On the back foot

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On the back foot is a primarily British idiom. We will examine the meaning of the expression on the back foot, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To be on the back foot means to be put in a defensive position, to be in retreat, to be knocked off balance. Primarily used in British English, on the back foot is a phrase that is most probably derived from the sport of cricket. A stance where most of the player’s weight is on the back foot refers to a situation in which he is delivering a defensive stroke. An equivalent American phrase is to be knocked off balance or to be on the ropes.


“You’d much rather set your season up than be on the back foot,” Alexander said. (The Canberra Times)

“The risk for gold producers and any late cycle development projects is they are ‘caught on the back foot,’” the analyst said. (The Financial Post)

Never mind that South Africa had just beaten the world’s No.1 Test side 2-1, the Proteas’ captain was on the back-foot, having to defend his tactic of ordering certain preparation when it came to wickets in this series. (The Economic Times)

Salem found themselves on the back foot for much of the opening quarter of the second half, and only excellent defending on their own line kept their opponents at bay. (The Telegraph and Argus)

The new chief of homeware retailer Dunelm Nick Wilkinson started City life on the back foot on Tuesday as he saw its shares slide on squeezed margins. (The Evening Standard)