Cricket fans fear a farewell to the googly
Should cricket change its traditional language? A much-hyped new tournament, The Hundred, is challenging not only the way the game is played, but the words we use to talk about it.
The boy could hardly contain his excitement. Here he was at last, watching a Test match at the Home of Cricket. How would Joe Root set his field? How many slips would he have? Who would go at short leg? And would the pitch suit the bowlers – would it provide movement for the seamers and plenty of LBW shouts?
To people who have never watched cricket, such terminology can seem baffling. Those concerned with promoting the game, including the English Cricket Board (ECB) and the TV stations that broadcast matches, worry that it may even put potential fans off completely. So, they are proposing changes to its vocabulary.
Wickets, it has been suggested, should be called outs instead. And to encourage women’s participation, the word batsman should be replaced with batter. An alternative to googly has yet to be formulated.
The proposals accompany a radical new format for the game which will be launched in July. Called The Hundred, it will limit each innings to 100 balls. Instead of the bowling end changing every six balls, it will change every 10. One bowler can deliver either five or 10 balls consecutively.
The clubs competing will be totally different as well. Instead of the traditional county sides, there will be eight clubs representing seven British cities, each with a men’s and a women’s team. Their names, such as the Manchester Originals and the Oval Invincibles, mimic those of American football and baseball teams.
“Research shows that the language of the game can sometimes be a barrier,” the organisers say. “We want The Hundred to open cricket up to more people, as well as entertaining existing fans, so we’re discussing the clearest ways of explaining the game.” They added, however, that no final decisions had been made.
The comedian Andy Zaltzman, a committed fan, is sceptical. He argues that introducing a new format is the most confusing thing, and that the organisers should have more faith in the sport. “There’s an assumption from a lot of people that cricket is more complicated than it is… All it needs is for you to have the game explained by someone who loves it.”
Tim de Lisle, a former editor of Wisden, has mixed feelings. “Cricket can be fuddy-duddy, and it does need to be more welcoming to the kind of person who, in Tom Stoppard’s great phrase, is interested, not obsessed. That means anyone from the ten-year-old who’s only ever had a go on the beach, to a grown woman who wasn’t encouraged to play or watch by the fans in her family (but would be now), to somebody of any age who got excited by the World Cup and the Ashes in 2019.”
He is in favour of batter – “It’s what the players say already, and it applies equally to men and women” – but not of outs: “It’s jarring and unnatural and needlessly alienating to the older fan, who may well be paying for the tickets.”
Should cricket change its traditional language?
A sticky wicket
Some say, yes. The general perception of cricket is that it is a complicated game which lasts for days and often just ends in a draw. The Hundred is an admirable effort to change that, and is exactly what is needed to attract new players and spectators, especially in the face of such unremitting competition from soccer. Simplifying the language is an important part of the equation.
Others point out that every world, from the theatre to the army, has its own language, which contributes to its character. If you change that, something vital is lost. People are quite able to grasp complicated language when the subject interests them. Besides, it is cricket’s complex rules that make it hard to understand, not its vocabulary.
- Is there anything that makes a long, slow game better than a short, fast one?
- Is it acceptable for TV channels to have more influence on a sport than the fans?
- Imagine that you are the owner of a team representing your nearest city in The Hundred. Think of a name for it and design its badge and playing kit.
- Cricket fans are famous for their love of statistics. Take the scorecard from a recent match and imagine what happened in the game based on that alone. Write a report for a newspaper.
Some People Say...
“The beauty of cricket is that there are so many different opinions as to the best way to do something.”Alastair Cook (1984 – ), English cricketer
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- It is generally agreed that traditional cricket has been badly damaged by the pandemic. Without the revenue from ticket sales, England’s 18 county teams have lost over £100m, and had to make many staff redundant. However, some clubs have forged a closer relationship with their supporters, who have rallied round and donated considerable sums of money. And the ECB is thought to have handled the situation well, subsidising clubs and ensuring that matches could still be seen on TV.
- What do we not know?
- One main area of debate is around whether The Hundred will benefit cricket in general. A survey by the Daily Telegraph found that half of England’s counties thought it would not, and two-thirds of fans saw it purely as a money-making exercise for the ECB. Some worry that it will damage three-day matches, which are essential training for Test series, but others welcome the fact that it will bring a wide mixture of players, particularly from India, and see it as a boost for women’s cricket.
- Home of Cricket
- Lord's Cricket Ground is a cricket venue in London. Widely referred to as the Home of Cricket and is home to the world’s oldest sporting museum.
- Joe Root
- Captain of England since 2017, he is one of the country’s best ever batsmen, and led the team to victory in the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
- Fielders who stand near the wicket keeper hoping to make a catch.
- Short leg
- A fielder positioned very close to the batsman, and in considerable danger of being hit when the ball is struck.
- Bowlers who make use of the seam running round the leather ball to make it hard to guess which way it will bounce.
- LBW shouts
- Short for “leg before wicket”. The batsman is out if the umpire decides that the ball would have hit the stumps if part of the batsman’s body had not got in the way.
- A specialised type of delivery by a spin bowler which appears to be going in one direction but then bounces in another.
- A cricket reference book published annually since 1864.
- Tom Stoppard
- A Czech-born British writer celebrated for plays such as Arcadia and Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
- Slow bowlers who put spin on the ball to deceive the batsman.