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Bails, Ducks and Yorkers - A Beginner's Guide to Cricketing Terminology

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The game of cricket is packed with lots of amusing but often downright confusing terminology. This is far from a comprehensive list but contains some of the terms most likely to cause bafflement.

If you actually want to learn how to play cricket, this is probably not the place to start. Try this great introduction to the game: Cricket - an Apology.

Jump to a letter: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A is for The Ashes

The Ashes series is a hotly contested competition between England1 and Australia - hotly contested by England, that is. The Australians keep winning and don't understand why the English get so upset about it. The name originates from a mock obituary mourning 'the death of English cricket'.


Agricultural Shot: slang term for a technically poor shot. Think of someone swinging a scythe and you'll have some idea of what it looks like.

All Out: more or less what it says: ten wickets have fallen and hence each player in the team is Out (bar one – see Not Out).

All-Rounder: unsurprisingly, most cricketers tend to specialise at either batting or bowling, though most professional cricketers can do both reasonably well. An all-rounder is one of those rare, and very valuable, players who is proficient at both. Note that many amateur cricketers will claim to be all-rounders. More often, this tends to mean that they're not much good at either.

Appeal: if the fielding team believe (or hope) that they have taken a Wicket, they will often make an Appeal. By raising an arm (in reference to the Umpire's signal of a raised finger meaning Out) while shouting 'Howzat!' they are effectively asking the Umpire to decide whether the batsman is Out or Not Out. The enthusiasm and volume of the Appeal is often related to the conviction of the fielders that they are right. Technically, a decision won't be given, even if it's Plumb, unless an appeal is made.

B is for Boundary

The term Boundary refers to both the edge of the field, which may be marked by a rope or flags, and any shot that reaches it (as in 'he hit five boundaries', meaning that the batsman hit five balls that crossed the boundary).


Bails: the dinky little wooden bits that sit on top of the Stumps to form the Wicket.

Baseball: a game that bears very little resemblance to cricket, so don't make any such comparison within earshot of a cricket fanatic unless you want to receive a very long explanation of why you're wrong.

Beamer: a Delivery that doesn't Pitch and reaches the batsman above waist height. It's not a legal delivery, and is also fairly dangerous, which is one of the reasons why many cricketers now wear helmets when batting.

Bouncer: a fast ball, pitched short (ie, it bounces a fair distance from the batsman), which whistles past the batsman's ear. He may need to duck. Such intimidatory bowling used to be considered unfair play, but the laws have been revised so it is now only penalised if more than two bouncers are bowled in an Over. Another good reason to wear a helmet.

Box: cricket balls can be quite painful if they hit a player. The cricket box is a very hard piece of shaped plastic, worn down the trousers to protect one of the, ahem, more fragile areas.

Bunny: a batsman who is repeatedly Out to the same bowler may be called that bowler's Bunny. Also sometimes used to mean Rabbit.

Bye: a run scored from a delivery that is not hit by the batsman and hasn't touched any part of his body or bat. See also Leg Bye.

C is for Caught

Caught is one of the many ways in which a batsman can lose his Wicket. It's fairly self-explanatory: the batsman hits a ball and one of the fielders catches it before it hits the ground. When a player takes a catch off his own bowling, that is Caught and Bowled.


Carried His Bat: an Opener who manages to survive the whole Innings without losing his Wicket (while all his team-mates lose theirs) is said to have Carried His Bat.

Century: a player who reaches 100 runs Not Out has scored a Century (or 'ton'). Similarly, 50 runs is a half-century.

Chinaman: slang term for a left-handed wrist Spinner.

Clean Bowled: one of the most spectacular ways to lose a Wicket. If the ball gets past the batsman and hits the wicket (sometimes sending one or more of the stumps cartwheeling away), he is undeniably Out.

Cover: fielding position in front of the batsman (as he faces the bowler) on the Off Side.

Cow Corner: an area of the field in front of the batsman on the On Side, a common destination for Agricultural shots.

Crease: the marked area of the Wicket where the batsman stands to receive the ball.

D is for Delivery

A Delivery is one ball bowled. There are many different types of delivery, including the Yorker, Full Toss and Googly.


Declaration: a team with plenty of runs on the board may decide to stop batting and Declare their score, giving themselves time to try and bowl out the other team and hence win. Of course, judging when to declare is a tricky business and many captains have fallen foul of a misplaced declaration.

Dead Ball: when the ball is out of play, for example, after it has been returned to the wicket-keeper. While the ball is dead, no Runs can be scored and no Wickets taken.

Dot Ball: a Delivery from which no Runs are scored. The name derives from the shorthand used when scoring, where a dot is used in place of a zero.

Duck: a Player who loses his Wicket without having scored any Runs is said to be 'out for a Duck'. If this happens on the first ball he faces, it's called a Golden Duck.

Duckworth-Lewis: a spectacularly complicated formula designed to work out the target for a team that has lost Overs because of rain delays. Sadly, such delays are all too common in England.

E is for Edge

An Edge is any shot that comes off the side (or edge) of the bat. The term can also be used to describe the action itself, eg. 'He top-edged it to the Keeper'. Most batsmen will try to hit the ball with the face of the bat, since the direction of his shot will be easier to control.


Extras: runs that are added to the total but not scored by the batsmen, such as No Balls, Wides, Byes and Leg Byes.

F is for Follow On

In four- or five-day cricket, each team plays two innings. Let's say that Team A bats first and makes a pretty impressive total. Team B has a bad innings and gets nowhere near Team A's total. If the difference is more than a certain figure, Team A can choose to enforce the Follow On (or not). This means that Team B must bat again immediately. The advantage of this for Team A is that by the time they have to bat again, they know exactly what total they need in order to win. They might even get the other team out before they reach the initial target: this is known as winning 'by an innings'.


Four: when a ball reaches the Boundary, four runs are scored, regardless of whether the batsman actually could have run four lengths of the Wicket or not. See also Six.

Full Toss: a Delivery that doesn't Pitch (ie, a ball that doesn't bounce before reaching the batsman). If it's too high, it becomes a Beamer.

G is for Googly

A Googly2, also known as a Wrong'un, is a very deceptive Delivery designed to bamboozle a batsman. By some crafty twisting of the wrist, a good Spin Bowler can disguise the spin of a certain type of delivery so that it spins, and hence bounces, in the opposite direction to that which the batsman was expecting. If you really want the nitty gritty, it's a delivery that looks like a leg spinner (ie, a ball that spins from the Leg Side to the Off Side, also known as a leg break) but moves like an off spinner (or off break). Confused? So, on many occasions, is the batsman!


Gully: a fielding position, near to the Slips3.

H is for Hat Trick

A bowler who gets three wickets with three consecutive deliveries is said to have scored a Hat Trick. The deliveries don't have to be in the same over - or even in the same innings - but they must be consecutive.


Hawk-Eye: a crafty piece of technology that shows TV viewers the projected path of a ball. It's particularly useful for deciding whether an LBW decision is correct or not.

Hit Wicket: another way to be Out, in this case when a batsman accidentally hits his own Stumps.

Howzat: the shout that the fielding team will make when they think they've taken a wicket. It's assumed to be a contraction of an enquiry to the umpire 'How was that?'

I is for Innings

In a game of cricket, the teams take turns to bowl and bat. Each turn is known as an Innings. In Limited Overs cricket, each team plays one innings. In four- or five-day games, each team will play two innings.


ICC: the International Cricket Council, the governing body of international cricket.

In: a team (or player) that is batting is referred to as In.

J is for Jaffa

A slang term for a Delivery that is unplayable, Jaffa, or Jaffer, usually refers to a delivery that, on Pitching, deviates sharply from its line (ie, bounces in a completely unexpected direction).

L is for LBW

LBW or Leg Before Wicket is another way for a batsman to lose his wicket. Simply speaking, an LBW is when the ball would have hit the Wicket if the batsman's legs hadn't got in the way (he's supposed to defend his wicket with his bat, not his legs). Needless to say, in practice it's not so simple.


Leg Bye: a Run scored off a delivery that hit the batsman's body but not the bat. Despite the name, leg byes can come off any part of the body, not just the legs.

Leg Side (or On Side): the side of the pitch that is behind the batsman's legs as he stands to bat; for a right-handed batsman, this will be the left side of the pitch as he faces the bowler. The opposite of Off Side. It's worth noting that Leg Side for a right-handed batsman will be Off Side for a left-hander, since they face opposite directions to bat.

Limited Overs: to ensure that one-day cricket matches don't go on for longer than, ahem, one day, teams may agree to play a limited number of Overs. Rather than having to get the whole of the opposing team out in order to win, a team merely needs to score more runs from their set quota of overs.

Lord's: the acknowledged centre of the cricketing world, sometimes referred to as 'Headquarters' or HQ. This cricket ground in St John's Wood, north London, is named not after the people who sit in the upper house of the British Parliament, but the man who founded the ground - Thomas Lord.

M is for Maiden

No, Maiden doesn't refer to the charming young lady who brings out the tea. It's the name given to an Over in which no Runs are scored off the bowling.


MCC: the Marylebone Cricket Club, based at Lord's.

N is for Not Out

At the end of an Innings, one batsman will not have lost his Wicket, but will be unable to continue playing since he won't have anyone left to swap ends with. This player is Not Out. The term is also often used after an Appeal, when the Umpire will declare the batsman Out or Not Out as appropriate.


Nelson (or Lord Nelson): 111 runs4. Considered an unlucky number by some but lucky by others, 111 is treated with superstition by many cricketers5. A Double Nelson is 222 runs, and so on. Similarly, some Australian cricketers fear the 'Devil's number', which is 13 short of a multiple of a hundred, eg. 87, 187, 287 etc.

Nightwatchman: it's nearly the end of the day, everyone's tired, the light is beginning to go and you've just lost a wicket. It's the worst time to put in a fresh batsman. Rather than risk one of your Top Order, you may opt to put in a less experienced batsman as Nightwatchman, to see you through the tricky patch.

No Ball: if the bowler bowls incorrectly, for example by stepping too far down the wicket, a No Ball is called. Generally, the opposing team will be awarded one run (or two runs in Twenty20), in addition to anything that they score from the ball, and the bowler must bowl another delivery. Note that if a batsman is Caught on a No Ball, he will be Not Out (since the delivery was not fair), however he may be Run Out (since it's his own decision to run).

O is for Out

Out is generally used to describe a player who has lost his Wicket, but is also used to refer to the team that is not In.


ODI: a commonly-used abbreviation of One Day International, ie, a Limited Overs game between two international sides.

Off Side: not remotely connected to a soccer 'offside', this is the side of the pitch that is in front of the batsman as he stands ready to bat. The distinction between Leg Side and Off Side gives names to many of the fielding positions, such as Long Off (a long way down the field in front of the batsman, on the off side) and Short Leg (nearish, on the leg side).

On Side: see Leg Side.

Opener: one of the two batsmen who start an Innings.

Overs: bowlers bowl in batches of six deliveries, bowled from alternate ends of the pitch. Each batch is known as an Over. See also Limited Overs.

P is for Plumb

Decisions to give a man out LBW are often highly contentious, since there are so many get-out clauses6 for the batsman. On the rare occasions when an LBW is obvious and undeniable, it is said to be Plumb.


Pads: one of the many different bits of protective clothing worn by cricketers, specifically the padding strapped to a batsman's legs which is designed to protect his shins and knees. Wicket Keepers and other close fielders are also likely to wear pads but most fielders won't since they can impede movement.

Pair: in games where each team plays two Innings, a batsman may be unlucky enough to get two Ducks - that is, no runs at all. This is known as a Pair. If he gets two Golden Ducks - that is, has been out first ball twice, with no runs scored, it is a King Pair.

Pitch: the area of close-cropped grass between the wickets7. Also, the bounce of the ball on the ground.

Point: a fielding position square of the Wicket (ie, level with the batsman) on the Off Side.

Pyjamas: derogatory term for the coloured kit that cricketers wear for one-day cricket.

R is for Run

Fundamentally, the game of cricket is all about Runs and Wickets. Each team tries to score as many of one as possible while losing as few of the other. Most runs are scored by either running between the wickets, or hitting a Boundary; however, additional runs may be awarded for Extras.


Rabbit: a batsman who is particularly bad, usually a Tail-ender.

Runner: if a batsman is able to bat but not to run, usually because of injury, he may ask for a Runner to do the dashing between the wickets bit. To ensure that the runner doesn't have an unfair advantage, he must wear full gear, including Pads, and must carry a bat.

Run Out: another way to lose a wicket; in this case by a fielder managing to knock the Bails off the Wicket with the ball (whether by throwing it or with his hands) while the batsman is out of his Crease. The most common way to be run out is when the batsmen are running between the wickets, hence the name.

S is for Silly

Any fielding position that is very close to the batsman is described as Silly, eg, Silly Mid Off, Silly Point. This is presumably because it's not a terribly bright idea to stand so close to anyone swinging a great plank of wood around at head height and walloping balls towards you at high speed.


Scorer: the unsung hero who deciphers the Umpire's signals and keeps track of a bewildering amount of information to be sure that each player is credited with the right number of runs and wickets.

Seam: the raised rows of stitching around a cricket ball.

Seam Bowler: a bowler who specialises in deliveries where the Seam strikes the ground, causing it to bounce in unexpected directions (unexpected by the batsman, that is).

Sightscreen: if you've ever wondered what those large white boards8 at either end of the cricket pitch are, here's your answer: they're sightscreens, put behind the bowler to help the batsman to see the ball more clearly. Always walk behind, rather than in front of, a sightscreen, since a batsman will not be polite if your bobbing head causes him to lose concentration. Or a wicket.

Six: any ball reaching the Boundary without touching the ground scores six runs.

Sledging: nothing to do with snow and toboggans, sledging is the banter between batsman and fielders, designed to put the other team off their game.

Slips: fielding positions just behind and to the side of a batsman. Since there is often more than one slip, they will be numbered 'first slip' (closest to the batsman), 'second slip' and so on.

Soul Limbo9: this tune, by Booker T and the MGs, was used for many years for the BBC TV's cricket coverage. For many English cricket fans, it is synonymous with the game, despite the fact that the BBC hasn't carried TV cricket coverage for some years10. Thankfully Test Match Special on BBC Radio 4 still boasts Soul Limbo as its theme tune!

Spin Bowler (or Spinner): a bowler who specialises in deliveries where the ball spins around its axis while moving through the air. This will influence its bounce in ways that can be difficult for a batsman to spot, making it harder to hit effectively.

Stumps: the three wooden posts that support the Bails to form a Wicket. Stumps also means the end of a day's play, when the stumps are pulled out and laid on the ground.

T is for Tea

Cricket is one of the few games that stops for meal breaks. For some reason tea has become an integral part of the game, and an annoyance to many cricketing wives and partners who find themselves obliged to rustle up cucumber sandwiches and cake. Of course, it does give the commentators something to talk about during quieter periods of play.


Tail: the last few men to bat are known as the Tail, or Tail-enders. Since these are usually the specialist bowlers, they don't tend to be such strong batsmen. Occasionally, they will hang in tenaciously and score plenty of runs. This is known as 'the tail wagging'.

Test: a five-day international between two sides deemed by the ICC to be of the highest standard.

Third Man: fielding position behind the batsman on the Off Side. Not to be confused with Twelfth Man.

Tie: the hardest result to get in cricket, since the two teams must score exactly the same number of runs at the end of the game. A winner can still be decided on the basis of which team has lost the fewest wickets, but this rule is only applied in certain competitions.

TMS: Test Match Special or TMS is a long-running BBC radio cricket commentary programme, hosted by a range of eccentric commentators.

Top Order: generally, the best batsmen in a team will bat first. These are the Top Order.

Twenty20: a recent innovation in Limited Overs cricket, Twenty20 is a game where each team bats for, as the name suggests, only twenty overs. This leads to a very exciting game, since scoring runs becomes more important than protecting the wicket and batsmen will take much greater risks (hence score far more boundaries).

Twelfth Man: an extra member of a cricket squad who does useful stuff like acting as a Runner or a substitute fielder. It also tends to fall to him to bring out drinks, jumpers, sunglasses etc to the rest of the team. Unsurprisingly, it's not often a terribly rewarding role.

U is for Umpire

A game of cricket has two Umpires, who will generally position themselves near the two wickets; one to watch the bowler's delivery, the other to watch the batsman. Like most sporting officials, they have a unique collection of eccentric Umpiring signals.

W is for Wicket

The term Wicket has three different meanings, so context is very important. The two batsmen stand at either end of an area of grass known as the wicket11 (that's one). Part of the batsman's job is to protect the wooden wicket12 (that's two), made of three upright stumps on which two bails are balanced. Meanwhile, the bowler and fielders will attempt to take a wicket (that's three), ie, get one of the batsmen Out.


Walk: a batsman who knows he is out may leave the ground without waiting for the Umpire to declare him Out. This is known as Walking and is considered good conduct. Naturally, this is rare, unless the decision is really, really obvious.

Wicket Keeper: as the name suggests, the fielder who stands behind the Wicket. Since it's quite a dangerous position, the keeper will usually wear a helmet and pads.

Wide: a ball that is too far from the wicket, or too high, for the batsman to hit. The batting team will be awarded an extra run in addition to anything that they score off a wide and the bowler will have to bowl an extra delivery.

Y is for Yorker

A Yorker13 is a delivery aimed at the batsman's toes that can be particularly tricky to hit.

This Entry is the subject of a video clip created by the h2g2 Aviators.

1The English invented the game and consequently tend to take it terribly seriously. They are also responsible for most of the eccentric terminology.2Some tips from Sport Academy on How to bowl a Googly.3For a better explanation of fielding positions, see this great introduction to the game.4This derives from Lord Nelson's 'one leg, one arm, one eye'. Of couse, Nelson didn't actually lose a leg but who said cricketing terminology had to make sense?5Former umpire David Shepherd was known for his habit of hopping whenever the score reached a multiple of 111.6See The LBW Rule in Cricket.7Confusingly, this area is also sometimes referred to as the Wicket, depending on context.8Sightscreens aren't always white, but must be in a colour that contrasts well with the ball. They aren't always free-standing either. In some grounds, an area of seating will be left empty to act as a sightscreen.9OK, so it's stretching the point a bit to call this 'terminology' but it's such a great tune that it's worthy of a mention regardless.10Although of course the BBC's news programmes still cover the highlights of test matches.11Also known as the Pitch.12Sometimes known as the 'timbers' or 'furniture'.13More from Sport Academy, this time How to bowl a Yorker.

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