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Opinion

Canine conspiracies, the spirit of cricket and perspiration without inspiration: Cricket’s new laws

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Roar Guru
10th March, 2022
27

On Tuesday, the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) announced changes to the Laws of Cricket to take effect from 1 October 2022.

The changes are mostly minor clarifications and removing or amending redundant provisions. When was the last time you saw a bowler attempt to run out the batter at the striker’s end mid run-up? I haven’t seen it, but there must have been cases of batters attempting to pinch a run and bowlers attempting a run out before their delivery stride.

There are also some interesting changes, most notably provisions regarding changing the condition of the ball and reframing the infamous Mankad rule.

First though, it’s worth noting that the MCC has closed a gaping loophole in law 20 about dead balls that was just waiting to be exploited.

A new provision states that if “either side has been disadvantaged by a person, animal or other object within the field of play” the umpire shall call dead ball.

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Generic cricket fielding pink ball

(Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images)

There’s an old yarn in Australian cricket, possibly apocryphal, about a pair of batters running ten after the ball was hit into the outfield and came to rest near a large, venomous snake which the fielding team was understandably reluctant to approach.

The MCC has dealt with potential reptilian interference and has noted that other sources of interference could include pitch invaders and dogs.

Any incipient conspiracies involving a close run chase and a specially trained whippet have been nipped in the bud. I’m sure it’s been considered.

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On to more weighty matters.

There is surely no more controversial dismissal in cricket than the Mankad. Arguments about its validity generally involve invocation of the ‘spirit of cricket’.

This argument fails upon the most cursory reading of the laws. The Laws of Cricket place the onus upon the non-striker to be within their crease until the ball is released and provide specifically for the possibility of the Mankad.

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“If the non-striker is out of his/her ground at any time from the moment the ball comes into play until the instant when the bowler would normally have been expected to release the ball, the non-striker is liable to be run out… whether or not the ball is subsequently delivered.”

It seems the MCC took the view that the inclusion, until now, of the Mankad rule within the law regarding unfair play has created confusion, with some not appreciating that the unfair play referred to is the non-striker seeking an advantage. Headlines like this from Fox Sports indicate they were probably right.

A Mankad is now a run out like any other.

Elsewhere, the most interesting change is to law 41 regarding the condition of the ball. Previous versions of the law prohibited the use of ‘artificial’ substances to alter the ball but didn’t specify exactly what was permitted. The law now specifies “that the only natural substance used is sweat”.

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Cameron Bancroft

(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

There are two issues here.

First, the prohibition by exclusion of saliva is obviously related to COVID-19. But in even in a world in which a highly infectious disease was not on the loose, it makes sense to at least discourage such an unhygienic practice. It’s a very good way passing on any number of things.

Second, the curious reasoning. The MCC states that “data from international cricket” (source unspecified) indicates that since the use of saliva was banned in response to COVID-19 “players were using sweat to polish the ball, and this was equally effective”.

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Technically this is correct, but it omits that neither sweat nor saliva – not even that enhanced by sugary sweets – is much good at inducing swing beyond very small amounts. Something like sun cream is far more effective. A friend told me, you understand.

In effect, the MCC has prohibited one largely ineffective method and specifically encouraged another. It’s a strange approach to law-making.

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The MCC would probably argue that the primary objective of the laws is to discourage ball tampering and unhygienic practices, with promoting swing a secondary concern.

Fair enough. But I wonder whether law 41 is ripe for innovation. If cricket is going to prescribe a permissible substance, why not make it an effective one?

Why not give ball manufacturers an incentive to enhance their product through a cream or balm or other substance that would maintain one side of the ball in lieu of bodily fluids?

The International Cricket Council and the MCC could test and evaluate such products and determine which would be effective without significantly tipping the balance in favour of bowlers. The Laws of Cricket could prescribe exactly what type of ball enhancer is permitted and how much is available to the fielding team per innings, with its application to be overseen by the on-field umpires.

Cricket needs swing and, especially, swing with the old ball in Test cricket. Maybe it’s time for some innovation and inspiration in the Laws of Cricket.

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