Origins and Derivation of Common Cricket Terms and Expressions



Field Positions - Origin and Derivation



What was the origin of the On and Off side of the cricket field?

The use of the word ‘on’ and ‘off’ originates between the ‘off side’ and ‘near side’ of a horse or carriage, the off side being the opposite side which a driver walks or the rider mounts. Some of the early cricket writers actually referred to the near side when describing the leg side however this term did not last.


The origin of the slips is hinted at in an early description of the long stop, who ‘is required to cover many slips from the bat’. Early cricket writers identify two slip positions in the game. The first was called a short-slip, which was equivalent to the modern-day 1st or 2nd Slip position. The other position was called a long-slip, which was equivalent to the modern-day Short 3rd Man or Fly-slip position. By the turn of the present century an attacking field would usually have two slips (in the modern sense) which were called ‘1st Slip’ and ‘cover-slip’ or ‘extra-slip’.


The name apparently derives from the more general meaning of gully, and suggests a narrow channel or ‘gorge’ between point and the slips. Gully is a fairly recent term for the position formerly called short 3rd Man or backward point. It became a position in its own right following the development of off-theory attack towards the end of the 19th century.


The origin of this term stems from early cricket when the position was called ‘point of the bat’. This indicates that the fielder stood very near to the end of the striker’s bat (hence the even older name for this position was ‘bat’s end’). The fieldsman would field no more than three and a half yards from the batsman.


The origin was that the fielder in this position was referred to as ‘The Man who covers the Point and Middle Wicket’.

Mid - On and Mid - Off

The terms are actually a contraction of the earlier position ‘middle wicket off’ and ‘middle wicket on’. The manuals and illustrations of the early 19th century all show middle wicket as one of the standard fielding positions of the game at that time. Middle wicket was an offside fielding position between extra cover and the bowler. However, an equivalent leg-side position was also occasionally used, so the two ‘middle wicket’ positions as middle wicket off (Mid-Off) and middle wicket on (Mid-On).


This term although an ancient cricket term only received its current meaning in the 1930’s. Prior to that time mid-wicket or ‘middle wicket’ was simply another name for mid-off. The position currently called mid-wicket in earlier times would have been called forward square leg or perhaps extra mid-on.

Third Man

The term third man originally denoted a position that was beginning to be used more often (with the spread of overarm bowling and the development of off-theory attack) to supplement the more established close offside fielding positions of point and short-slip. The new fieldsman was thus the third man up.



Other Cricket Terms - Origins & Derivations




Bail is an old word of French origin that appeared in the English language in the 16th Century. It was used to describe a movable horizontal part of the little gate, or ‘wicket’ that served as the entrance to a sheep pen - which was used as the target for bowling at in the early versions of the game.


It is an Old English word meaning a stick or club. The earliest types of bats were somewhat like a hockey stick - long, heavy clubs curved outwards towards the bottom. The design of the bats reflected the type of bowling that was prevalent in that period - fast underarm ‘grubs’ rolled along the ground.


It is said that a Cambridge University fast-bowler who, fed up with the slow, placid pitches at his home ground of Fenners, decided to upset the complacency of the opposing batsman with this threat to their personal safety patented this delivery. At Fenners it was very difficult to detect the ball in flight since the ball came at the batsman out of a dark background of trees.


A term used exclusively by Australians, who named the delivery after its inventor, Englishman B.J.T. Bosanquet. The delivery was invented when Bosanquet was playing a game of ‘twisty-grab’ late one night on a common-room billiard table. He found that if the ball was spun from right to left and released out of the back of the hand, it would turn from the left to the right. He used this delivery to great effect in Test cricket taking 6/51 in one Australian innings of the Sydney Test in 1904, and 8/107 at Nottingham in 1905.


The origin of this term is reported to have come from the 1929/30 series between England and West Indies. The West Indian left-arm wrist-spinner, Ellis Achong who was of Chinese descent bowled a ball that Walter Robins missed and was stumped. The story continues that on returning to the dressing room he exclaimed ‘Fancy getting out to a bloody Chinaman!' A more likely possibility as to the term derives from the politically incorrect connotations of deviousness that is attached in English with the words ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chinaman’.


The origin of this term is in line with the basic meaning of a crease, which is ‘a furrow in the surface’, because they were originally cut in the turf. This method of marking lasted until the time of W.G. Grace, when painted white lines were introduced.


The origin of the expression lies in the old description of a batsman who failed to score as having made a ‘duck’s egg’, the shape of which resembles the figure 0.


A terrible batsman: so poor that he is called after an animal that rabbiters send into the burrows after the rabbits!


The term derived its meaning from the white knee breeches of the 18th Century game, and was originally made out of thick warm flannel, eminently suited to the English game and that country’s predominantly chilly summer climate.


The origin of this term was that the delivery mystified the batsman so much it made their eyes ‘goggle’. The suggestion that the term derived its meaning from a Maori word during a MCC tour of New Zealand in 1902/03 can be dismissed as the term was used in Australia in the 1890’s.


The term originates from an old custom, which probably from the mid-19th Century, of awarding a new hat to the bowler who achieves this feat.

Long stop

The position of long stop has been obsolete from the game at Test level for about one hundred years. However in earlier times this was a very important position and often a team would have a specialist in this position. This was because the level of wicketkeeping skill was not very high. At this time wicketkeeping had not yet become a specialist position, as the bowlers would often take turns keeping wickets. With the advent of wicketkeeping as a specialist skill and an improvement in the playing surfaces late in the 19th Century saw this position become redundant.

Lost Ball

This rule was introduced in 1809 when a lot of cricket was played in sheep meadows and lost balls were a regular occurrence. The only change to the rule has been an increased penalty from four to six runs in 1822/23.


The origin comes from the Sydney Test between Australia and India when Indian spinner Vinoo Mankad ran out Australian opener Bill Brown in this way without warning. The cricket-watching public did not forget: they bestowed Mankad’s name on an act that they regarded as highly unsportsmanlike.


The origin of this term is based on a misconception that Admiral Horatio Nelson lost one arm, one eye and one leg in battle. Nelson did actually retain use of his legs until his death in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.


They were introduced into cricket only with the advent of roundarm and overarm bowling, which was sufficiently fast to injure the legs of batsman. Early cricketers did not consider it sporting to defend their wickets with their legs, so there was no need for pads - or indeed for an L.B.W. law. The first pads were of wood and then, in 1836, H. Daubeney invented the forerunners of modern pads.

Popping Crease

This term originates the popping hole that was a hole cut in the turf. This hole played a major part in the rules of early cricket, as the batman had to place his bat in this hole on completion of a ‘notch’ or run. In order to get the batsman out the wicketkeeper had to put the ball in the hole before the batsman could reach it with his bat. This however led to serious hand injuries and was eventually superseded by the batsman having to touch a stick held by the umpire. The popping hole was eventually represented symbolically in the modern game by a popping crease for the purposes of scoring a run.

Roundarm bowling

This method was said to be developed by Christina Willes, the sister of Kent player John Willes, in the early 19th century because Miss Willes found it very difficult to bowl underarm around her voluminous skirts. She got around this problem by developing a higher action.


The term derives from the Middle English term ‘noumpere’, which means a ‘non-peer’ or ‘unequal’, indicating an ‘odd man’ or third party called in to adjudicate between two contestants. There have always been two umpires-an arrangement presumably dating back to the origins of the double-wicket game.


The term is believed to derive from a 18th and 19th century regional slang connection between the words ‘Yorkshire’ and ‘york’ and the notion of cheating and deception. This derivation seems most likely, as the purpose of a good yorker is to deceive the batsman.