wickets and outs

The introduction of the new form of cricket called The Hundred was delayed by the pandemic—which has given the organization time to think about its language. Cricket, like any sport, has a language of its own which can be confusing to people unfamiliar with it. It seems almost designed to bewilder not just the foreigner but the casual listener—and the minds behind the Hundred want to expand their market share.

Thus the recent story that Wickets could be called ‘outs’.

This may get confusing, so hold on to your hats.

The targets that the bowler is trying to knock down and the batter is trying to defend are two small objects called bails, which rest on three vertical posts called stumps. The whole apparatus of two bails and three stumps is called a wicket. If the bail is knocked off the stump, then the batter is out. This is all perfectly traditional language. There are a variety of other ways for a batter to be out, however. I will not detail them all, but I will say that if the bail is knocked down by the bowled ball, the batter is said to have been stumped, as differentiated from caught or run out. In any case, a batter usually bats until he or she is out, from whatever method—and when a batter is out the bowler is said to have taken his or her wicket.

The wicket, then, stands (as it were) for the batter’s opportunity to keep batting (a batter who is still batting is said to be not out). A team that has had four of their batsmen out is said to have lost four wickets (and have six wickets in hand); a bowler may be said to take three wickets. The terms are not generally used interchangeably—I have never heard or read that a team has six outs remaining, or that a bowler has taken (or got) three outs. But a team would be all out for 264, and never all wickets taken for 264. It’s the sort of thing that would grate on the ear of someone accustomed to the game, like calling baseball runs points, or gridiron touchdowns goals.

So the organization is suggesting the possibility of encouraging their broadcaster to stop using wicket in both of those senses, and use the out formulation—which already means out!—whenever referring to wickets in that sense. That would mean that wicket would only refer to the object itself, or perhaps as a kind of synecdoche for the playing field, which is a third fairly-frequent usage.

This attempt to simplify the traditional language of the game is upsetting the usual suspects, and seems to me very unlikely to survive past the first wicket of the first game. Still, I understand the idea behind it, and think it’s probably perfectly wise for a sport to think about ways to describe the game to new listeners or watchers. I still don’t have a real sense of where all the defensive positions (Wicket Keeper, First Slip, Second Slip, Third Slip, Fly Slip, Long Stop, Third man, Gully, Deep Gully, Silly Point, Point, Deep Point, Cover Sweeper, Cover Point, Extra Cover, Deep Extra Cover, Silly Mid Off, Mid Off, Long Off, Straight Hit, Silly Mid On, Mid On, Long On, Forward Short Leg, Short Mid Wicket, Mid Wicket, Deep Mid Wicket, Sweeper, Short Square Leg, Square Leg, Deep Square Leg, Leg Gully, Long Leg, Leg Slip, Short Fine Leg, and Deep Fine Leg) are located on the field.

Also interesting to me—the other advice that The Hundred is considering giving to broadcasters is to replace batsman with batter as the standard description, and I’m delighted to say that everywhere I personally read about cricket this has come as a completely uncontroversial and sensible correction to an outdated usage.


3 Responses to “wickets and outs”

  1. irilyth

    What’s with “silly” as an adjective in these positions? What does it mean in this context?

    • -Ed.

      On the cricket pitch, silly means something like very close to the batter. It probably derives from an earlier use of the word to mean vulnerable or helpless, but possibly from a somewhat different earlier use meaning simple or unrefined. Essentially, someone at silly point is (a) vulnerable to being smashed by a batted ball, and (2) generally able to make catches only by reflex, not by any sort of conscious effort. The current use of foolish or frivolous is also very old, but I don’t think that’s where the cricket term comes from.

      Perhaps it’s helpful to imagine a fielder on the baseball field standing just foul of the line, about a third of the way from home plate to the base. A little closer, I think, than the fielders wind up on a bunt defense, only with the batter potentially swinging away.



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