a game of violent passion.
The game itself is rather dry and it can be difficult for outsiders to understand the passion fans display. Cricket is played by two teams of eleven on a level, closely cut oval pitch measuring about 525 ft (160 m) by about 550 ft (170 m). (The shape of the pitch is the reason Australian Rules football is played on an oval - the football adaptation was invented to keep cricket players fit in winter.) Two 'wickets', formed by three stakes crossed by two 'bails', are placed 66 ft (20.12 m) apart near the middle of the field.At each wicket stands a batsman. When the ball is pitched, the batsman must prevent the ball hitting the wicket and at the same time hit the ball as far as possible to gain runs.
The ball used is a hard, red leather-covered ball. If the fielding team recovers the ball and uses it to knock down the bails of a wicket before the batsman reaches it, the batsman is out. A batsman is also retired if an opposing fielder catches a batted ball on the fly (as in baseball), or for any of several more technical reasons.
A test match can take anywhere up to five days per modern game. In the past, test matches could take months to play out, but the rules were changed when visiting teams kept missing boats home. More exciting are the one-day matches, as players take more risks to make runs.