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What Is a Duck in Cricket?

By CricketersChoice Editors

A ‘duck’ in cricket is one of the most commonly used terms in the sport. Dreaded by batsmen and cherished by bowlers, the duck is one of the most exciting acts that can take place in cricket. It is also a term used regularly by players, spectators and commentators.

Like much of the terminology used in modern cricket, the duck may seem like an odd phrase to use in the sport at face value. However, the duck has become a casual part of cricket language over the past two centuries and is now widely used in all cricket playing countries and is a term universally understood within the game.

In fact, the phrase is such a foundation in cricket linguistics that different types of duck have been invented in subsequent years after its first use. For instance, the most well-known golden duck is a popular term, while the lesser-known, bronze duck or laughing duck may cause confusion amongst the most ardent of cricket fans.

But why are there so many different types of duck in the game of cricket? What are the origins of the phrase and why is it so regularly used now?

What Is the Meaning of ‘Duck’ in Cricket?

In cricket, if a batsman is dismissed and scored no runs, they will be ‘out for a duck’ or ‘bowled out for a duck’. It’s an unfortunate term that no batsman wants to hear, and a duck is the ultimate source of humiliation for the batting side. From the bowler’s perspective, taking any wicket is important, but there is no betting joy other than getting a wicket and giving away no runs in the process.

But the duck is not actually a common occurrence in cricket, particularly at the professional level as the standard of batting is excellent, which is why it’s such an exciting moment to witness during a game.

What Does the Duck in Cricket Originate From?

The term ‘duck’, or the phrase ‘out for a duck’, is used in place of zero because the number is the same shape as a duck’s egg.

Origins of the phrase are traced back to the playing days of the former British monarch, Edward VII. During his secondary school days, the Prince of Wales was an avid cricket player, but apparently not too assured with the bat.

In an exhibition match between amateur I Zingari and Norfolk in July 1866, Edward took to the crease for I Zingari with great expectation from those in attendance. But it was a short-lived moment and the heir was bowled out within seconds and scored no runs.

A reporter from the Daily Times was at the match to record the moment and they reported that Edward “returned to the pavilion for a duck’s egg” after he was bowled out for nought. It is unknown whether there were previous references to a ‘ducks’ egg’ in place of the number zero before this report. Therefore, this is the first known use of the phrase and, ever since its maiden reference in the Daily Times, the term has gathered momentum in the game and has been used widely ever since.

After the Prince of Wales’ unfortunate dismissal in 1866, the first recorded duck in a professional test match took place in March 1877. Australia batsman Ned Greggory holds this tainted record after England bowler James Lillywhite dismissed Greggory for zero.

How Many Types of Ducks Are There in Cricket?

The duck, in general terms, can refer to any batsman that loses their wicket without scoring a run. As long as they score zero, they are out for a duck.

However, over time, more and more variations of the term have crept into the game. Now there are countless references to different types of duck in cricket and the exact number and accuracy of each are not universally known. 

Some of the variations are used more commonly in cricket today by spectators and commentators. Below are some of the more commonly known types of duck in cricket.

What is a Golden Duck? 

A golden duck is when the batsman is dismissed by the first ball they face in their innings. 

What is a Regular Duck?

A regular duck refers to a batsman’s score of zero, but after they have faced more than one delivery.

New Zealand batsman Geoff Allott holds the record for the longest duck innings in cricket. Allott was at the crease for 101 minutes and faced 72 balls until he was eventually bowled out without scoring a single run. 

What is a Diamond Duck?

A batsman is out for a diamond duck if they lose their wicket without facing a legal delivery. 

For example, if a new batsman enters the crease at the end of the over, they will be at the non-striker’s end. If they are then run-out after the next delivery, they would be dismissed for a diamond duck because they didn’t face a legal ball. 

What is a Platinum Duck?

A platinum duck is when a batsman is dismissed for zero on the first ball of their team’s innings or the first ball of the entire match. This is sometimes referred to as a royal duck too. 

What is a Laughing Duck?

When the final wicket of a team’s innings falls for zero, it’s sometimes referred to as a ‘laughing duck’, purely to add insult to injury for the batting team. As many tailenders focus more on their bowling than batting, this type of duck is more common among batters at number 10 or 11. 

What is a Silver Duck?

Following in order from the ‘golden duck’, the silver duck is when a batsman is dismissed on the second ball faced. 

What is a Bronze Duck?

A batsman is out for a ‘bronze duck’ if they lose their wicket on their third delivery faced. 

Who Has the Most Ducks in Cricket?

Having the most ducks in cricket attributed to a name is not a record any player would strive for in their career, even more so if that player represents their country at the international level. Unfortunately, someone has to top the list and Sri Lanka’s former spinning great Muttiah Muralitharan is top of the table with 59 ducks in 328 international innings.

Below are the players with the most ducks ever in international cricket for combined ODI, Test and T20 matches.

Players

Ducks

Matches

Innings

Total Runs

Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka):

59

495

328

1936

Courtney Walsh (West Indies):

54

337

264

1257

Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka):

53

586

651

21032

Glen McGrath (Australia):

49

376

376

761

Mahela Jayawardene (Sri Lanka):

47

652

725

25957

Conclusion

Although cricket is full of quirky terms and references, the duck is certainly one that causes confusion at face value. However, from its regal origins in the mid-19th century, the duck has weaved its way into the fabric of the game. As a result, it is now a centrepiece of cricket’s language and culture.

Not many other terms in cricket are so polar in their impact on the players either. The duck is the ultimate source of embarrassment for the batsman. But in comparison, it is one of the greatest feelings for the bowler and the fielding team. For the neutral, witnessing a duck is one of the most intense, exciting plays in a cricket game and can change the fortunes of any team within a second.