The Three Main Formats of Cricket


Since its inception in the 13th century, cricket has been one of the most popular sports in the world. Although there have been various versions of the game over the centuries, the modern version of cricket that we know today was created only around the 16th century. 

After spreading across the globe, the sport underwent various changes, the most significant being the introduction of some new formats. While many have come and gone, three have remained as popular as the day they were first introduced. 

Test Cricket

The oldest format of the sport still actively played today is test cricket—often called test matches. The name for this format was first used between 1861 and 1862. However, the International Cricket Council only officially recognized the format in the 1890s. After this occurred, many games predating this were given the status of a test match.

The first of these games recognized to use this format occurred in March 1877. Played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, it featured Australian players pitting their skills against the British. 

The format of the game is simple and features test matches that take place over a prolonged period—a maximum of five days, with each day consisting of three slots of gameplay lasting two hours. Between these slots is a one-hour break.

Generally, the winner of a test match is only decided once all days have been completed. However, depending on how many wins one team achieves during the first few days, not all days may be played. 

With each team playing two innings per day, both teams receive two chances to bowl and bat on a single day. Should one team pull ahead in the number of innings they have won, they may have a lead with a sufficient margin that the opposing team could not possibly match with the amount of time left. In this case, the play ends early.

Due to the action being spread over multiple days, much debate has surrounded the loss of popularity for this particular form of cricket. However, recent polls in countries like Australia have shown that this format is still the most popular, with 86% of fans claiming it is their favorite. 

ODI (One Day International)

Like test cricket, the first ODI (or one-day international) game was played between Australia and England in January 1971. It also happened at the same stadium—the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The game varies only slightly compared to test matches and doesn’t require a vastly different strategy

Unlike test cricket, however, ODI cricket is limited to (as its name suggests) one day. The game is limited to a specified number of overs to ensure both teams have adequate time to prove their worth. 

Currently, this limit is set to 50 overs per team. Generally, this means that each ODI concludes within nine hours of play, making them significantly more entertaining to watch because the players have less time to show their skills.

These matches start (like others) with a coin toss. The winning team of the toss can elect to bowl or bat first. Whichever team bats first sets the target for the second innings. This target is the total number of runs achieved before the 50 overs are complete or before all batters have been bowled out. 

During the second innings, the opposing team need only achieve a total run score higher than that achieved in the first innings before being all out. The game concludes if they manage this, regardless of whether the full 50 overs have been bowled. 

ODI cricket has always been a popular format, which seems unlikely to change. Many fans have commented that a single day of action is enough to enjoy the match without feeling like it is being drawn out for too long. 

T20 (Twenty20)

Twenty20 cricket (known more commonly as T20) is the most recent format of cricket to be adopted. The format was first officially played in 2004 when it was introduced to women’s cricket. It was introduced to men’s cricket a year later and quickly became popular. 

With its origins as an inter-county format in England and Wales in 2003, this format offers a shortened version of cricket that requires players to push themselves to ensure a win in a minimal timeframe.

The game comprises two innings, each with a limit of just 20 overs. Because of this low number of overs, most T20 matches take only two to three hours before a winner is declared. 

What makes this game unique, aside from the quickened pace, is the incredible popularity it gained almost immediately after it was introduced. Fans worldwide praised the quickened pace of the game and the action plays it resulted in. They also have openly spoken about how this format pushes the physical skill of players to the limit. 

However, not everyone has accepted it, with many older cricketing legends like Ricky Ponting openly criticizing the format. Stating that it takes away from the honing of long-term skills and concentration over time, others have also complained about the format. 

Regardless of these naysayers, many cricketers have moved on to T20, some for the game’s physicality and others for the increased pay it offers due to its popularity. Fans have also continued to rejoice in the matches, with many making predictions for the T20 matches they enjoy embracing. 


While the three current formats of cricket may vary from each other in small (and vast) ways, each of them represents the basis of a game loved by millions around the world. The ICC has carefully scrutinized each format to ensure they conform to the sportsmanship the game is meant to engender. 

While there are no real talks of any new formats for the sport being on the horizon, fans can rest assured that these will be around for the foreseeable future and will continue to bring fans incredible action and plenty of time to enjoy the beloved game. 

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