ICC ponders lbw change for switch hits
The ICC is to review the playing condition regarding lbw decisions in international cricket in response to the emergence of the switch hit.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the ICC cricket committee, a group that includes Ian Bishop, Kumar Sangakkara and Mark Taylor, is to consider amending the playing condition whereby a batsman attempting to play the shot cannot be given out lbw if the ball has pitched outside the leg stump.
The news, first mentioned in passing in The Guardian, will mean that any right-handed batsman who switches his stance or grip to effectively play as a left-hander, will be able to be given out even if the ball had pitched outside the leg stump and vice-versa. Bowlers will also be allowed more leeway as regards leg side wides in limited-overs cricket. The cricket committee meets in Dubai later this month.
While any recommendations cannot come into force until they are ratified by the ICC board and the ICC's chief executives' committee, it is unlikely that the cricket committee's proposals would be ignored. The decision will not affect the laws of the game, which are governed by the MCC, leading to the possibility that playing conditions in first-class cricket around the world will differ from playing conditions in the international game. It is up to each national board to determine whether to adopt the ICC's playing conditions in their domestic cricket. While some boards - including those in Sri Lanka and South Africa - tend to default to the ICC stance, others - such as the ECB - are more independent minded. At present the major differences between ICC playing regulations and MCC laws concern the rules regarding the degree of flexion bowlers are allowed, the use of runners and decisions relating to the DRS.
The MCC is also considering the repercussions of the more regular use of the switch hit stroke. Two members of the MCC's laws subcommittee - Dave Richardson and John Stephenson - also sit on the ICC Cricket Committee.
The switch hit first came to prominence in 2008 when Kevin Pietersen played it in an ODI against New Zealand in Durham. The same batsman was involved when matters came to a head in a Test in Sri Lanka recently when Tillakaratne Dilshan pulled out of his delivery stride on several occasions as Pietersen shaped to play the shot and the stand-off threatened to reach stalemate. The umpires, Asad Rauf and Bruce Oxenford, warned Pietersen for time-wasting, but the ICC is now looking for a more permanent solution.
The ICC will be keen not to encourage negative bowling, however. The shot is sometimes played, even at Test level, to counter a leg stump line from right-hand bowlers coming round the wicket and many feel that the switch hit, a shot requiring high skill levels and remarkable reflexes, has been an entertaining addition to the game. It may also be that the ICC asks for some analysis as regards the risk-reward ratio of the shot and whether its usage really does disadvantage bowlers.
Any amendment to the playing conditions is likely to prove torturously difficult to phrase. For a start, it could prove tough to define exactly what constitutes a switch hit - whether it involves a change of stance, a change of grip and when they take place. It is worth noting that the ICC, reacting to David Warner's decision to remain in his normal left-handed stance but with a right-handed grip, issued a directive to umpires in February 2010 that stated such a tactic should be tolerated as long as it did not change once the bowler had begun their run up. As things stand the laws do not define what it means to bat left- or right-handed.
Fraser Stewart, MCC's Laws Manager, recently raised an interesting quandary. "What would happen," Stewart asked, "if a batsman stood chest on to the bowler? If may sound a ludicrous suggestion now, but we have a generation of young cricketers growing up playing the switch hit and prepared to experiment with their stance and their grip. It may well happen."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo