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An inning, or innings, is a fixed-length segment of a game in any of a variety of sports – most notably cricket and baseball during which one team attempts to score while the other team attempts to prevent the first from scoring. In cricket, the term innings is both singular and plural and is always spelled and pronounced with the terminal "s". In baseball and softball, the singular form is inning and only the plural takes an "s".
In many other sports, the length of the game is dictated by a clock and teams swap offensive and defensive roles dynamically by taking possession of a ball or similar item. In baseball and cricket, however, one team, said to be "batting", attempts to score "runs"—see run (baseball) and run (cricket)—while the other team, said to be "fielding", attempts to prevent the scoring of runs and get members of the batting team out. The teams switch places after the fielding team has succeeded in getting a fixed number of players out, making a clock unnecessary.
In cricket, the term innings is also used to refer to the play of one particular player (Smith had a poor innings, scoring only 12). By extension, this term can be used in British English for almost any activity which takes a period of time (The Liberal government had a good innings, but finally lost office in 1972, or You've had a fair innings, now it's my turn, meaning "you have spoken for long enough, now let me speak"). It is also used in reference to someone who has died at a reasonably old age or lived a rich and rewarding life (Ah, well. John was 89. At least he had a good innings). The baseball-derived parallel to this in American English is the term at bat.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term innings has been used in reference to cricket since at least 1735. As cricket was a mature, highly organized sport in the 1600s in England, the term's origin could well precede this first recorded usage. The word inning meaning 'a gathering in' is first recorded in 1522, and could be related.
In cricket, a team's innings usually lasts until 10 of the 11 batsmen in the team are out, leaving the not out batsman without a partner and thus unable to continue, or until another event intervenes (such as the captain of the team declaring the innings closed for tactical reasons; or the time allotted for the entire game expiring).
In First-class cricket and Test cricket, each side has two innings. In one-day cricket and other abbreviated forms of the game, an innings lasts only for a set period or for a certain number of overs (typically 50 in one-day cricket and 20 in Twenty20 cricket). Note that "an innings" can mean a particular side's innings (Sri Lanka made 464 in the third innings [of the game]) or that of both sides (England had the better of the first innings, outscoring Australia by 104), or that of an individual batsman (Bradman was out for a duck in the final innings of his career), the difference being understood by context.
An individual innings usually lasts until the batsman is given out, or until the end of the team innings. Although batsmen bat together in pairs, this combination is never called an innings: it is a partnership or a stand.
An inning in baseball or softball consists of two halves, where a single half is sometimes called a frame. In each half, one team bats until three outs are made, with the other team playing defense. Each half-inning formally starts when the umpire calls "Play ball!" (note that in Major League Baseball, the umpire is only required to call "Play"). A full inning consists of six outs, three for each team; and a regulation game consists of nine innings. The visiting team always bats first in each inning, and the visitors' turn at bat is called the top of the inning, derived from the position of the visiting team at the top line of a baseball line score. The home team's half of an inning is also called the bottom of the inning, and the break between halves of an inning is called the middle of the inning. If the home team is leading in the middle of the ninth inning, or scores to take the lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game immediately ends in a home victory.
If the score is tied after nine innings, the game goes into extra innings until an inning ends with one team ahead of the other. In Japanese baseball, however, games end if tied after 12 innings (or, in postseason play in Nippon Professional Baseball, 15 innings). As in the case of the ninth inning, a home team which scores to take a lead in any extra inning automatically wins, and the inning (and the game) is considered complete at that moment regardless of the number of outs. This is commonly referred to as a "walk-off" situation, since the last play results in the teams walking off the field because the game is over. However, road teams can't earn a "walk-off" victory by scoring the go-ahead run in extra innings, unlike in American football and ice hockey where the team (either home or away) scoring first in overtime automatically wins.
Ending a half-inning is referred to as "retiring the side". A half-inning in which all batters are put out without taking a base is referred to as a "one-two-three inning". The number of innings a pitcher is in a game is measured by the innings pitched statistic.
In US English, baseball terminology is sometimes found in non-sports usage in a tense situation: "it's the bottom of the ninth [inning]" (sometimes adding, "with two outs"), meaning "there isn't much time to turn things around here".
Professional baseball games (both major and minor leagues) as well as college baseball games last nine innings. High school games and College softball last seven innings and Little League uses six inning games.