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What Is an Over in Cricket?

By CricketersChoice Editors

One of the most frequently used terms in cricket is the ‘over’. It is a rule that applies to every player on the pitch, whether they are batting, bowling or fielding. 

The over is a staple of cricket. It is used to determine the length of a match, to dictate the tempo of a game and to provide a structure for each team to adhere to throughout a contest. 

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of the over, explaining what it is, how it is used in different formats and some of the history behind this central rule in cricket.

Table of Contents

What Is an Over in Cricket?

An over is when a player from the fielding team bowls six deliveries to a batsman on the opposing team. Any player from the fielding team can be selected by the captain to bowl and over, except the wicketkeeper.

After an over is complete, the umpire will signal to both teams by calling ‘Over’. Then, another bowler from the fielding team is selected to complete the next over from the opposite end of the pitch. Before the next player begins their over, fielders move to new positions on the pitch, but the batsmen always remain at the same end where they finished the previous over.  

The over begins when the bowler begins a run-up, or when they bowl their first delivery from a standing point without a run-up – but this is very uncommon in professional cricket. The over ends after the final ball is delivered to the batsman. However, an over can end prematurely if the bowler takes the final wicket in the batting team’s innings, which is reflected in decimal form on the scorecard (e.g. Anderson – 6.3 overs).

Why Are There Six Balls in an Over?

Different countries have implemented different rules for the over throughout cricket’s history. Four, five, six and eight ball overs have all been used at different times and places in the past. For example, English cricket has four-ball overs for most of the 1800s, but changed to five in 1889, six in 1900, then eight in 1939, and back to six in 1945. 

There were varying reasons for shorter or longer overs. Some countries had a five-ball over because it increased the game’s speed, with less time spent on run-ups and preparation before each delivery. Alternatively, eight ball overs were used to get more play throughout the day by cramming more deliveries into each over.

Other reasoning revolved around regional climates. Longer overs were more tiring in the hot conditions of sub-continental countries, like India and Sri-Lanka, but less so in more cooler areas, such as England. 

But there were downsides for each length of over as well. Shorter overs meant lots of changing in the field throughout the day and eventually decreased playing time. Bowlers also struggled to build any form and rhythm throughout a four or five ball over, which affected the quality of cricket. On the other hand, longer overs were seen as too taxing on the bowlers throughout a match, leading to injury and fatigue. 

In the 1978/79 season, six-ball overs became uniform in cricket across the globe, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) changed the rules to six deliveries. It was seen as the ideal middle-ground between four and eight balls per over and has been used internationally ever since. 

Can There Be More Than Six Balls in an Over?

In some instances, overs may be longer than six deliveries. The two most common reasons for an extended over are when a bowler delivers a ‘No Ball’ or a ‘Wide’. If the bowler delivers a no-ball or a wide, the existing ball does not count towards the player’s over and the delivery must be bowled again. The batters are also rewarded for the bowler’s mistake in this instance. In most formats, a run is added to the batting team’s ‘Extras’ for the innings. 

Usually, professional players ball may bowl the occasional no ball or wide in an over but it’s rare they repeat this mistake more than a few times per innings.

How Many Overs Are in Each Cricket Game Format?

Because different formats of cricket have evolved, there is no one size fits all for the number of overs bowled in a game. To provide a breakdown of each format, below are the number of overs included in each international format of the game. 

  • Twenty 20: 20 overs per team – 120 balls per innings. 
  • One Day International (ODI): 50 overs per team – 300 balls per innings.
  • Test cricket: Unlimited overs until the batting team is bowled out or they declare their innings. 

Despite the above applying universally to international cricket, domestic cricket, which is played between regional teams in a particular country, also use varying forms of cricket matches that are played over different overs. For instance, English county cricket has a 40 over format. 

Unlike the universal Laws of Cricket, a document owned by the Middlesex Cricket Club and used by international teams, domestic cricket follows rules set by a country’s cricket association. 

There is also the new domestic format in England – The Hundred. During this competition, each team will have a hundred deliveries each. This will challenge the more traditional six ball over and, instead, players will either bowl spells of five or ten deliveries until all 100 balls are delivered.

How Many Overs Can a Bowler Bowl?

The Laws of Cricket state that a player cannot bowl consecutive overs, which means captains must rotate the bowlers they select throughout a match. In most cricket formats, players are also limited to the number of overs they can bowl during a match, except for test cricket, where players can bowl an unlimited number of overs throughout the game. 

Limits on how many overs a player could bowl were first used in the ODI 50-over format and later in the Twenty 20 format to favour the batting side and to prevent an in-form bowler dismissing the batsmen easily – a rule change thought to improve the entertainment of the sport.

Below are the number of overs players are allowed to bowl in each cricket format. In shorter forms, each player is roughly allotted 20% of the overall overs. Once a player begins an over, they must complete it unless they fall to injury – in which case, the captain selects a new player to complete the over.

  • Twenty 20: 4 overs per player.
  • ODI: 10 overs per player.
  • Test Cricket: Unlimited overs per player. 

What Happens After an Over in Cricket?

After the bowler completes their final delivery and the umpire calls ‘Over’, the batsman remains at the end they finished the over at but the fielding team changes position. For example, the wicketkeeper will move from behind the stumps at one end of the crease to behind the stumps at the opposite end of the crease.

The new bowler will begin the next over from the opposite end of the crease and the fielders will change positions to opposite sides of the pitch unless the captain decides on new field placements for the over. 

Changing ends has been an official rule since the first Laws of the Game in 1744. The rule was included to give all players a fair chance in the game and to limit any advantage to either the batters, bowlers or fielders through:

  • Wind speed and direction: If the wind is behind the bowler, they can produce quicker deliveries, or if it’s against them, slower deliveries. 
  • Pitch damage at just one end: Constant run-ups from the same end would deteriorate the pitch more quickly.
  • Lengths to the boundaries: Some pitch dimensions may have shorter or longer lengths from the crease to the boundary.

Changing ends is also linked to the entertainment of the game, allowing all spectators to get a good view of the action at each end during a match.

What Is a Death Over in Cricket?

Death overs refer to the last ten to five overs of a team’s innings in shorter forms of cricket. Tactically, this is the time of the match where the batting team will accelerate their run rate and score a large chunk of their runs through “slogging”, taking risks and exploiting gaps in the opposition’s field. 

Often, to prevent maximum damage during the death over, the fielding team’s captain will place more players towards the boundary to try and stop sixes and fours being hit. 

What Is a Super Over in Cricket?

In one-day cricket tournaments, such as the ODI and Twenty 20 World Cups, the Super Over is equivalent to extra time, seen in other sports like football and rugby.

If a semi-final or final game is tied after both innings (and both teams have scored the same amount of runs after 20 or 50 overs) then each team faces one additional over, known as the Super Over. The team who scores the most runs in their respective over wins the match. It is not used in group matches, however, as teams share the points and the result is recorded as a draw at this stage of the competition.

Before the Super Over, the ‘bowl out’ rule was used, where teams would select their five best bowlers to bowl a delivery directly at the stumps, without a batsman. Under this rule, the team who hit the stumps the most would win. Alternatively, the Super Over was first introduced in Twenty 20 cricket in 2008, and it then replaced the bowl out method in ODI cricket in 2011.

The Super Over has led to several historic moments in cricket history. One of the most iconic was England’s dramatic World Cup final win over New Zealand in 2019. In this match, the Super Over also finished in a tie. The rules stated that the team with the most boundaries in the match (known as a boundary count-back) would win if a Super Over ended in a tie. As a result, England won the match in controversial fashion.

Consequently, the ICC decided to make one big change to the rules of the Super Over later in 2019. The cricketing body decided future Super Overs would continue until there is an outright winner from one of the successive overs.

What Is a Maiden Over in Cricket?

A maiden over is when a bowler bowls all six deliveries and prevents the batter from scoring any runs towards their team’s run total. 

While a maiden over is prevented by a no-ball or a wide, the bowler still earns maiden over if the batting team scores byes or leg-byes (when additional runs are not attributed against the bowler or to the batter). If a bowler takes wicket and gives no runs away during an over, it’s called a wicket-maiden, a double wicket-maiden for two wickets and a triple wicket-maiden for three wickets taken. 

Maiden overs are more common in longer forms of cricket, such as test matches. In shorter formats, like ODI and Twenty 20, batters look to score more quickly due to the time constraints of limited overs. 

Conclusion

The over is a central facet of all cricket formats. The six deliveries from bowler to batsman shapes the game completely and is essentially the heartbeat of the game.

Despite some disagreements in cricket history about how long overs should be and how quickly they should be bowled, there is now a perfect balance with six deliveries per over. The different formats of the game also benefit everyone – it helps to keep all fans and players well entertained, providing a great blend of tradition, excitement and pace.