A sticky wicket (or sticky dog, or glue pot) is a metaphor used to describe a difficult circumstance. It originated as a term for difficult circumstances in the sport of cricket, caused by a damp and soft pitch.
The phrase comes from the game of cricket. “Wicket” has several meanings in cricket: in this case it refers to the rectangular area, also known as the pitch, in the centre of the cricket field between the stumps. The wicket is usually covered in a much shorter grass than the rest of the field or entirely bare, making it susceptible to variations in weather, which in turn cause the ball to bounce differently.
If rain falls and the wicket becomes wet, the ball may not bounce predictably, making it very difficult for the batsman. Furthermore, as the pitch dries, conditions can change swiftly, with spin bowling being especially devastating, as the ball can deviate laterally from straight by several feet. Once the wet surface begins to dry in a hot sun “the ball will rise sharply, steeply and erratically. A good length ball … becomes a potential lethal delivery. Most batsmen on such wickets found it virtually impossible to survive let alone score.” Certain cricketers developed reputations for their outstanding abilities to perform on sticky wickets. Australian Victor Trumper was one.
On occasions in the history of cricket unusual tactics have been employed to extract the best use of a sticky wicket. One example is the First Test in the 1950–51 Ashes series. As recorded in The Ashes’ Strangest Moments, as the pitch at the Gabba began to dry, England declared their first innings at just 68/7, in order to exploit the conditions. Australia were even more extreme, declaring at 32/7. “…the ball proceeded to perform capers all against the laws of gravitation, and there came the craziest day’s cricket imaginable, with twenty wickets falling for 130 runs and two declarations that must surely be unique in the annals of Test cricket.”
The Language of Cricket (1934) defines a sticky wicket as “when its surface is in a glutinous condition”. Hence a “sticky wicket” refers to a difficult situation.