England v India, Champions Trophy, final, Edgbaston June 24, 2013

Stumpings bring implementation of laws into spotlight

It was not just Ian Bell's dismissal that demanded a careful look at the interpretations of the laws of cricket

The stumping of Ian Bell will remain a talking point of the Champions Trophy, but if you go strictly by the letter of the law, you may as well add Jonathan Trott's dismissal to it. Both were playing at their home ground, Edgbaston. Trott was done in by a superb delivery and stumping. R Ashwin went round the stumps, tossed the ball up, got it to dip, making it fall short of where Trott was expecting to, and leaving him stranded outside the crease. The dip beat him on length, but it was strange Trott didn't try to cover the line of this wide ball in panic. Caught inside the line of the ball, he didn't try to kick the ball away.

Anyway, Ashwin's team-mate, Virat Kohli, nearly cost him the dismissal. Standing at backward short leg, Kohli had started moving to his left by the time the ball pitched, and by the time the ball reached Trott, Kohli had no touch with the ground that he originally occupied. Laws 41.7 and 41.8 deal with the fielder movement pretty much clearly.

41.7. Movement by fielders 

Any significant movement by any fielder after the ball comes into play, and before the ball reaches the striker, is unfair. In the event of such unfair movement, either umpire shall call and signal Dead ball. Note also the provisions of Law 42.4 (Deliberate attempt to distract striker).

41.8. Definition of significant movement

 (a) For close fielders anything other than minor adjustments to stance or position in relation to the striker is significant.

(b) In the outfield, fielders are permitted to move towards the striker or the striker's wicket, provided that law 41.5 is not contravened. Anything other than slight movement off line or away from the striker is to be considered significant.

(c) For restrictions on movement by the wicket-keeper see Law 40.4 (Movement by wicket-keeper).

The movement in this case seemed significant, and would have created a stir had Trott glanced it straight to Kohli. However, this is not the first time such a movement has been overlooked by the umpires in recent times. This, like other cricket laws, is fascinating, as is its implementation and objections to it.

The batsman has had a look at the field - in Trott's case, a long look - before taking strike, and cannot monitor any changes once the bowler starts running in. It is unfair on him if a fielder moves other than towards the pitch in a straight line, once the ball comes in play and until he has had a chance to strike the ball. However, the umpires are of the view that they find this law highly difficult to implement. It takes a brief moment for the ball to leave the bowler's hand and reach the batsman. How do you tell when exactly did the slip fielder begin to run to leg to anticipate a paddle sweep?

There is also a philosophical resistance to the law, from players too. Ian Chappell, for example, will ask you to stuff the law book in this case. For him, and many others, it is just fielding brilliance to anticipate a shot and move along with it. This law limits a fielder's expression, many believe. Especially in the modern world where the batsmen play a lot of reverse sweeps and switch hits, it is argued it is only fair to allow the fielder a counter.

However, it can be argued at the same time that the fielding side is protected against premeditated movement by the batsman. A bowler is well within his right to pull out, and keep pulling out, of the delivery should a batsman change his stance before the ball leaves the bowler's hand. So, for all practical purposes, the batsman is allowed to change his stance only after the bowler has done his thing. It is only fair the fielder be allowed to change his position only once the batsman has done his thing.

It can also be argued that Kohli's movement didn't have any bearing on the result in this instance - Trott wouldn't even have realised it happened - but that is akin to saying that breaking into houses is fine if you do it quietly and don't steal a thing.

Having said that, if the umpires and the cricketers look at this anticipation as a fielding skill, it is time a playing condition was introduced to rule over this MCC law. There are many such precedents where the ICC breaks away from the MCC laws that might have lost their relevance.

Back to the more obviously questionable decision from the final. On given evidence, and after the first glance of the blue MCC book, the third umpire Bruce Oxenford needs to have seen something not shown on the public broadcast to have given that out. And that is not impossible. The third umpire sometimes gets that extra clear replay, but the chances of it are minuscule.

However, the law 28, as it is worded, might give Oxenford a minor escape clause even if he didn't see any special pictures. Let's go back to the facts first. Bell lifted his foot while dragging it back for a brief moment, during which Dhoni hit the stumps hard. On the pictures the TV replays showed, the bail wasn't clearly and completely off its groove when Bell's toe touched the ground behind the crease. Law 28.1 says:

28.1. Wicket put down

(a) The wicket is put down if a bail is completely removed from the top of the stumps, or a stump is struck out of the ground

This sounds pretty clear, but later in the same law, MCC says, "The wicket is also put down if a fielder strikes or pulls a stump out of the ground in the same manner." It's open to interpretation, but does this mean that a stump's "being struck out of the ground" as in (a) above is not the same as "pulling the stump out"? Could the first part mean the disturbing of the arrangement of the stumps without actually completely removing the bail amount to putting the wicket down? It can, in rare instances, happen when the keeper has gone hard at the stumps, and the bail for some reason sticks to them.

However, in a practical world the umpires don't quite make that distinction. The laws have to cover all organised cricket played so this distinction might have been made just for lesser professional cricket where freshly varnished bails sometimes stick to freshly varnished stumps. In a practical world, Oxenford seems to have erred unless he was shown pictures we didn't see, or if the slightly confusingly worded law has given him something to hide behind.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo