Laws for fairytale giants
Friday, 3rd August The Laws of the game are a treasure house of cricket justice and truth. More complicated than the instruction manual for the International Space Station; thicker than the 17 volumes of the Administrative Affairs and Paperclip Procurement Amendment Act 1971, and more ethical than the Old and New Testaments put together, the Laws are the Alpha and Omega of our glorious sport.
But while it's reassuring to know they exist, almost nobody reads them. This is because we've all been playing the game since we were smaller than Gus Logie's garden gnomes and we learnt what we need to know on the playing fields of our youth. Such as, for example, the Law that states a batsman should not prevent a bowler from being able to see the stumps or the Law that decrees a batsman shall be considered in, regardless of whether he grounds his bat, providing he shouts, "In!" upon nearing the crease.
Most of the time, we rub along just fine. But every so often something untoward occurs and after several minutes of head scratching, someone suggests opening the Great Book of Wisdom. And when you do, you are reminded of how mysterious the game is; in fact, every time I flick through the Laws, I come across something new. It's as though they're being secretly amended every night by mischievous cricket-loving leprechauns.
The big Law of the moment is the previously unknown Law 23(4)(vi), which has earned its 15 minutes of fame thanks to the timber-disturbing exploits of young Steven Finn's knee.
Law 23(4)(vi) was first introduced in 1878 after a game between Old Knackers and Old Colonials ended in disagreeable disharmony. The match finished on the stroke of afternoon tea, but a crowd of upper middle-class protestors lingered outside the pavilion until well after supper time, booing politely and offering shouts of "I say, sir!" and "Jolly bad show!" Eventually the constabulary had to break up an orderly mob of lawyers, pharmacists and insurance brokers who were attempting to compose a stiff letter to the Times.
The whole sorry affair had been caused by the disgraceful behaviour of Old Knackers' crack underarm chucker, Nobby "Nobbly" Nobbingham who had attempted to put the batsmen off by making loud and distracting noises as he ran up to bowl; including mooing like a cow, whistling the Russian national anthem and pausing in his delivery stride to pass some off-colour remarks about Her Majesty. That evening, the Home Secretary was summoned to the Palace and Law 23(4)(vi) was rushed into being the next day.
Ever since, it has been considered bad form to distract the batsman by means of noise-making, interpretative dance, pulling silly faces or performing an Irish jig. But the punishment should fit the crime and there are mitigating circumstances in this case. Finn's apparent inability to control his knees should not be held against him. Given his proportions and the demands placed on his body by the entirely unnatural practice of running as fast as you can towards another human being and stopping on the spot before hurling a little leather ball, it is hardly surprising that there is the odd flailing limb, indeed it is remarkable that he manages to remain upright on the field of play for as long as he does.
And it's not as though England have gained an advantage by Finn repeatedly dislodging the timber. The small satisfaction of momentarily distracting Biff and chums from their business is surely outweighed by the problem of having a fast bowler with a permanently bruised knee. So perhaps the MCC should consider an amendment:
"Notwithstanding the aforementioned, exemption shall be granted from the effect of Law 23(4)(vi) in the case of giraffes on rollerblades, stilt walkers, fairytale giants and anyone who has to duck when getting on a bus."
Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England