Saturday, July 13, 2024

Cricket is the USA’s new favourite sport – but what do googly, Mankad and cow corner mean?

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Cricket, as America is discovering after the U.S. team’s unlikely progression to the latter stages of the ongoing men’s Twenty20 World Cup being co-hosted by their homeland, is a magnificent sport. It combines skill, power, poise, finesse and moments of unbearable tension.

The trouble is, in order to enjoy and appreciate all of that, you will quite often have to get past cricket’s sometimes impenetrable terminology. It’s a magnificent sport that is frequently overcomplicated, and while you don’t have to know the intricacies of the lingo to enjoy it, knowing what everyone is talking about helps.

So with that in mind, The Athletic presents to you a selected cricket glossary that might help you in this journey of discovery to your new favourite sport…


Admittedly, we’re starting with something needlessly confusing because the word ‘wicket’ can refer to a whole bunch of things.

The ‘wicket’ can be the three stumps that the batter has to defend and the bowler is trying to hit with the ball. The ‘wicket’ can also refer to the strip of turf at the centre of the field the game is played on, more commonly called the pitch. A ‘wicket’ is another word for an out: a bowler who gets a batter out can ‘take a wicket’, and a batter can ‘lose’ their wicket.

Wicket is also the name of one of the Ewoks in Return Of The Jedi, but that’s not strictly relevant here.

U.S. bowler Saurabh Netravalkar celebrates taking the wicket of India’s Virat Kohli (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)


When the ball is hit to the boundary surrounding the field of play, bouncing at least once before crossing it, the batter is rewarded with four runs.


When the ball is hit over said boundary, without it bouncing after being struck, the batter is rewarded with six runs.


When a batter scores zero runs before being out.

There are competing theories about where the term comes from, but the most enduring is that a zero in the scorebook looks like an egg (see: ‘bagel’ in tennis) and presumably they decided that calling zero runs a ‘chicken’ was a little bit too ridiculous. There are various types of duck, including a golden duck (when you’re out for zero runs from the first ball you face), a platinum duck (when you’re out for zero runs from the first ball of the whole match), and a diamond duck (when you’re run out without even facing a ball).


A batter trying to hit the ball a long way, such as for a six, but without any particular finesse or skill. Swinging for the fences, essentially. You may hear reference to a ‘slog sweep’, which is where the batter gets down on one knee as the ball approaches and tries to wallop it away in the air at a 90-ish-degree angle.

U.S. batter Aaron Jones smashes a six (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)


The concept of the ‘two-way player’ (someone who can pitch and hit) is one that is so rare that it inspires awe and wonder in baseball, but cricket’s equivalent, the ‘all-rounder’ (someone who can both bowl and bat well) is much more common. Most teams have at least one, usually many more than that, and while they’re not all as good as Shohei Ohtani (community note: none of them are as good as Shohei Ohtani), it still takes a pretty special talent to perform both of the game’s core disciplines well.

Cow corner

This is a direction that a slog (see above) can be hit towards: if you imagine the whole playing field as a clock-face, with the wicket in the middle, cow corner is at roughly five o’clock from a right-handed batter’s perspective, and the term apparently comes from the area of the cricket field at Dulwich College (an exclusive school in London) where cows and other livestock would graze. This is where the game’s terminology delves into self-parody, so don’t judge us cricket fans too harshly on this basis.

Death bowler

It sounds drastic, but this simply refers to a bowler who specialises in performing at the end of an innings and thus is skilled in high-pressure situations. Sort of like a closer in baseball. Can result in some harrowing, nightmarish moments that will live with bowlers forever if it all goes wrong.


A shot where a batter drops down on one knee and tries to flip the approaching ball over his head. A high degree of difficulty and also a high degree of possibly flipping the extremely hard ball (wood covered in leather) into your own teeth. Named after the man who popularised the stroke, Sri Lankan batter Tillakaratne Dilshan.

Dilshan attempting the ‘Dilscoop’ playing for Sri Lanka against England (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The ramp

A bit like a Dilscoop, but with less flipping involved: you just present the bat to the ball at a 45-ish degree angle — like a ramp rising towards you — and use the pace of the delivery to deflect it to where you want it to go.


Because cricket is, in many ways, a deeply silly sport, rain can often disrupt things and cause games to be shortened. This is a problem when one side has batted before the rain arrives, so the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method was invented (by three people with those surnames) as a sort of algorithm, a way of calculating a revised target for the team yet to bat, based on the shortened number of overs left in the game. Some people will tell you they understand how it works. Do not believe them.


Oh, yeah, we probably should have told you what an over is. It’s six legal balls/deliveries. Basic one. Sorry.

Run rate

Now you know what an over is, run rate should be fairly simple: it’s the number of runs a team scores per over. In a T20 game, the absolute bare minimum you want to be scoring is six, eight is pretty good and 10 is excellent.


The decision review system: fairly self-explanatory this one — the term for when the umpires make a decision that one team disputes and can refer it to a higher power/someone up in a booth with a TV and all manner of technology to verify or reverse it.

Full toss

In cricket, the ball is supposed to bounce/pitch on the wicket before it reaches the batter. When it doesn’t, it’s called a full toss. It’s not a particularly integral term to the game, but it does fulfil the ‘bit of cheeky innuendo to it’ quota that cricket can often throw up.


Sounds like a childish term for one’s genitalia, but it refers to a type of delivery that a spin bowler can use: specifically, a leg spin bowler who will typically make the ball move away from a right-handed batter, a googly will make it move towards a right-handed batter. Australians call this a “wrong ’un”, which again is a good one for the innuendo files.


A delivery bowled to hit the ground right at the batter’s toes, designed to be so fast that they can’t block the ball with their bat before it hits the stumps. Could be an innuendo if you’re feeling very imaginative.

Leg before wicket

A method of dismissal where the ball hits the batter on the legs when on its way to hitting the wicket. Sounds simple, but cricket being cricket, there are complications. For a batter to be given out LBW, the ball concerned cannot pitch outside the line of their leg (nearest) stump. It must also hit the batter in line with the stumps, as well as be judged to be on the way to hitting said stumps. Unless that is, the batter is deemed not to be trying to hit the ball. Confused? Sometimes, it feels like you’re supposed to be.

Genuine pace

A favourite of commentators. The difference between pace and genuine pace is a bit nebulous, but it refers to fast bowlers and can usually be categorised thus: a fast bowler has pace, but a really fast bowler has genuine pace.

Silly mid-off/mid-on/point

Fielding positions that are close to the batter and are thus perceived to put the fielder at risk of taking a (again, very hard) cricket ball to the face. Thus, those that adopt these positions are ‘silly’.

It’s easy to see why some positions are ‘silly’ – former England captain and batter Alastair Cook tries to avoid a shot from Australia’s Steve Smith (Greg Wood/AFP via Getty Images)


Trash-talk, essentially. Can be funny. Can be deeply tedious. Often gets very personal.

Spirit of cricket

The unwritten rules of the game, or essentially how a lot of old-fashioned, stuffy types think cricketers should behave and subsequently get very, very pompous about. It’s basically semi-organised politeness.


The thing that gets people who believe in the spirit of cricket most annoyed: when a bowler is about to deliver the ball but instead turns and runs out the batter standing at the non-striker’s end of the wicket. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either deeply unsporting conduct and the last refuge of the scoundrel, or smart play taking advantage of that batter’s carelessness. Named after Vinoo Mankad, an Indian all-rounder who played in the 1940s and 1950s.

See. Now you’re all cricket experts.

(Top  photo: Matt Roberts-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

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