Cricket has many popular sayings but one, in particular, bugs me: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
This devious little phrase sucks everyone in, but its underlying premise is dangerous. It basically says that, provided the ‘thing’ appears to be working, then never do anything to it.
The laws of cricket generally reflect a game that has its roots deeply entrenched in the 19th century. These were the days of underarm bowling, wickets that weren’t much better than a backyard lawn and sheep that ‘mowed’ the outfield.
The LBW law, first introduced in 1774, has a very interesting history. An Independent article of 4 December 2017 questioned LBW law legitimacy. ‘LBW was conceived in a different era of cricket’s history’, written by the paper’s then chief sports writer Jonathan Liew, is worth a read.
My understanding is that the lawmakers never decided to specifically include the condition of the ball pitching outside leg stump being ineligible for LBW dismissal. Rather, the original law that required the ball to pitch in line was modified to allow the ball to pitch outside off and hit in line to meet the requirements. The ball pitching outside leg remained by default, and then, when bodyline and leg theory became the rage, this aspect of the law – and the field restriction behind square leg – became the mechanism to stop this scourge.
In white-ball cricket, particularly, the bat has clear dominance over the ball, and I think it’s time the lawmakers levelled the scales. The right-arm leg spinner or left-arm orthodox spinner have a huge – and I would say unfair – disadvantage of not being able to gain an LBW decision for a ball pitching outside leg stump. Likewise, the left-arm seamer or right-arm around the wicket bowler is also unfairly disadvantaged under the current law bowling to a right-handed batsman.
What if the outside leg stump condition was deleted from the LBW law? I can hear your answer: everyone would bowl around the wicket and target the legs of right-hand batsmen. My answer is: so what?
If as a batsman you’re threatened by someone bowling at your lower legs, I would say you are only half a batsman. If you want to be a complete batsman, learn how to play the ball coming at your legs and take all those easy runs available behind square leg. Any batsman worthy of the name would love to have bowlers attack the stumps like this.
What captain would continually use a strategy that takes bowled and caught off the outside edge so much out of play? For seamers, this method may be as much as 25 per cent of dismissals. Would you be happy to give that back to the opposition?
If you reckon the spinners would have an advantage, I fully agree and add that it’s about time. Why should a leggie bowling over the wicket not get an LBW just because of where the ball pitches? As far as I can tell, it’s only a historical anomaly that this situation exists.
In the same vein, the logic behind the leg bye should also be seriously questioned.
Mark Waugh recently raised this issue and it seemed to gain limited support. Change resistance is a very well-documented phenomenon in the workplace. This resistance to change exists in a large proportion of the workforce, if for no other reason than people like what they know and don’t like to change, even if they know the change is for the better. So even when it’s broken there is resistance to fixing it.
The modern-day batsman is protected with vastly superior pads and gloves as well as thigh and chest guards and a helmet that didn’t exist in the early part of the last century. Wickets are now flat and predictable and covered in wet weather. Yet we have a leg bye law that reflects the conditions the game was played in a hundred years ago. To insult the bowler even further, the batsman also has a weapon in his hand like a tank-piercing cannon compared to the World War II rifle that the Don wielded.
In proposing the removal of the leg bye from the laws or changing the LBW conditions, I know there will be resistance for the sake of it. But I don’t believe you can sustain an argument that runs should be accumulated when the batsman isn’t good enough to hit the ball. Just as importantly, in the realm of fairness – surely what cricket is all about – why should a bowler be penalised for bowling a ball that beats the bat, which is one of the main aims of bowling? How is that fair?
In closely contested matches leg byes could easily be the difference between winning and losing. Is it reasonable that this should be the case?
Rather than argue the law as it is shouldn’t change, can you mount an argument as to why the ‘outside leg‘ element of LBW law and the leg bye exist? What’s their purpose and are they fair?
I don’t see why the changes proposed above couldn’t be trialled. In Australia there are numerous matches played at state under-17 and under-19 level, country championships et cetera could be used to see if a fix should be introduced.