Cricket Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of cricket by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

cricketEverybody agrees that the most popular sport in the world today is soccer. But which is the second most popular? Is it basketball? Maybe rugby? Tennis perhaps? No, as you've probably guessed by now, the answer seems to be cricket. The reason for this is that cricket is the number one sport in many countries with huge populations, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is popular in many other countries as well, including the U.K., Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Cricket is, like baseball, a "bat and ball" game in which bowlers "bowl" the ball and batsmen try to hit "shots" with a bat and score runs for their team. As in baseball, batsmen are "out" if their shot is caught, or if they don't get to a "safe haven" in time when they're making runs. What is very different, however, is the time taken to play the game. In cricket, a single game in the traditional "Test match" format can take five full days to complete! But thankfully there are shorter formats for people who love to play the game but also have to go to work sometimes.


Cricket has been a team sport in Britain for hundreds of years. Even though there is evidence that the game existed in England as early as the twelfth century, it wasn't until the eighteenth century that it became a well-organized sport. This resulted from cricket's growing popularity within traditional gentlemen's clubs, especially in London. These clubs were devoted to their wealthy members' enjoyment of eating, drinking, gambling and sports. Cricket was the perfect game for such gentlemen. It was not too demanding physically and could be played with dignity even by slightly older gentlemen, unlike more athletic games such as football and rugby. In 1787, the development of the game took a step forward with the formation of the Marylebone Cricket Club by a group of powerful and wealthy cricket lovers. It was based at Lord's Cricket Ground near St John's Wood in London, and MCC members took it upon themselves to write the "Laws of Cricket", upon which the game is still based today. The MCC also became the governing body of cricket in England, in which it still has a role to this day, and also governed international cricket until 1909 when the ICC (International Cricket Council) was formed.

One of the biggest changes to the game in the nineteenth century was the replacement of under-arm bowling with over-arm bowling. This meant one of the most exciting parts of the game, fast bowling, was now possible. International matches also began in the nineteenth century, with the first match being between the U.S.A. and Canada in 1844. While the game never became popular in these two countries, it became very popular in most Commonwealth countries and an international system of "Test matches" between these countries soon developed. The first official Test match was between England and Australia in March 1877 at Melbourne Cricket Ground, which the Australians won by 45 runs. Test cricket is the most demanding form of the game, with matches lasting up to five days. In the late twentieth century, shorter forms of the game developed, such as One Day Internationals and the Twenty20 format. These developed in order to satisfy demands for shorter, faster games that would make exciting viewing on television. An example of this development is the Cricket World Cup, a tournament in the one-day limited-over format, which is held every four years and has now become the world's third most viewed sporting event. Cricket, like most other sports, has now become very big business, and the media form a major source of income for teams, players and governing bodies alike.

Learn English with Gymglish EnglishClub

How the Game Works

wicketA cricket match is usually played between two teams of eleven players on an oval-shaped grass field. In the centre of the field is a strip of hardened turf 22 yards (20.12 m) long, called a cricket pitch. At each end a set of three tubular stakes called "stumps" are stuck upright in the earth with two small pieces of wood, called bails, balanced across the top of each set. These are the wickets, and a batsman stands in front of a wicket with his long wooden bat as he waits for a bowler to bowl the hard, fist-sized ball. The bowler bowls from just beside the wicket at the other end of the pitch. At the same time, the other members of the bowler's team stand in various positions around the field acting as fielders. If the batsman misses the ball, and the ball hits the wickets, he is out and his turn to bat is over. If he hits the ball into the air and a fielder catches it, he is out. If a ball which the umpire thinks is going to hit the wicket is blocked by batsman's legs, he is out lbw (leg before wicket). But if the batsman hits the ball, he and his batting partner, who is standing at the other end of the pitch, can run to the opposite ends of the pitch to score one run. They can score two runs by each running back again. Three runs are scored if each batsman runs three lengths of the pitch, and so on. But if a fielder gets to the ball and throws it at one of the wickets, and the ball hits the wicket before a running batsman crosses a line near the wicket called the crease, the batsman is "run out". In the Test match format, teams take turns to bat, and each team continues batting until ten players have gone "out", or until the team's captain "declares" and his team finishes its innings early. A captain can do this to ensure his team has a chance of winning the match, which they can only do if there's enough time left for both teams to complete two innings. If they do, the team with the highest run total wins. But if the five days allowed for the match have passed before both teams have completed two innings, the match is a draw. In the shorter forms of the game, each team has just one innings in which to bat, and the innings is sometimes limited to a fixed number of overs. The team scoring the most runs in its innings is the winner.

battingMost players specialize in batting (see right) or bowling, or they are "all-rounders", meaning they are good at both. Each team also has a wicketkeeper, who stands behind the wickets and catches any balls that aren't hit by the batsmen. The central contest in cricket is between a batsman and a bowler. A batsman's job is to hit shots and score runs, while a bowler tries to get batsmen out, or take wickets, while trying to prevent runs from being scored. A bowler bowls six overarm balls in one over, and then returns to his fielding duties while another bowler bowls another six-ball over from the other end of the pitch. There are several styles of bowlers, including fast bowlers, leg spinners, off spinners, swing bowlers and medium-paced bowlers. Most bowlers specialize in one type of delivery, and most deliveries are supposed to hit the pitch once and bounce up again before reaching the batsman. A ball which doesn't bounce, but reaches the batsman on the full, is a full-toss. Spin bowlers use the fingers or the wrist to put spin on the ball so that it doesn't come straight up off the pitch after bouncing, but bounces up at an unexpected angle. Swing bowlers try to get the ball to move unexpectedly through the air, while fast bowlers try to beat the batsmen with speed. If a batsman manages to hit the ball, he could hit one of several shots. These include drives, hooks, cuts and blocks. If a player hits a shot over the boundary line at the edge of the field on the full, he has "hit a six" and gets six runs. If the ball bounces or runs along the ground on the way to the boundary, he has "hit a four". One of the most important skills a batsman needs is the ability to place his shots between the fielders so that he won't be caught out, and so that he has time to score runs before a fielder can get to the ball and throw it back towards the wickets.

There are two umpires on the field during a game of cricket, and they are responsible for deciding whether a batsman is out or not, and for deciding whether a ball is legal or not, with illegal deliveries called no-balls. Umpires also keep count of the number of balls a bowler delivers and lets them know when an over has finished. They must also judge whether a batsman has been "run out" by judging whether he has reached the crease before the ball hits the wicket.

Most Famous Player

Don Bradman

Don BradmanAround the time of the First World War, a young boy in the small Australian town of Bowral spent hours every day playing alone with a cricket stump, a golf ball and a water tank. He'd use the stump to hit the ball against the tank's brickwork base, and the golf ball would bounce back quickly at unpredictable angles. But the boy became so fast that he could hit the ball with the stump again and again without letting it touch the ground. The boy went on to use the quick reflexes and sharp eye he developed beside the water tank to become cricket's greatest batsman of all time.

Sir Don Bradman (1908 - 2001) played in 52 Test matches for Australia from 1928 to 1948. His Test batting average of 99.94 is generally regarded as one of the most remarkable achievements in any sport. The next best batting average for a player who has played more than 20 Test match innings is just 60.97 by South Africa's Graeme Pollock. Before his last Test match, at The Oval in London, Bradman's Test batting average was 101.39. But in his last innings he was bowled by the second ball he faced. If he had scored just 4 runs, his average would have been over 100, but having scored no runs, he finished his Test career with an average of 99.94 runs per innings. For many years it was claimed that the magnificent ovation Bradman received as he walked out to the pitch for his last Test match had left him with tears in his eyes, and the tears had made him miss the ball and "go out for a duck". Bradman always claimed there was no truth to this story.

Cricket Vocabulary

word example sentence meaning
all-rounder Any player who can score the most runs and take the most wickets in a match is a great all-rounder. player skilled at both batting and bowling
bails A batsman is bowled if the ball hits the stumps and one or both bails fall off. small pieces of wood that lie on top of the stumps to form the wickets
batting average Don Bradman's Test batting average was just under 100 runs per innings. the average number of runs a batsman has scored per innings
boundary A fielder stands on the boundary to catch the ball and also to stop boundaries from being scored. 1 the perimeter of the ground
2 shot to the boundary for four or six runs
bowl A fast bowler can't usually bowl for as long as a spin bowler because fast bowling takes a lot more energy. swing the arm from behind the body, over the head, and release the ball on the down swing without bending the elbow
bowled Imran is good at facing fast bowlers, but he's often bowled out by spinners. dismissal of a batsman when he misses a ball and it hits the stumps
bowler Our two fastest bowlers bowled ten overs each, and then two of our spin bowlers took over. player on the fielding side who bowls to the batsmen
bowling average Bowling averages are calculated by dividing the number of runs a bowler concedes by the number of wickets he has taken. the average number of runs scored off a bowler for each wicket he has taken
bye A fast bowler concedes byes if he bowls wides that his wicket-keeper can't catch. an "extra" scored when both the batsman and the wicket-keeper miss a bowler's delivery
catch Every cricketer should practise catching because they all have to act as fielders. dismissal of a batsman by a fielder catching a ball the batsman has hit before it hits the ground
century Every cricketing kid's dream is to make a century for his country in a big Test match. score of at least 100 runs; an important achievement for a batsman
crease A batsman stands on or near the crease whenever he faces a bowler. a line on the pitch near the wickets over which a batsman must pass to score a run
cut (shot) Be careful when playing a cut shot because it's easy to hit the ball into the air and get caught. a shot played square (at 90 degrees) on the off side (to the right of a right-handed batsman)
delivery A batsman who goes out on the first delivery he faces gets a "golden duck". act of bowling the ball; a ball
dismiss The last three batsmen were dismissed by our spin bowlers for only seven runs. get one of the batsmen out
drive (shot) Most drives are played off the front foot after the batsman has stepped down the wicket. a powerful shot hit back towards the end of the field from which the ball was bowled
duck Don Bradman went out for a duck in his last innings. getting no runs; going out for zero runs
extra Another word that means the same as extras is "sundries". additional runs given to a team for no balls, wides and byes
fast (bowling/bowler) Fast bowlers usually bowl at over 90 mph (145 km/h). bowling style in which bowlers try to beat batsmen with speed
fielder To be a good fielder, you'll have to practise catching and throwing the ball. player whose job is to catch or collect the ball in the field after a batsman hits it
four I hit seven fours in my innings, but I didn't hit any sixes this time. shot that reaches the boundary after bouncing and scores four runs
full toss Players sometimes get bowled out by a full toss because they try to hit it too hard, and end up missing it altogether. ball that reaches the batsman on the full, without bouncing; usually seen as easy to hit and a poor delivery
hook (shot) A good batsman can hit a hook shot when a fast delivery is short-pitched and at head height. shot in which a batsman swings his bat around his head and hits the ball behind "square leg"
innings He made 59 runs in the first innings and 34 in the second, so he did quite well. one player's, or team's, turn to bat
lbw / leg before wicket The bowler turned to the umpire and shouted his appeal for an lbw decision after the ball hit the batsman's pads. dismissal when a ball the umpire thinks will hit the wicket is stopped by a batsman's body, usually the legs
leg break A leg break moves away from a right-handed batsman, so it's easy to snick the ball and get caught behind. a leg spin delivery which spins away from the batsman, from the leg side to the off side
leg side Fielding positions on the leg side of the field include fine leg, square leg and mid-wicket. the half of the field behind the batsman as he faces the bowler (also known as the "on side")
leg spin (bowling/bowler) Australia's Shane Warne is one of the best leg spin bowlers in the history of cricket. form of bowling in which the bowler puts spin on the ball by turning the wrist
maiden over Bowlers talk about how many batsmen they dismissed and how many maiden overs they bowled. an over in which no runs are scored
medium-pace (bowling/bowler) Medium pace bowlers usually bowl at about 55-70 mph (90-110 km/h). bowling style slower than fast bowling, but faster than a spin bowling, in which swing or spin is used to defeat batsmen
no-ball A batsmen can hit a no-ball and make runs, and can only be dismissed by being "run out". illegal delivery bowled while overstepping the crease, giving an extra run to the batting side
off break Our team has two good spin bowlers, and one bowls off breaks and the other bowls leg breaks. an off spin delivery which spins into the batsman, from the off side to the leg side
off side Some batsmen prefer playing shots to the off side, while others prefer shots to the leg side. the half of the pitch in front of the batsman as he faces the bowler
off spin (bowling/bowler) Off spin bowling is also called "finger spin bowling". form of bowling in which the bowler uses his fingers to put spin on the ball
one-day cricket The World Cup is a limited-over international tournament in the one-day cricket format. shortened form of the game, with one innings per team and a limited number of overs
over Barry bowled 16 overs today and took three wickets for the loss of 42 runs. six consecutive balls by one bowler
overarm (bowling) In the early days of cricket underarm bowling was used, but in the nineteenth century overarm bowling began. bowling with the arm swinging from behind the body, over the head, with the ball released on the down swing
pace (bowling/bowler) Pace bowling takes a lot of energy and pace bowlers need to be very fit. a form of bowling in which the ball is bowled at high speed; also "fast bowling"
pads Protective gear for batsmen include gloves to protect the hands, pads to protect the legs and a "box" to protect the genitals. protective padding covering the legs for batsmen and wicket-keepers
pitch (also "wicket") The surface of a pitch can have a big effect on bowling, with a dry hard pitch being "fast" and a damp, soft pitch being "slow". hard rectangular surface in the centre of the field, 22 yards long, on which bowling and batting occur
pull (shot) Bradman brought up his century with a beautiful pull shot to the boundary for four runs. shot in which a short-pitched delivery is hit to the leg side between mid-wicket and backward square-leg
shot His best shots were the on drive, the hook and the cut shot. strike on the ball with the bat
single He hit the ball behind square leg and they took a quick single. one run scored by the batsmen running once between the wickets
six We love it when a batsman hits a huge six and the ball sails over the fence and into the crowd. shot that goes over the boundary without bouncing and scores six runs
spin (bowling/bowler) My son has decided he wants to be a spin bowler because he gets too tired bowling fast balls. a style of bowling in which spin is put on the ball by using either the fingers or the wrist
swing (bowling/bowler) Swing bowling is one of three main bowling styles, with the other two styles being fast bowling and spin bowling. a style of medium-pace bowling in which the ball swings because one side of the ball is polished, while the other side is roughened
Test match "The Ashes" refers to any Test match series between England and Australia. game format played over five days between top-level international teams
wicket (1) If a batsmen touches the wickets with his bat or any part of his body, and the bails fall off, he is out. a set of stumps and bails
wicket (2) If it's been raining and the pitch is damp, you can say it's a "sticky wicket". the pitch
wicket (3) David surprised us with his bowling when he took five wickets for only 32 runs. dismissal of a batsman
wicket-keeper He bowled a really fast ball and their batsman nicked it and our wicket-keeper caught it. player standing behind the wicket who catches any balls a batsman doesn't hit
wide He's a good fast bowler, though he sometimes bowls too many wides. an illegal delivery that is too far from the batsman; scores an "extra" run for the batting side
Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers.