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Off-break or leg break: it's the bowler's turn

Published:Saturday | January 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica's leg-spinner Odean Brown.
Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal bowls an off-spinner.

Roy Black, Gleaner Writer

There exists some amount of controversy concerning the definition of an off-break ball versus a leg break ball in the game of cricket.

Some fanatics cling to a somewhat conventional view that an off-break is a ball which, after being delivered by the bowler and made contact with the wicket, turns from left and goes right, while the leg break turns in the opposite direction (from right and goes left), full stop.

That theory would certainly be true if all batsmen were right-handed. But since there are left-handed batsmen in cricket, it would therefore logically follow that, that identical ball, would become a leg break to a left-handed batsman.

In order to better understand the situation, one has to be aware that a cricket field is divided into two halves, labelled the off side and the leg side, with the wicket lengthwise, being the dividing line.

Oxford Dictionary definition

The Concise Oxford Dictionary is clear in its definition: Off side is the side towards which the batsmans feet are pointed; Leg side is the side away from which the batsmans feet are pointed. Both sides (i.e off side and leg side) can therefore swop positions throughout a game, depending on whether its a right-hander of a left-hander on strike.

Cricket fans have oftentimes witnessed fielders changing sides (i.e. those on the off side move over to the leg side and vice versa), in response to batsmen of different types being on strike.

It therefore follows that the type of batsman on strike, even more than the bowler, is the determinant of the sides (i.e off side and leg side) at any given moment in a game, and ultimately the type of ball that is delivered to him/her.

Hence, no strict cast in stone definition can be tagged to an off-break or a leg break. No description of off-breaks and leg breaks in cricket, can be confined solely to the movement of balls from right to left, or from left to right after making contact with the wicket. The Concise Oxford Dictionary again distanced itself from any such description, and instead focused on the balls movement in relation to the two sides of the field, which, in turn, is determined by the batsman on strike.


The description is straightforward: Off-break a ball which deviates from the off-side after bouncing, and Leg break a ball which deviates from leg side after bouncing.

Having said all of that, the assertion has to be made that the bowler oftentimes retains the right to the description of the ball that is bowled. A right-handed off-break bowler, for example, remains an off-break bowler by description and bowling action, even though his ball becomes a leg break when it reaches the left-handed batsman.

The confusion soars to even greater heights, when left-handed bowlers, the most outstanding being the great Barbadian, Garfield Sobers, created The Chinaman a ball that spins contrary to the bowlers action.

The term Googly was also used to describe an off-break ball bowled with an apparent leg break action. In later years, the term Googly was used to describe deceptive actions by individuals.