With recorded origins dating as early as 1598, and earlier versions highly likely, cricket is one of the world's oldest team sports, and has become the second most popular sport in the world today after association football (soccer). Originating in South-East England before it was shipped around the empire, it is no surprise that cricket enjoys huge popularity in Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies, but especially on the subcontinent.
Test Cricket is regarded by purists as the pinnacle of the sport. Played over an unrestricted time frame of up to five days, two teams each have up to two innings to score more runs than the other team, but crucially to take twenty wickets and dismiss the opposing team to win the game. As well as Test Cricket, there is One Day Cricket, in which two teams each have up to 50 overs each to score more runs than the opponent. But in recent years, it has been Twenty 20 (T20) Cricket that has captured the public's imagination. Despite criticisms that the game is unfairly stacked towards batters, T20 can be highly entertaining, with each team only given 20 overs each to score more runs than the opponent.
In Australia, the two main domestic competitions are the Sheffield Shield, a test-style competition contested between Australia's six states, as well as the Big Bash, an eight-team T20 tournament. The world's most popular cricket tournament is the Indian Premier League (IPL), which regularly attracts the best players in the world during April and May each year.
However, it is Test Cricket that has thrown up cricket's greatest players and stories. Australia's Sir Donald Bradman is considered the greatest player ever to live, having retired on a staggering batting average of 99.94. Likewise, the West Indian team of the 1970s is regarded as the most dominant and fearsome team in the history of the game.
For punters, cricket is another sport where home ground advantage is key, especially when it comes to test matches. It is important to weigh up the pitch conditions before betting on the cricket. The dry, dusty pitches on the subcontinent are set to favour spinners, while the grassy pitches of England tend to benefit seamers. Australia's hard pitches are geared towards pacey bowlers and batters who can play the ball square of the wicket. The varying pitch conditions play a significant role in home-ground advantage and is the reason why so many test teams struggle to win away from home.