September 6, 2015

'I am not able to comprehend this law'

Before Ben Stokes, six batsmen had already run into issues with the obstructing the field law in international cricket

Inzamam-ul-Haq was bemused after being given out for obstructing the field © AFP

Hutton's the first

The fifth Test between England and South Africa at The Oval in 1951 featured the first instance of a batsman being given out for "obstructing the field" in international cricket. Chasing 163 for victory, England began solidly, with the openers Len Hutton and Frank Lawson sharing a 53-run stand. However, a freak wicket threatened to derail the hosts' innings. A rising delivery from Athol Rowan hit Hutton on his gloves, and as the batsman later explained, the ball appeared to be heading onwards to the stumps. In that split second, Hutton never thought about the wicketkeeper making a catch, and instead flicked at the ball with the bat. The ball neither trickled on to the stumps, nor into the South Africa keeper Russell Endean's gloves. While Hutton had not directly obstructed Endean, by willfully raising his bat, he had prevented the keeper from getting to the ball. Quite rightly, the umpire Dai Davies signalled Hutton out, bringing an unsatisfactory end to his 100th Test innings.

Ramiz one short of a hundred

A Graham Gooch century in Karachi in 1987 lifted England to 263, and despite some lacklustre fielding from the visitors, they had all but sealed victory going into the final over of the second ODI against Pakistan. Ramiz Raja, though, still had something to play for. Stuck on 98, he attempted taking two off the last ball of the innings, but was adjudged by the umpires to have obstructed the field while taking the second run. It denied Ramiz his second ODI century, and completed a hat-trick of strange dismissals for him that year against England: he was run out while walking off after being caught off a no-ball - he did not hear the umpire's call - in Perth, and was run out without facing a ball at The Oval.

Amarnath kicks out

Mohinder Amarnath became the first and, till date, only Indian to be given out obstructing the field, during the 1989 Nehru Cup clash against Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad. After opting to bat, India were motoring along without much trouble thanks to Navjot Sidhu's assured fifty, and his 61-run stand for the third wicket with Amarnath. However, with the score at 95 for 2, the partnership came to an unexpected end when Sidhu sent Amarnath back during an attempted run. Amarnath, who was on strike, kicked the ball away as Ravi Ratnayeke, the bowler, and Arjuna Ranatunga, the fielder, converged towards it. The umpire Khizar Hayat had to rule Amarnath out. Amarnath had incidentally also been dismissed for handling the ball during a World Series Cup game against Australia in 1985-86.

Inzamam incensed

Inzamam-ul-Haq is no stranger to comic dismissals, but the manner in which he got out against India in Peshawar, in 2006, is unlikely to have brought him or his team-mates any laughs. With Pakistan chasing a revised target of 305, Inzamam, batting on 16, stepped a couple of yards out of his crease and pushed a Sreesanth delivery to mid-off. Inzamam thought that was the end of it, but Suresh Raina picked up the ball and threw at the stumps with Inzamam still out of his crease. Inzamam presented a high elbow and straight bat, a pretty picture under normal circumstances. But in this situation, the Indians appealed, and after consulting with each other, the umpires Asad Rauf and Simon Taufel ruled that Inzamam's solid block was indeed a willful obstruction. Inzamam was livid. "If one surveyed the laws of cricket, the umpires' decision was certainly according to the rules but, somehow, this law is something that I am not able to comprehend," he wrote in his column for The News. "In my role as the Pakistan captain, I would say that the appeal from the Indian fielders was against the spirit of cricket. Certainly, there are several modes in which a batsman can be declared out, but many of them are not in the spirit of the game."

Hafeez changes lines

Mohammad Hafeez lasted all of one ball against South Africa in Durban, in 2013, and his dismissal raised more talking points about Law 37, which relates to obstructing the field. In the second over of Pakistan's chase, Hafeez was adjudged to have readjusted his line of running while coming back for a second to the non-striker's end. Hafeez was not pleased, but could do nothing to reverse the umpires' decision. His captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, later offered an explanation: "He was just running in line, trying to shorten the length. He wasn't looking behind when AB de Villiers threw the ball. Hafeez suggested it wasn't intentional because he didn't know where the ball was thrown from. But it's not in our hands, as it's the umpires' call."

Shoulder problems for Anwar Ali

Law 37 states that for a batsman to be given out obstructing the field, he must "obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action". It wasn't clear if that is what Anwar Ali was intending against South Africa in November 2013, when he tried to sneak a bye off Dale Steyn. The ball ran through to the wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who quickly released it towards the non-striker's end, only to find Anwar's shoulder. Anwar had changed his line of running slightly. Had he seen the throw coming in in his peripheral vision? We'll never know, but the umpires deemed it to be out.

Anuj Vignesh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 8, 2015, 20:59 GMT

    This is quite a poor law because of the ambiguity in the language. Who is (and how) to determine whether an obstruction is "wilful" for the purposes of Law 37?

    I think we can replace "wilful obstruction" with "virtual certainty" now that we have decent technology and can somewhat map out the ball's trajectory. So, regardless of the intent of the obstruction -- if it is virtually certain that the ball would hit the stumps had the batsman not obstructed the wickets, it should be out. [Exactly like in Stokes case] Just a suggestion.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2015, 4:34 GMT

    To avoid future confusion, I think the terms like 'deliberate' or 'intentional' should be taken out. I have seen a few of these dismissals, but apart from Inzamam's dismissal (and the Hutton one of which I have only read), in all other cases it does not appear the batsmen did so intentionally. Yet they were given out. In Stoke's case, in the hindsight he would have rather stood his ground. Since he moved swiftly away from the line of the ball and the third umpire saw it 'slow motion', he failed to take into account the reaction time that stokes had. It was not at all intentional.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2015, 3:08 GMT

    Kevin Peterson blocked Salman Butt's throw at keeper's end at Lord's test in 2010. Salman Butt and the team appealed to the umpire. Decision "Not Out" .... Even a person like me with so little knowledge of cricketing rules couldn't believe the decision.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2015, 2:59 GMT

    I spoke to Ramiz Raja who claims the batsmen getting out under this rare mode of dismissals are because of ignorance of laws.

  • sam on September 7, 2015, 2:12 GMT

    'If the batsman Stokes had stood his ground'.Ifs and buts are pots and pans my friend.If he had stayed his crease,not aimlessly wandered mid pitch,he need'nt have made the desperate 'move' to reach out and play 'goalee'!!

  • IFTIKHAR on September 6, 2015, 18:30 GMT

    i have seen the video of this did not look intentional by Stokes.I think he was trying to protect himself from being hit by the ball.Stokes is an aggressive chap by nature but i am sure he is not a cheat.But then! Aussies were within their right to appeal.Over to you umps!

  • carl on September 6, 2015, 18:00 GMT

    Yawn it would have missed Stokes by plenty, get some glasses!

  • Edwin on September 6, 2015, 17:58 GMT

    In Stoke's case he clearly moved his hand into the line of the ball, and it appeared to be going on to hit the stumps.....clear case of obstruction imo.

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2015, 17:26 GMT

    If Stokes had stood his ground the ball would have thudded into his right shoulder, it was nowhere near the stumps. It was clearly an attempt to hit the batsman, typical Aussie 'show of aggression'. And not the first time they would have done it either (Remember Virat Kohli at MCG?). Stokes had every right to try and protect himself, not his fault he was agile enough to swivel away in almost no time which made it look his body was away from the ball. In my opinion, Mitchel Starc should have been pulled up for deliberately trying to injure the batsman!

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2015, 16:51 GMT

    No protection for batsmen, they should make a rule if a fielder hits batsmen with ball should walk off the field then this rule is fair.

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