It may surprise some to learn that I have succumbed to the habit of spending most of my mid-summer evenings watching the BBL!
I am a cricket tragic. Everybody knows it. But, while my wretched passion is predominantly focused on Test cricket, I am easily seduced by any form of the game, really.
That said, most of my Big Bash bastardy is short-lived. I enjoy the moment, particularly when a tight finish is unfolding, with the controlled violence of strokes to, and beyond, the boundary. Yet, the action on the field rarely nurtures my cricket-loving soul. Ask me the next day what happened, and I frequently struggle to remember.
Yet, there I was the other night, watching the BBL – with my laptop open in front of me – when Matthew Wade swatted the ball to deep mid-on and my eyes remained on the TV – rather than my laptop screen – when lanky Matthew Renshaw impeded the ball’s trajectory for six, bunted the ball skywards, stepped backwards over the boundary and, as the ball looped back down, had the remarkable presence of mind to jump in the air – both feet flapping in the wind – as he parried the ball back towards the playing arena so that it could be caught by a teammate.
Say what you like about the Big Bash, but there are some marvellous skills on display. If you don’t believe me, try reproducing Renshaw’s contorted gymnastic gyrations without tripping and doing yourself a serious injury. On second thoughts, it’s probably best you don’t do that.
In any event, this is where my legal mind took. Did Renshaw’s catch comply with the laws of cricket? If so, what’s stopping an enterprising captain from placing his fieldsmen beyond the boundary rope – or even among the heaving mass of fans in the stands – and training them to leap in the air as they catch a `six’ and throw the ball to their teammates on the field before their feet return to the ground?
And so my review of the laws began.
My search began with Law 33 which is entitled, with an efficient economy of legal language, “Caught”.
Law 33.2.1 describes a fair catch thus, “A catch will be fair only if, in every case either the ball, at any time or any fielder in contact with the ball, is not grounded beyond the boundary before the catch is completed”.
Wow! How badly worded is that? Why do the drafters always write these provisions back-to-front?
Wouldn’t this be simpler?
“A catch will be fair only if the catch is completed before either the ball, or the fieldsman catching the ball, is grounded beyond the boundary.”
Law 33.1, in any event, invites the reader to also note Laws 19.4 (ball grounded beyond the boundary) and 19.5 (fielder grounded beyond the boundary).
Okay, in order to apply Law 33.2.1, we need to know what grounding of the ball, or the fieldsman, beyond the boundary actually means. That makes sense!
So back to Law 19, I scurried.
Law 19.4.1 is straightforward enough. It explains what most cricket watchers know. The ball is grounded beyond the boundary if the ball touches the boundary (or whatever constitutes the boundary at the particular arena), the ground on the other side of the boundary or some object on the far side of the boundary. That last point is clearly a very important point to make, lest anybody be confused.
With that cautious clarification, the fielding side can’t argue that the ball didn’t go for six merely because the ball landed in somebody’s beer cup and never hit the ground.
Law 19.4.2 is also fair enough. It says that a ball is properly regarded as being `beyond the boundary’ if the fielder touches the ball with his feet – or any part of his body, really – on the other side of the line or if, after catching the ball, the fielder proceeds to walk, run, fall or otherwise find themselves on the wrong side of the boundary before the catch is completed.
That all makes sense. So far, so good. Laws 19.4.1 and 19.4.2, however, do not directly address the Renshaw catch. Anybody watching the replay – in super slow-motion – would accept that, at no point in his gyrations was Renshaw both positioned, on the ground, beyond the boundary rope, and simultaneously touching the ball.
Each time he touched the ball, Renshaw’s feet were either inside the boundary or they were in the air.
The difficulty, however, is that Renshaw’s feet were certainly grounded, on the wrong side of the rope, in between his initial bunt and his subsequent mid-air parry of the ball.
Thankfully, Law 19.5.2 seems to address that very situation; “A fielder who is not in contact with the ground is considered to be grounded beyond the boundary if his/her final contact with the ground, before his/her first contact with the ball after it has been delivered by the bowler, was not entirely within the boundary.”
Okay, I withdraw my gratitude. Those words are going to require some unpacking before I understand them.
Breaking it down:
“A fielder who is not in contact with the ground…”
Okay, were dealing with fieldsman who have leaped into the air. Got it.
“…is considered to be grounded beyond the boundary…”
Right, so the fielder-a-leaping is still deemed to be beyond the boundary, even thought their feet are in the air, in certain circumstances.
“…if his/her final contact with the ground…”
Final contact with the ground after what?
“…before his/her first contact with the ball…”
First contact with the ball after what?
“…after it has been delivered by the bowler..”
Aha! Got it! So we have to know where the fielder was standing, feet on the ground, when the bowler released the ball!
“…was not entirely within the boundary.”
Okay, we’re there – at last! The fieldsman has to be standing completely within the field of play when they first jump to catch, bunt or parry the ball.
Does that make sense? I hope so!
Again, I think I can offer this re-draft, with blushing too much at my own genius!
“A fielder is deemed to be grounded beyond the boundary unless they were positioned wholly within the boundary when they first left contact with the ground in order to make contact with the ball.”
In any event, the result is that the third umpire ultimately got the Renshaw catch right. It was a fair catch based on law 19.5.2.
And, no, a captain can not place his fielders among the crowd to simultaneously stop six-hits and effect relay catches, thought nimble footwork and impressive mid-air chucking. Put simply, if the fielder is beyond he boundary when the ball is bowled, they breach law 19.5.2.