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An innings is a fixed-duration segment of a game in cricket, during which one team attempts to score while the other team attempts to prevent the first from scoring. 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. Innings can be either singular ("a good innings") or plural ("he batted well in both innings").
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 cricket, however, one team, said to be "batting", attempts to score runs 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.
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).
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.
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 17th century 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.
Usage outside 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.