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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Eddie on June 25, 2013, 22:28 GMT

    A friend of mine, a former first-class cricketer who has worked in the business of cricket for 20 years, has developed & owns the relevant technology to get these decisions right. It's called the Zing system and was used in this year's BBL in Aus. It's visually impressive and the stumps and bails light up within 1/1000 of a second of the bails being dislodged to the laws of cricket. This way it can be used on high frame rate cameras and they light up instantly and we can keep the traditional laws of the game (ie we don't need to move to the wicket being broken on contact). He has a patent throughout the world for the technology and is dealing with all the cricket boards and broadcasters of the cricketing world about rolling it out soon. They all apparently want it and are working to implement it - not surprisingly. So we will have a solution to this situation very soon for all televised cricket. They are also producing versions of the system to use in club and school cricket.

  • Richard on June 25, 2013, 17:03 GMT

    I have yet to ever see a law, interpretation, guideline or playing condition which states that the batsman should get the benefit of the doubt (I am happy to be corrected there). I haven't seen this incident, but if one frame is 'foot up, bail on' and the next frame is 'foot down, bail off', then as I read the laws it is the job of the umpire to interpolate between the two frames and determine what is more likely. If the umpire doesn't have a third umpire for a run out, he is not looking for proof of out or not out, he goes on what is more likely. Why should a third umpire call in this situation be different? Further, DRS is different to a normal third umpire decision. With DRS, there must be enough evidence to overturn a given decision, whether it be out or not out. With a third umpire decision such as this one, there is no presumption of not out from the umpires on the field. They are explicitly saying there is no decision.

  • Sriram on June 25, 2013, 9:11 GMT

    Cricket is called a gentlemen's game because there need not be laws in every facet to the minutest detail and the players are expected to play by the general rules and ensure fairplay. Adding more laws to the smallest of onfield events makes it impossible to ensure that all the laws are abided by. Cricketers are sportsmen, dont expect them to become lawers to remember, follow and find a way around the innumerable number of laws being added every time there is a small inconsequential incident.

  • JIGNESH on June 25, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    Why they always crying? Is that because after coming in the final in many major tournaments, they have been always a beaten side? Never won any World Cup yet despite taught the whole world how to play cricket. Last time India re-called Ian Bell after umpires gave him out in tests, and Ian Bell blasted 159 runs, India never cried after the match. Alistair Cook is just an ordinary captain and human being crying for that only decision after the match. There are so many poor decisions occurred in Cricket, but some nice gentlemen captains never cried after the matches finish.

  • Dummy4 on June 25, 2013, 3:52 GMT

    Regarding putting the stump down once the bails are dislodged and there is a run out chance: Is it enough if the fielder kicks the stump out as it may be faster to kick the stump out sometimes. What to do in case all three stumps are uprooted and down due to some reason and there is a run out chance? Regarding movement by fielders- Scrap the age old laws to accomodate anticipation in fielding except when it disturbs the batsman's concentration in close fielding positions.

  • Kah on June 25, 2013, 3:48 GMT

    Frankly Bell struggles with spin. The more time he may have spent on the crease, the lesser time for bopara-morgan partnership. England were in position to comfortably win to get 21 odd in 16 balls w/ 6 wickets to spare. They had a panic attack and they are the one to be blamed for this loss.

  • rashad on June 25, 2013, 3:22 GMT

    there worse ever tournerment in cricket history

  • Tejo on June 25, 2013, 2:20 GMT

    Giving Trott notout because Kohli moved some where!!! lol that would have been a headline news in India.

  • Ian on June 25, 2013, 0:20 GMT

    @hunksurat: TMS seemed to be saying that the more they saw the footage, the less secure a verdict of not out looked.

    @soumyas: It doesn't matter whether Trott's dismissal had anything to do with Kohli. The fact is that the Laws say Kohli shouldn't have moved, but he did. The debate here is whether the Laws are reasonable, and whether it's even possible for an umpire to consider them within a time period relevant to the match in progress. My take is that applying the Laws here is impossible without a significant delay (how long does a decision have to take?) and should be considered unworkable in their present form.

    For me, any innings with a middle-order implosion like that doesn't deserve to get a win.