How Many Balls Are There In An Over In Cricket?

A series of balls known as an ‘over’ is one of the foundational building blocks of the sport of cricket. To understand the game properly, it’s important for spectators to know what an over is and how many balls each one contains. Once the spectator understands this, pieces of cricket commentary such as ‘they only have 5 overs left’, or ‘they have to score 180 runs in 20 overs’ will start to make a lot more sense. So, if you want to know exactly how many balls are in an over, as well as how this has changed over the years, make sure you read this post in its entirety! Now let’s get straight on to the main question…

How many balls are there in an over in cricket?

There are 6 balls in a normal over in cricket. Each ball must be bowled by the same bowler, unless the bowler who starts the over gets injured mid-way through. An extra delivery will be added to the end of the over for each illegal delivery that a bowler bowls. Examples of illegal deliveries are wides and no balls.

From the information above, you can see that if a bowler keeps bowling no balls or wides, an over can become incredibly long. If a bowler bowled 1 no ball, this would extend the length of the over by 1 ball. If they bowled 5 no balls and 1 wide, this would extend the length of the over by 6 balls. If a bowler bowled 100 illegal deliveries in an over, that over would become 106 balls long (100 illegal balls + 6 legal balls). There is technically no limit to the number of balls in an over, so if a bowler were to just keep bowling no balls, the over would continue until they bowled a total of 6 legal deliveries. Of course, bowling 100 illegal deliveries in an over very rarely happens! In most cases, bowlers will bowl a maximum of 2 or 3 illegal deliveries in one over, so this wouldn’t extend the number of balls that much.

Front foot no balls are just one of the illegal deliveries that can add extra balls to an over

If you’d like to learn about all of the different types of no balls in cricket, then I’ve written an excellent summary post on that which you can read by clicking here.

Has There Always Been 6 Balls In An Over?

No, if we look back through the history of cricket, there hasn’t always been 6 balls in an over. In fact, overs have had many different numbers of balls depending on how far back you look!

As a quick summary, in the 1800’s at the outset of cricket, overs were 4 balls long. This then changed to 5 balls in 1889. By the time the year 1900 came around, the decision was made to change to a 6 ball over. But the changes weren’t finished there! Between 1900 and 1979 many countries experimented with 8 ball overs for brief periods of time. Let’s have a look at a few of these below:

  • In England, 8 ball overs were trialled briefly in 1939.
  • In Australia, 8 ball overs were used continuously between 1936 & 1979.
  • In South Africa, 8 ball overs were used between 1938 and 1958
  • In Pakistan, 8 ball overs were introduced between 1974 and 1978

At this point, you may be wondering why there were so many changes to the length of overs within the first 100 years of the sport. I once wondered the same thing myself! In the first few years of cricket there was probably a lot of experimentation, with people trying to find rules and arrangements that worked the best for players and spectators. This is probably the reason for the quick changes between 4, 5 and 6 ball overs. It was determined pretty early on that 4 ball overs passed by too quickly and led to too many changes of ends by the bowlers. This would have dampened the spectator experience to a degree.

As for the change to 8 ball overs, it is thought that this change was made in order to cram more balls into a day’s play, due to the fact that bowler’s would have to change ends less. As we now know, the current rules of cricket involve 6 ball overs, which provide a sort of ‘happy medium’ between 4 ball and 8 ball overs. 6 ball overs became the international standard in 1979/80 and those rules have remained in place until this day.

What Is The Longest Over Ever Bowled?

The longest ever over in terms of the number of balls bowled was 22 balls! This over was bowled by New Zealand cricketer Bert Vance who played for Wellington in 1990. During this over, Vance bowled an incredible 17 no balls and ended up conceding 77 runs.

Why did Vance do this? Well, with the opposing team trying to block out the game for a draw and Wellington needing a win to ensure they won the title, Vance thought he could get the opposition closer to the target by bowling an endless stream of no balls. He hoped that by bowling these no balls and getting the opposition close to the target, they would stop blocking the ball and take more risks to win the game. Unfortunately for Vance, the tactic did not work. The game ended infamously in a draw! However, due to other results, Wellington still won the title.

During all the confusion around no balls and the amount of runs scored by the batsmen during Vance’s over, the umpires officiating the game miscalculated the number of legal deliveries he actually bowled. By the time the umpires called Vance’s over complete, he had bowled 22 balls – including only 5 legal balls along with 17 no balls. Therefore, the umpires should have waited until Vance bowled one more legal ball in order to call the over complete.


If you were looking for solid information regarding overs and how many balls they contain, I hope this post has provided you with all the answers you were seeking. If you’re still looking to learn more about the sport of cricket, then this site is a great place to start. I have posts for newcomers that will explain the game in an easy to understand way, and I also have incredibly detailed articles that will explain the intricacies and subtleties involved in batting and bowling and executing cricket skills at a high level. Feel free to have a browse and see if there’s anything else that interests you!

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