(Disclaimer- All of Hawk's knowledge about Cricket has been gleaned from watching one game with the sound off, reading one book that mentioned Cricket a few times in passing, reading a Douglas Adams book and whatever knowledge has been unconsciously gained as a result in living in Australia. Any attempts to play Cricket based on my take will probably not be true to the game- but may be much more fun.)
Ah, Australian Spring, where the temperature dips from 42 degrees C (that's 108 for us honest, metric-fearing folk) to a much more tenable 38 degrees (100 f) and it's time to put on long pants, a polo shirt and a sweatervest, build yourself a little wooden idol and prepare yourself to defend it with the bastard offspring of a baseball bat and the hazing paddle from your local fraternity wall.
Apart from that, all you need is an incredibly hard ball for someone to throw at your precious altar, and of course, something to protect yourself from that hard ball- so grab a baseball helmet, slap a football facemask on it for your headgear, and for your legs- you know, the area nearest to the ball's target- you take a mattress and cut it up into pieces small enough to fit on your legs, to protect them from hardened leather spheres traveling at you at speeds occasionally just over 100 mph. Given the recent death of an Australian player who was struck by a ball though, I think I'd feel a bit more comfortable going the whole way with it.
So, you've got your wooden totem, your paddle, your helmet, padding and a ball- what do you actually do with them? From my muted observations, it's a lot like baseball- you've got a batter, fielders spread out around the playing area, some dirt that the batter stands on- but instead of the batter standing next to the plate, he's standing in front of his totem to defend it from the onslaught to come.
Imagine it's a sunny day at Lupton and Preston Morrison is on the mound. He receives the ball for the first pitch of the game, waits for the batter to be ready, then... slowly walks back to Center field. He greets Cody Jones for a moment, then starts to sprint back toward the infield as fast as he can, letting out a guttural combination of a war cry and a grunt like you'd hear in women's tennis (I'm watching this muted, so he might not be making that sound, but in my mind- it's definitely guttural) as he reaches the pitcher's mark on the mound and his arm makes a full windmill motion over the top- with no bend in the elbow- as he launches the hardened leather sphere straight for the batter's precious totem with as much momentum as the human body can muster. Somewhere along the path to the totem though, the ball strikes the ground and bounces back up at some indeterminate height which the batter will have to take into consideration as he brings the paddle/bat around to deflect it away.
Now an even bigger difference from baseball comes in- it really doesn't matter where the ball goes, as long as it doesn't hit the totem. The batter can angle it up so it goes straight behind him over the catcher's head and it's just as legal as if he blasted it straight down center field, and even more excitingly- everything we'd consider a "base" in baseball counts as a run/point in cricket (so to get a shutout you'd pretty much have to throw a perfect game as well, I suppose?). So all of those innings where a bunch of balls get in play, but no runs score? Not a thing in Cricket, which leads to scores in the hundreds- as you can take as many bases as you like every time you hit the ball- as long as you don't get caught away from the scoring line when the ball comes in, because if they knock over your totem and you're not there- you're out, just like if someone caught the ball. Unlike baseball, each player only gets one go at batting during the game- they keep batting until they're out- and you might think that with the high speed throws and players all over the field to try and catch the balls that games wouldn't take too long. This is simply not the case- players can rack up a hundred runs on their own fairly often, and the defense getting an out is such a big deal that when it happens every player comes in to celebrate
You might think that the text up under that picture is an exaggeration- it's not. Cricket games can apparently go on for days before one ends, to the point where there are specific breaks for lunch, "tea" (what Australians call dinner) and drinks (I imagine this is tea/water/gatorade in most countries, but in Australia, drinks tends to mean beer). It's interesting that baseball is (probably) a descendant of this game in the same way that Football is descended from Rugby, but when you take it back even further I think that Cricket probably has its roots in feudal England- with knights and sieges and such. This is probably a weird jump on my part, but let's start with the bits we know. What I call the totem looks vaguely castle-ish- and you've got a guy in full armor up above to defend it, like a knight. On the other side someone is hurling objects at the castle, trying to break it down, in a process that can take days, while the knight defends it with a bat/paddle combination... a battle, if you will. And, like a castle siege, and when the castle falls, the knight is disposed of and the conquerors move onto the next castle to repeat the process all over again. If this theory turns out to be true, then Cricket is a lot more awesome than I give it credit for, but as far as my understanding goes, it's baseball with one out per player, a running start for pitchers and designated periods for eating and getting drunk.
We have much to learn from this.