For most, the no-ball rule is black and white. It’s clear as day what a bowler must do to ensure each ball is legal. However, Richard Illingworth’s call has resonated around the cricketing world.
Well-known scribes and players alike have questionws the validity of the ruling, while others have called for the umpire to be stood down.
But before the knee-jerk reactions, and we start reverting back to the back-foot rule or cease to use a professional and experienced umpire, let’s look at some contributing factors at play when Illingworth made the call.
First of all, the incident occurred towards the end of the day’s play. The shadows caused by the stumps and the bowler’s back leg were cast across the crease, which will have made sighting the crease difficult. Added to this, Doug Bracewell opens his hips upon delivering, which results in his front leg being on an angle in front of the back leg. This combination of factors could have resulted in Illingworth believing the Kiwi had overstepped the line.
At the end of each session, curators rush out onto the ground to re-paint the lines to make them clearer for the umpires. However, being at the end of the day, the crease where Bracewell landed had faded with the constant wear and tear.
Consider the difficulty in making a no-ball call when a bowler is bowling in white boots, lands on a faded white line, mixed with some shadows and slightly blindsided by his back leg.
Would a blue painted line make things easier? What about a black line?
While these considerations don’t excuse one of the biggest umpiring mistakes in recent memory, they do provide additional commentary on Illingworth’s ability to make the correct call.
The current no-ball rule still works. Yes, Illingworth made a follow-up mistake on the final day, however two mistakes don’t cancel out all the correct calls that are made across all levels of cricket every year.
Cricket is a traditional game steeped in traditional rules and values. However, let’s consider the benefits of not discriminating against a bright blue, or a vibrant yellow. Will this make it easier for umpires to see if any part of the line is visible behind the heel? Most definitely.
Richard Illingworth played Test cricket and a lot of first-class cricket. Mix this experience as a cricketer with a lot of umpiring all over the world, and you have a talented and important member of the ICC Umpiring panel.
He made a mistake, however there were factors at play that influenced his decision and they need to be considered before any call of changing the no-ball rule comes close to a vote.