It baffles me that the bigwigs at the Marylebone Cricket Club often do not seem capable of coming up with a sensible wording of some of the important laws of cricket.
I am going to highlight two recent examples in action, both coincidentally involving the same player, Ben Stokes. Obviously no blame can be attached to him in these examples.
The laws of cricket have been rewritten periodically through the ages to reflect the changing needs of an evolving game. The most recent rewrites were in 1980, 2000, 2010 and 2017, so these modifications appear to be becoming more frequent as we move further into the high-tech 21st century.
One of the laws that received a slight amendment in 2017 was 31.7 under ‘Appeals’. Previously this law stated,
“An umpire shall intervene if satisfied that a batsman, not having been given out, has left the wicket under a misapprehension that he has been dismissed. The umpire shall call and signal Dead Ball to prevent any further action by the fielding side and shall recall the batsman”.
This was one of two very important laws not appropriately upheld during the infamous Dean Jones incident in the Guyana Test in 1991, the other being that the striker could not be run out off a no-ball unless he was attempting a run. That particular law was abolished in the 2000 rewrite, but the misapprehension law remained.
In the 2017 rewrite the following clause was added: “A batsman may be recalled at any time up to the instant when the ball comes into play for the next delivery, unless it is the final wicket of the innings, in which case it should be up to the instant when the umpires leave the field”.
It’s important to note that prior to that additional clause inserted a little under three years ago the law was that a new batsman’s innings was deemed to already have commenced the moment he stepped onto the field of play except in the case of openers before the umpire had called play to allow the opening delivery of the team’s innings to be bowled.
The amendment via that additional clause in 2017 was to allow for occurrences such as what happened to Stokes in a Test in the Caribbean early in 2019.
Stokes was clean bowled and had already got back to the dressing room by the time it was discovered that the bowler had overstepped and the next incoming batsman had also already arrived in the centre.
My problem with the wording is not in the additional clause, as that simply reflects the way Test cricket is now played – or the way it is umpired, to be more precise. My problem is actually with the old, unchanged wording of “not having been given out”. By that wording, if Stokes (or any batsman in this situation) had been given out, say LBW, or even caught behind after waiting for the umpire’s decision, they would not have been able to be recalled.
Given the aim or purpose of the amendment to this particular law, why should it make a difference whether the batsman has left the wicket of his own accord or actually been sent on his way by the umpire? It would make far more sense for the wording “not having been given out” to be scrapped altogether and if necessary be reworded to prevent any chance of ambiguity of any kind.
The other law that desperately needs rewording is 19.8, ‘Overthrow or wilful act of fielder’, which reads:
If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be
- any runs for penalties awarded to either side
- and the allowance for the boundary
- and the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.
Almost as a footnote or afterthought it finishes by saying: “Law 18.12.2 (batsman returning to the wicket he/she has left) shall apply from the instant of the throw or act.”
That ‘footnote’ sums up what the actual overall aim of this law was in the first place. The batsmen run a cheeky quick single, there is a shy at the stumps from very close to the pitch, it misses, a direct hit would have been very close either way but nobody is at the stumps to take the throw so overthrows result.
By the time the ball reaches the boundary the batsmen have run an extra two or three runs, which don’t count, as five runs is the fair and just addition to the team total, not one for the quick single, another two or three that were run thereafter plus four for the boundary.
The problem with law 19.8 is that the wording only caters for sharp shies at the stumps from well within the infield with the batsman already well and truly crossed and then it being touch and go whether he has subsequently made his ground if and when the bails are fairly removed. This kind of throw, which accounts for the overwhelming majority of overthrow situations, takes a mere split second to reach the stumps, whereas a throw from the outfield, which rarely results in overthrows, especially subsequently reaching the boundary on the other side of the ground, takes a somewhat longer two or three seconds to arrive at the pitch, during which time the batsman will usually have already crossed if they apply the principle of taking ‘one on the throw’.
Contrary to popular belief, six runs to the total was the fair and just call from the umpires with that Stokes incident in the World Cup final, and Simon Taufel, respected and esteemed former umpire that he rightly is, did a lot of damage by pedantically pointing out the wording of the law and inferring that a gross injustice had taken place when what he should have done was highlight the need for the wording to be changed to something like “when the overthrow occurs”.
It’s so obvious that blind Freddy could see it.
It’s important at this point not to muddy the waters by bringing up the completely separate issue of batsmen running overthrows from deflections off their own person or equipment such as their bat. When that infamous overthrow occurred in last year’s World Cup final, the batsmen were diving into their respective creases to complete their second run, so let’s look at the four possible alternative scenarios had the ball not reached the boundary, of course forgetting for the sake of argument that Stokes immediately signalled to all and sundry that he had no intention of running overthrows”
Given the rather obvious answers to those four mathematical equations presented with the alternative scenarios, do I even need to ask the potentially rhetorical question of ‘Where is the cricketing sense of justice in the interests of fair play if the batting side loses one run in a vacuum wholly and solely because the ball reaches the boundary?’.
Awarding only five runs in such a scenario is every bit as ridiculous as the pre-2000 no-ball and wide laws under which the batting side lost the penalty run for the illegality of the delivery while retaining the extra delivery and negating certain modes of dismissal any time the batting side scored additional runs off that particular delivery. Fortunately that law was appropriately amended, and 19.8 needs to be as well by way of a revised and more all-inclusive wording from “when the throw is made” in favour of “when the overthrow occurs.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate seeing England win any game of cricket and I don’t formally recognise their so-called World Cup victory on account of that ludicrous boundary countback provision. However, as previously stated, in terms of fair play, six runs was the fair and proper result in the scorebook for the Stokes overthrow incident.