SPORTING VERNACULAR No 5 WICKET

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The Independent Online
Some will take the view that the Trent Bridge turf has provided a bland wicket for the current Test. Others will perhaps feel that it isn't a wicket at all, that term being reserved for the frustratingly stable assembly of sticks behind the batsman.

Certainly the word has wood in mind rather than grass, being borrowed initially from a very old English term for a narrow gate or opening, often placed beside a larger door. This, then, is a simple matter of analogy - the stumps and bails look like a gate, so are given the same name (and if the current arrangement appears rather constricting to you, accessible only to 12-year-old supermodels, then it's worth remembering that the wicket was originally composed of two stumps only and was rather wider than it was tall).

This etymology presumably also explains the verbal paradox of the wicket- keeper, a player whose task is not to "keep" the wicket at all, but to take any opportunity he can to flatten it.

If metaphor does provide the original usage the subsequent transfer of the word to the stretch of grass or scuffed earth between the two batsmen is a good example of synecdoche - not a middle-order Sri-Lankan batsman, but the rhetorical figure of speech by which a part can be used to stand for a whole (counting cattle by "heads" is another common example).

Purists currently prefer "pitch", though they should bear in mind that the transferred sense is at least 130 years old. And, if their objection is to the use of synecdoche itself, they need to remember that they are in no better position themselves - pitch, after all, has taken its name from a single element of the game, the bounce of the ball along that particular stretch of ground.

It's too late anyway, because the word "wicket" has escaped. Even if covers have made "a sticky wicket" a thing of the past in cricket it has a lively existence beyond the boundaries, as Lady Olga Maitland found out while batting for Britain on the sun-loungers of Malta.

Thomas Sutcliffe

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