Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 5th day November 13, 2012

No-balls or no calls?

Bowlers might find it frustrating when umpires check for a no-ball after a batsman is dismissed, but they have nobody to blame but themselves

On the first morning of this Test, Australia's bowlers were out in the middle of the Gabba with a measuring tape and a can of spray paint. It has become a ritual of the modern-day bowler, calculating to the centimetre the distance they require from the crease to the top of their run-up, and marking the spot with a graffito of their initials and a line. It is a precise operation. It is also becoming a futile one.

When James Pattinson steamed in on the final day and bowled Hashim Amla, the Australians were jubilant. Briefly. The umpire, Asad Rauf, told Amla not to walk off the ground just yet. He suspected Pattinson had over-stepped the crease and asked the third official to check the replays. Rauf's instinct was right. Pattinson had delivered a no-ball and Amla was reprieved. It was the third such incident in this match.

On the first day, Peter Siddle had Jacques Kallis caught at mid-off. Again it was Rauf who wanted the replay checked, and again the bowler had over-stepped. And on day three Morne Morkel, a serial no-baller, thought he had Ed Cowan caught behind and the South Africans asked for a review of Rauf's not-out decision. The first footage to be viewed by Richard Kettleborough was the side-on angle, and he deemed that Morkel had not bowled a legal delivery.

Three dismissals disallowed by no-balls, in addition to another that was called on the spot, which Michael Clarke appeared to edge behind off Morkel. When run-ups are measured so precisely, how can that be? Geoff Lawson, the former fast bowler and coach, argues that the run-up length can only ever be a rough guide because when a bowler is running in, the length of his steps will vary based on a number of factors. Is there a head-wind or a tail-wind? Is the outfield soft or hard? Is he running marginally uphill or downhill? And when he bowled Amla, Pattinson was in such a fired-up mood that he might have been running in faster than usual, lengthening his strides.

Reprieving a batsman on a late no-ball call is vastly preferable to wrongly calling one and having a batsman dismissed. The bowling team would feel aggrieved, and rightly so. But nor would it be fair to give the batsman out retrospectively

Still, some bowlers find a way around no-balls. It is often claimed that Michael Holding sent down only two in his Test career. Ben Hilfenhaus bowled one in the first Test in the West Indies in April, but hasn't been called in the three Tests since then. Is their secret to measure a run-up and then start from yet another step back? Who knows. But it was notable that when the Australians asked for a review of a Hilfenhaus caught-behind appeal, his front foot was so far back in legal territory that his toes weren't even touching the crease.

Others, like Morkel, get it wrong on a frustratingly regular basis. When Morkel made his first-class debut at the age of 19, he sent down 17 no-balls in a five-over spell. The habit has stayed with him. On the last day of the Lord's Test in August, Morkel had Matt Prior caught in the deep off a no-ball. Siddle also has prior form. At the MCG last year, he bowled Rahul Dravid and the umpire, Marais Erasmus, asked for the no-ball to be checked. Siddle had overstepped.

It could be argued that the standing umpires should be more inclined to call bowlers on the spot, rather than waiting for a wicket to fall. Who knows how many no-balls are missed during regular play because the umpire hasn't felt sure? Certainly in Pattinson's case, Rauf could have made the call himself, for Pattinson was over the crease by a considerable distance. But the Siddle and Morkel margins were minimal.

The umpires still called 33 no-balls for the match and had assistance for less than a handful of those. If in doubt, umpires must err on the side of caution. Reprieving a batsman on a late no-ball call is vastly preferable to wrongly calling one and having a batsman dismissed. The bowling team would feel aggrieved, and rightly so. But nor would it be fair to give the batsman out retrospectively.

Who can say if a batsman would have played the same shot had he not heard the umpire call no-ball? Against a genuinely fast bowler, batsmen don't have time to adjust to hearing an umpire's call, but they do against spinners. And what of medium-pacers? Or a fast man's slower ball?

There must be one blanket rule and the current system is the best option. It is certainly preferable to a batsman being sent on his way, only for TV viewers to later see he was dismissed off a no-ball. Whether the review process adds to or detracts from the spectacle of the game is a matter of opinion. Whether bowlers are overstepping, generally, is not. Perhaps some should look to Holding and Hilfenhaus for inspiration.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nicholas on November 14, 2012, 16:39 GMT

    I find it hard to believe we can send men to space and receive data from robots on Mars, but the ICC can't utilise simple, cheap laser/camera-based systems to monitor lines etc. for this type of thing...

  • Murray on November 14, 2012, 13:18 GMT

    In this match protea's picked before toss 5 seamers then won toss and batted ? Clearly defensive ! Doubly defensive !!

    They then proceeded to bat slowly all day. Accepting 3 runs or less per over when going past 2/200. Clearly defensive.

    Any talk of Pitch or injuries which only came into effect after having already shown no intent don't matter much. The lack of intent continued through the match.

    On the contrary, Aus played with intent from 2nd new ball onward. From that point they never let up even slightly, even when losing wickets by not letting up.

    It's 0-0 good game. I hope they try to win in Adelaide rather than expecting us to lose.

  • Peter on November 14, 2012, 11:22 GMT

    How about every time a bowler bowls a no-ball he gets fined 50% of his match fee and suspended for 1 match? Or if a no-ball is bowled, the batting team gets to re-introduce another batsman in the line-up? Or the team could lose one of their reviews. Or each no-ball costs 10 runs and every ball for the rest of the over is a free hit! Bottom line is, I get so frustrated watching bowlers deliver no-balls because it seems unnecessary to bowl one. There is so much space to land your foot safely, why push it right up there where you can get penalised for mistakes!

  • abhijeet on November 14, 2012, 8:11 GMT

    I think cricket should have an electronic foot fault kind of system. That will be a lot better use of technology than DRS and a lot cheaper too. This will ensure all no balls are caught properly including side crease ones. It will also aid umpire's decision making since he will only have to focus on the batsman instead of changing his focus from the bowling crease to the batsman in a split second.

  • David on November 14, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    Return to a back foot no-ball rule. Not only is it easier for the onfield umpire to adjudicate (meaning fewer decisions will have to go to video) but it should be easier for bowlers to stay behind the line because the stumps provide a more prominent visual indicator of where the line is.

  • Muhammad on November 14, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    Looking down to check no-balls and then suddenly up to check LBW or snick for 150k balls is a realy tough ask. Leave all the no balls to third upires by providing them a monitor which shows only picture result of crease line cameras.

  • Aaron on November 14, 2012, 5:27 GMT

    There's a very simple solution that requires no changes from umpires or administrators. Bowlers stop bowling no balls. There's no reason why a bowler shouldn't be able to keep his foot behind the line.

  • Andross on November 14, 2012, 4:57 GMT

    The easiest way to implement Meety's idea would be to have three rows of pressure sensors embedded; directly behind the crease, directly under the back of the crease, and directly under the front of the crease. If the sensor behind the crease is not depressed within a second before either of the others, it is an illegal delivery, and a beeper located behind the stumps at the bowler's end would sound. If the bowler oversteps by more than what the sensor could pick up, then the umpire should be able to clearly see it. Those types of sensors are already used to count traffic movements; you will be familiar with driving over the two black cables attached to a small box.

  • Simon on November 14, 2012, 4:54 GMT

    Re: Anthony Purcell comment. You're right, the system now provides the 'correct' result; batsman shown to be out - he's out. Consequently there should be no more comparison of any players statistics between the eras of referal and pre-referal. You can't compare batting innings and bowlers stats which were determined by human frailty with those of a clinical photo. The world will be a better place for sure!

  • Andross on November 14, 2012, 4:36 GMT

    I'm mainly commenting here because I hate the use of clean bowled as was used by Gilly4ever when it's played on; clean bowled is when the ball touches neither the bat or pad before hitting the stumps! hence "Clean"! But while I'm here, the main deal is that bowlers will have to slowly reeducate themselves to land a lot further back, it will take time as as many have already pointed out, the bowler gets used to the feel of their run up, but they're gunn have to do it, or else the wickets off no balls will continue to happen. It's also crucial that younger players who haven't formed habits yet are taught to bowl further back for the next generation. In either case, the "leeway" proposed by Mark Taylor and Ian Chapple is never going to work, because, you simply move the point at which the no ball is called further back, and then have the issue of mm again, and have to add more leeway--eventually you end up bowling from the batsman's toes.

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