“Oh and he’s played a beautiful shot into the off side.”
This is the sort of commentary that may confuse you when you start to watch cricket. God forbid you go to practice and someone asks you to go and field at “mid off” and you stare with a blank expression.
Off side and leg side in cricket are two terms you will hear a lot. They’re a way to divide the field, so you know where things are happening, and fielding positions, relative to the batter.
Unlike a lot of other sports, a cricket field has to be divided up relative to what else is happening, for a couple of reasons:
- The off side and leg side can change depending on the end of the bowler and batter.
- Left and right handed batters have different on side and leg sides in cricket.
Sound confusing? We’re here to explain.
Explaining Off Side and Leg Side in Cricket
On and off side in cricket explain either half of the wicket.
They are defined based on the position of the batters.
For a right-hander, the leg side is all of the cricket field that is located to their left as they look at the bowler. The off side is everything on their right.
Things are reversed for left-handers. A left-handed batter’s leg side is on their right, whereas the off side is on their left.
If you are a spectator at the cricket sitting in the stands, the “off side” and “leg side” aren’t set in stone. They aren’t positions that are set, they change with the position of the batter.
What is The “On” Side?
So you’ve heard leg side and off side, surely there can’t be another side?
The on side is just the same as the leg side. They’re two words for the same thing. So if the commentator says the ball is “nudged into the on side” they just mean the same as nudging it into the leg side.
This is important to remember, as the two terms are used interchangeably. However, when it comes to fielding positions, they aren’t as changeable. You may field at “leg gully” but you won’t field at “on gully” as nobody uses this term. Confusing!
Why Leg Side and Off Side Matter
Leg and off side are used to help to communicate what is happening. The terms are used by the captains to give their instructions to fielders, for instance.
They are also used to describe the batting shots and how they relate to the positions around the field. Phrases such as “long off” and “leg gully” are used to describe fielding positions, so you need to understand them, especially if you are going to play cricket.
On top of this, leg side and off side matter when you can’t use your eyesight. For example, when you are listening to radio commentary. If the commentator were to say “he’s hit the ball to the left” it doesn’t mean much to you. Which side is left? Leg side and off side give you the chance to visualise, and even get a better understanding of where the fielders are probably standing.
Setting a Field – How Leg Side and Off Side Play a Part
Leg side and off side also play a part in choosing field positions. There are also some rules on fielding positions (more on that later).
One of the rules is that you can’t place more than two fielders behind square on the leg side, this prevents aggressive tactics, such as those employed in the bodyline series.
In general, there are more fielders positioned on the off side of the batter. This varies depending on tactics and on the format of the game.
In test cricket, it is possible that the captain might change the tactics and start to target the leg side somewhat if a batter is vulnerable there, but it is much more likely that there will be fielders around the bat on the off side.
A false shot like an edge is much more likely from the outside of the bat, and will clip off towards the slip fielders on the off side. The wicket keeper usually stands next to the wickets on the off side in this scenario, too.
It makes sense when you think about it. The off side doesn’t have the batter’s body in the way. This is why the outside edge is targeted more. If you were to bowl mainly to the leg side then many of the edges would hit their pads or their body, taking a catch out of the equation.
Generally put, leg side shots don’t carry the same level of risk as the edges won’t be as easy to catch. That’s not to say no batter ever gets caught down leg, of course.
It is also a very crucial consideration that bowling to the leg side will result in a wide, so the fielding team runs the risk of giving away lots of extra runs in this way.
As we mentioned earlier, there are some rules relating to these two ‘hemispheres’ of the cricket pitch.
Crucially, no matter what form of cricket, you are not allowed to have more than two fielders behind square (in line with the batter) on the leg or “on” side.
If this is the case, and the rules are broken then the umpire will call no ball and this will not count as a legal delivery.
There are a lot of other fielding laws in place in shorter formats like T20 and one day cricket. These have “Power Play” periods of the game, where the team can only place two fielders outside of the 30 yard circle of the pitch.
On and Off Side
As you’ll know from watching the cricket, there are plenty of different names for the shots that batters play. These may incorporate the terms on, leg, and off. For example, you may hear a commentator say that somebody has played a beautiful “on drive”.
From the name of the stroke, you’ll know where the shot is going, which further helps with radio commentary. For example, if a batter plays a cut, they will be cutting to the off side.
Shots like sweeps and hooks are always played to the leg side. This is the nature of the shots, which are often named after the action of the batter while they’re playing the shot.
If you hear the term “straight drive” it means that the batter has hit the ball as straight as possible, but it is likely to be either on the leg side or the off side, but only slightly.
A lot of batters are stronger on either the leg side or the off side, and it is likely that a good captain will set their field accordingly, so that they can try and exploit the batter’s weaknesses.
Here are some examples of some of the leg side shots that batters play. Notice how different the technique is, playing across your body.
Summary – Understanding Off Side and Leg Side
When you start to watch or play cricket these terms can confuse you somewhat, but once you start to understand that they are all relative to whoever is batting, it should make more sense.
Fielding positions, shot selection, and commentary all use the terms a lot, so you should make an effort to fully understand the terms and what they mean at an early stage of your cricket journey.
The next time your captain tells you to field on the leg side, you’ll hopefully be able to understand what they are talking about!