Deep, backward, short and silly

Do cricket terms confuse you? Can't tell a silly mid-on from a deep fine leg? Read on. BC Pires will take you by the hand and guide you

Illustration by James Hackett

In most team sports, the field positions sound like what they are. In soccer, you have defending, mid-field and attacking players called backs, links and forwards. American football has tackles, running backs and wide receivers.

Baseball has four bases (three of them called “one”, “two” and “three”), an infield and an outfield, basemen, a batter, a catcher and a pitcher, and everyone and everything else is either in the outfield or out of bounds. In rugby, you can guess a player’s function from the name of his position. A tackle tackles; a prop props; even the hooker hooks the ball.

If cricket followed this sensible system, you would find one player pointing backwards, another just pointing, and several more with square legs. Without assistance, could you ever figure out what a “backward short leg” was supposed to do? It sounds like the poor man is nearly as handicapped as anyone trying to follow the radio commentary on a Test match for the first time.

Cricket’s field placings are so esoteric that you could be forgiven for thinking English gentlemen invented them simply to mystify the masses: just one more trick to separate the upper crust from the rest of the loaf.

For those of us who are not English gentlemen, then, here is an explanation of cricket’s basic field positions. We’ll begin with an easy one, so we don’t give ourselves brain damage, as we surely would if we plunged headfirst into a deep gully.

Wicket-keeper

This is the simplest position in cricket, even simpler than the batting team (which includes two openers, the strike and non-strike batsman, the tail-enders, and sometimes a runner for an injured batsman). Batsmen nowadays are also called batters. But the wicket-keeper is only ever the wicket-keeper; or, to his close friends and colleagues, the keeper. He’s supposed to risk life and limb by crouching just behind the batsman’s wicket in the hope of outsmarting him. He should really be called the wicket-smasher.

Slips

These are the guys who crowd around the batsman hoping he will “edge a catch”, or at least intimidate him. If there is only one slip fielder, he is still called “the slips”. If there are more than one, they are called first slip, second slip, third slip, and so on. The greater number of slips, the more aggressive (“attacking”) the field is considered to be. With the current West Indies batting side, the other team’s bowling field might conceivably consist of a bowler, a wicket-keeper and nine slips.

Gully

Theoretically, when there are too many slips, the furthest one will slip off the edge and tumble into the gully. There isn’t actually a gully running across the field, and imagining one doesn’t help much. Cricket is a mystery.

Point

This position came into existence because it was the one right next to gully, close enough for the captain setting his field to say, “No, not there! There! There! There!” And then he would — wait for it — point.

Backward point

This would be a fielder who is not very clever, and truly bad in the point position, but who has to be picked because he brings the beer for after the game. No, seriously. The position of backward point evolved because some BBC commentator once, live on-air, forgot the name for deep gully and had to think fast.

Silly point

Positions prefixed with “silly”, such as silly point, are accurately named. It is silly strategically to place someone there, and you would have to be silly in the head to stand there for a moment, far less bend down facing the end of the bat with your hands anywhere except wrapped protectively around your head.

Cover point

This position, a little farther away from the batter, was the closest the insurance salesmen would come to sell funeral coverage policies to a man fielding at silly point.

Cover

This was where the insurance policies would be signed, between overs.

Extra-cover

This is where insurance salesmen would explain additional insurance benefits, such as full permanent disability, to fielders. It developed in the 1980s, when Clive Lloyd’s West Indian team with its fearsome four-pronged pace attack dominated the cricket world.

Mid-on

The leg side is called the on-side, and it’s the left side from the batsman’s point of view (something to do with how English gentlemen mounted their horses). Unless the batsman is left-handed, in which case the leg side is the right side. But mid-on is not in the middle of the on-side between wicket and wicket, as you might think. It’s not in the middle of the field, either. It’s just sort of mid.

 

Silly mid-on

See silly point.

Mid-off

The off-side is the side that is not the on-side. But if you have a right-handed batter and a left-handed one batting together (i.e. at opposite ends of the wicket), the on- and off- sides are reversed every time they score a run, so the entire field may have to change places after every ball. This is the only time fielding at silly point becomes an advantage: it is a shorter walk. (Pity the guy at deep mid-wicket; he’s better off letting the ball run for four.)

Silly mid-off

A marginally safer fielding position than silly mid-on. A feisty Jamaican crossbat could open the skull of silly mid-on faster than a hatchet-wielding orc in Lord of the Rings. A silly mid-off might last a minute or two longer.

Mid-wicket

The most sensibly named position after wicket-keeper. This fielder stands roughly in the middle of the wicket, on the on- or leg-side — or he used to, anyway, until modern commentators invented the position of “deepish forward square leg”, which is about two strides away from where mid-wicket used to stand. A step or two backwards and he will be in real danger of becoming a “short, forward, wide-ish mid-on”.

Short leg

Cricket, though considered elitist, has always made space for the handicapable.

Forward short leg

Even the impolite ones.

Square leg

This position is at right angles, or square, to the batsman’s legs. It is usually occupied by the second umpire, who is called the square leg umpire (except in Australia, where what he is called after giving an Aussie batter out cannot be printed in a family journal).

Leg slip, leg gully

These are mirror reflections of their off-side originals; they might just as easily have been called on slip and on gully, but they weren’t.

Fine leg

That a fielding position in an all-male game could end up with a name like this proves that cricket evolved in English boarding schools. No, all right, the “fine” here does not suggest appreciation of a well-built thigh. It refers to the delicacy of the glance the batsman would have to make for the ball to run to the boundary at such an acute angle to the wicket.

Long leg

Long leg is a long way from the wicket, and the player fielding here needs long arms to throw a ball back. Even Victorian cricketers accepted that they couldn’t confuse matters further by introducing a long arm position, which would have led to a short arm, forward short arm and deep backward wide-ish square cover arm. No, okay, it’s a boundary or long position on the leg side.

Deep square leg

It would be nice to think there’s something philosophical going on here; but there isn’t. The only thing deep about deep square leg is the daydream he can fall into, so far away from the game. Okay, it’s another boundary position, the furthest the captain can send a useless fielder, square of the batting crease.

Deep mid-on

Same as deep square leg, except he doesn’t quite get to the boundary; this is to ensure he can run backwards with his eye on a lofted ball long enough to fall over and give the crowd a bit of a laugh.

Long-on

The mirror reflection of long-off.

Deep extra cover, deep backward point, deep gully

Just like extra cover, backward point and gully; except not as dangerous, so the players who field there are less shallow.

Long-off

Following the example of cover, extra cover and deep extra cover, and point, backward point and deep backward point, this position really ought to have been called deep extra bowler.

Third man

Another position that evolved because the captain kept shouting at deep backward point and deep backward fine leg, the two guys covering roughly nine o’clock to midnight on the clock face of the cricket ground perimeter, “No, no, not there! There! No! Not there, there! No! There!” And then he would get fed up and send out – wait for it – a third man to show them where to stand.
I hope this has been helpful. There’ll be a short quiz before you leave the aircraft. (Actually, experienced weekend players say the best position to occupy for all five days of a Test match is the first stool at the pavilion bar.)

Cricketers against AIDS

Yes, they are all in hot pursuit of the coveted Cricket World Cup. But the teams have another statement to make as well: solidarity in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

In 2003, UNAIDS, the United Nations agency engaged in the struggle, reached an agreement on this with the International Cricket Council. Players at ICC events would help to sensitise the sporting public in the cricket-loving nations and heighten awareness of the epidemic. This has been done consistently for the last four years, and continues at this year’s tournament.

An estimated 42 million people already live with HIV and AIDS. Of these, over 12 million live in the ten countries which are full members of the ICC.

In the Caribbean, HIV figures are second only to those in sub-Saharan Africa. The need for prevention, treatment, care, and support is urgent if the spread of the disease is to be halted.

The ICC recognises that sport can be a powerful force for change. It can break down HIV-related stigma and discrimination, build self-esteem in people living with HIV or affected by the virus, and promote lifestyles that reduce the risk of HIV infection. Leading sports personalities, such as today’s cricket stars, are role models for a younger generation that has never known a world without AIDS.

As we enjoy two months of glorious cricket (and hope to see a triumphant West Indies team), UNAIDS asks all cricket lovers, visitors and residents alike, to be socially and sexually responsible, and help to turn the tide.

We invite you to be a partner in the response to AIDS. You are key to the solution. Make a commitment today.

To obtain information on how you can be an advocate for HIV, please contact the UNAIDS CARRST at 1-868-625-4922 or unaidscarrst@undp.org.tt.