Are you completely numb to the ridiculousness of cricket terminology?

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The Eton Field Game (via British Pathé)

This piece is not a flimsy excuse to publish footage of ‘the ram’ from the Eton Field Game. It is a chin-stroking musing on the fundamental meaningless of sporting terminology. The fact that it happens to feature footage of ‘the ram’ from the Eton Field Game is just a bonus.

It’s the Rugby Union World Cup final on Saturday. Rugby has a lot of ridiculous terminology and so, if we’re honest, does cricket. Most sports do. All of them really.

Odds are you’re kind of numb to it by this point in your life. You’re probably still dimly aware that ‘googly’ sounds silly to anyone who doesn’t regularly watch cricket, but over time you lose sight of the fact that pretty much anything anyone ever says when describing cricket is, in a wider sense, a great big fat heap of gibberish. (For an outsider, little can match the blithe tone of a commentator when describing the field set for a particular batsman and in particular that inevitable incomprehensible climax: “mid-on, mid-off.”

Bert wrote to us a few weeks back to draw our attention to the rules and terminology of the Eton Field Game, a preposterous version of football that is still played at Eton College.

We say ‘preposterous’ but it only really seems quite so ridiculous because it never caught on. Cricket, rugby union, rugby league, football, hockey, squash, tennis, and badminton were all codified in England during the nineteenth century, but the Eton Field Game missed out.

Bert said: “Serious people have serious discussions about scrums, blind sides, wickets and tickling one to leg. If things had been only very slightly different, we would be telling people in business meetings that their proposal is very rougeable, or that they need to take their idea and ram it (although that second one does strike a distant chord).”

In case you’re wondering about ‘rougeable’…

If the ball comes from a defender and goes behind the infinite line created by extending their goal line, it is rougeable. The ball is also rougeable when a defender kicks it so that it rebounds off an attacker over the goal line, in such a case where, in the opinion of the referee, the attacker makes no deliberate attempt to play the ball over the line. A “contact” rougeable may also be created by an attacker if he plays the ball over the infinite line from close range while in contact (other than via the arm below the elbow) with a defender.

When a ball is rougeable players from both teams race to reach it first.

If an attacker reaches it first their team scores a ‘rouge’, worth five points and also attempts a conversion.

If a defender reaches it first the attacking team has a choice of ‘point or bully’: they can choose either to be awarded a single point or to form a bully (like a scrum), close to the opponent’s end of the pitch. If they drive the ball over the end of the pitch they score a ‘bully rouge’ (5 points) and as before can convert it.

The whole rules section of the Eton Field Game page on Wikipedia makes for an entertaining read, but if you’re pressed for time, the other main highlight is the section about conversions and specifically, ‘the ram’.

The conversion in its current form was introduced by rule changes in 2002. It replaced the “ram”, in which a column of four players from the attacking side lifted their feet to the sound of “left up right up left up right up, one two three…”, then, to the shout of “ram”, charged a defensive goalpost scrum from a range of 2.5 yards with the aim of forcing the ball over the line between the posts.

It sounds pretty funny and the great news is that not only is there British Pathé footage of the ram on YouTube, it is also every bit as funny as the description above suggests.


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  1. Splendid insight into life on the playing fields of Slough Grammar. “. . . Your neck won’t get broken so easily that way. . . ” This suggests that it’s bound to happen at some time or other.

  2. googly reminds me:

    apparently australians used to refer donkey drops as googly but when the english appropriated the term to describe the leg spinner’s wrong one, the australians, in order to avoid confusion with moonballs, decided not to use googly but instead refer to it as the wrong’un instead

    and even though an english bowler invented the ‘googly’, he was more unpredictable than Adil Rashid. as a consequence there were more ‘googly’ bowlers in south africa than England before the aussie wrist spinners took over

    1. This time last year when England played against Sri Lanka, Lakshan Sandakan bowled well in the final test of the series – he’s basically a chinaman bowler:

      Escamillo Escapillo can bowl the chinaman, but frankly, once you are familiar with his bowling it is well signalled and thus more fun for the batman than the bowler in the nets. He claims to have taken several wickets with it in matches, though, when bowling to the uninitiated in match pressure situations.

    2. Sandakan’s Cricinfo card refers to him specifically as a chinaman bowler, as does his Wikipedia entry.

      Kuldeep Yadav, on the other hand (or rather, also with the left hand), is referred to as a chinaman bowler on his Cricinfo card but as an unorthodox left arm bowler in his Wikipedia entry:

      May we live in interesting times.

    3. An elderly friend of mine sometimes has a half-lager, half-bitter combo. Every time I go to the bar, I mutter to myself to order a pint of Golden rather than Chinese. Another reminder that I’m from the pre-Woke era.

      1. I am only now learning that half-lager, half-bitter is a ‘thing’. It sounds absolutely horrendous.

      2. I met an old pal today. We haven’t seen each other for 22 years. He reminded me that we used to drink Abbot Ale with a Gold Label top. The thought of that now.

  3. Jersey had a quite impressive showing at the ICC World T20 Qualies, winning 3 of their 6 games – including Oman, who were among the pre-event favourites, and hosts UAE. They also reduced Hong Kong to 81/6 but didn’t finish the job off. Unfortunately, in a seven-team group, three teams finished with three wins and Jersey had the worst NRR of the three, so came 6th. Had they finished Hong Kong off, they would have joined table-topping Ireland, Oman and the UAE on four wins so would have finished at least within the top four. They wouldn’t have been able to catch up with Ireland’s NRR to top the group (the only way to automatically qualify) but they would certainly have gone on to the play-off rounds.

    Scotland also won 3 of their 6 games but in their group they were the only team to do so, and came 4th in it behind PNG (group winners and automatic qualifiers), Netherlands and Namibia. That position gives you one shot at qualifying in the knock-out rounds whereas 2nd and 3rd places get two bites at the cherry, with the second attempt if necessary against one of the 4th-placers (though 4th placed teams have the slight advantage of playing a team that’s recovering from an important loss). The Dutch reward for coming 2nd was that their first play-off was against the 3rd team from the other group – UAE – whom they roundly thrashed. UAE’s benefit from coming 3rd in their group was that they lived to fight another day with a final play-off against one of the 4th-placed teams, but Scotland beat them to secure their qualification.

    The equivalent match on the other side of the draw was Oman (as 2nd-placers on their “second life”, having lost their first play-off against 3rd-placed Namibia from the other group) vs Hong Kong (with one shot as 4th-placers). Oman beat HK, just as they did in the group stage. Had Jersey pipped HK to 4th spot, they’d have come into this play-off match knowing that they’d beaten Oman in the group stage. All ifs and maybes, but Jersey really were not far away at all from reaching the World Cup. Quite extraordinary, though having looked it up I see their population of 107,000 is a fair bit higher than Bermuda’s 65,000, so perhaps the achievment of Leverock et al were more impressive.

    I do wonder what Germany might have done – reinforced with professional players from South Africa, the UK and Afghanistan, they now have a strong squad if they can play at full strength and almost beat Jersey to the European qualifying slot, losing out only by a decimal place of NRR.

  4. Returning to the themes of bizarre sporting terms and political correctness, this thread has reminded me of a term used in Rugby Fives, which was my best sport as a young schoolboy.

    Fives is a court sport which, in simple terms, looks like squash, but played two-handed with gloves, rather than with a racket.

    The serve has to be delivered bouncing off a side wall and then the front wall to be a fully legitimate serve. If the serve is delivered front wall only, it is known as a blackguard (pronounced “blaggard”) which the receiver can choose to take if desired by shouting “yes” before striking the ball. If the receiver declines the blaggard the server gets another chance or two to serve a legitimate ball before faulting a point.

    Definitions of the words “blackguard” and “blaggard” uniformly refer to dark-heartedness as the origin, but I find it hard to believe that this term could, in the modern era, find its way into the vernacular without (in my view, justifiable) criticism.

  5. One of the reasons that Association Football became the dominant version of the game is that the rules are relatively simple. In particular, they don’t change during the match. In Rugby Union they do change, which makes the game almost entirely indecipherable to the casual viewer. I notice that this is true for the Eton Field Game as well.

    Handy Guide for Tomorrow Morning

    Open Play
    – No offside
    – Ball can be handled
    – Ball can be kicked
    – Ball cannot go forward off a hand
    – Players can approach the play from any angle
    – Players can go to ground
    – Players can take the ball to ground

    – Offside line at the back foot
    – Ball cannot be handled
    – Ball can be kicked
    – Ball cannot go forward off a hand
    – Players cannot approach the play from the side
    – Players must be on their feet
    – Players can take the ball to ground

    – Offside line at the back foot
    – Ball can be handled
    – Ball cannot be kicked
    – Ball can go forward off a hand (as long as the players are part of the maul)
    – Players can approach the play from the back or the side
    – Players must be on their feet
    – Players cannot take the ball to ground

    None of this is any more logical or intuitive than a ball becoming rougeable when it bounces off an opponent and crosses a line. By contrast, football’s rules are incredibly straightforward – no handling, kick any which way, offside line at the last defender – for the entirety of the match.

    Except for throw-ins, which are different.

  6. None of it still as good as:

    “That footsweep was first class, right before he fringed his ring too, extraordinary.”

    “And they’re going for the threesome.”

    “Two wide, three Synge”

    “A two, a one, Traffrold”

      1. I consider it a public service Edwardian. I sometimes wonder if new readers to this site might need an occasional link to a Yorkshireman unable to spake. Or a Kentishman on a novel beast of burden. Or indeed, an unfeasibly anatomical version of snooker. Otherwise they must think we’re all mad…

      1. FLIPPING HECK THAT URL SAYS 2007!?! Where has my life gone?!? And I still think of this as KC’s “new” site….

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