India v England, 4th ODI, Mohali January 23, 2013

England need Finn to kick the habit

Steven Finn's habit of knocking the stumps at the non-striker's end as he delivers cost England a vital wicket against India

An irritation that has plagued England for months flared up once again as Steven Finn's propensity for dislodging the bails in his delivery stride cost his side an important wicket - who knows, perhaps even the series - in the fourth ODI of the series against India.

Finn thought he had dismissed Suresh Raina only to see that the umpire, Steve Davis, had signalled dead ball on the basis of Law 23.4(b)(vi), which states that the batsman should not be dismissed if he has been distracted while preparing to receive a delivery.

It was one of the defining moments of the game. Raina was on 41 at the time and India, with four wickets down, still required another 80 runs to win. He went on to contribute an unbeaten 89 and help India to a five-wicket win which secured a series victory with one game left to play.

England may feel they have been unfortunate. Certainly precedent suggests that umpires will allow Finn one such indiscretion before calling dead ball for the second occurrence in a game, a policy which was introduced during World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September.

That was a point that Alastair Cook, a none-too-happy England captain, made to Davis in the immediate aftermath of the incident. England might also have good cause to enquire whether a dead ball would have been called if Raina had hit it for four, or if any other bowler other than Finn had been responsible.

Davis explained that a warning had been issued that Finn would be called immediately, a warning which it later transpired had been issued by Andy Pycroft, the match referee, after the opening ODI in Rajkot. A warning which had previously been presumed to apply to the same match now seemed to have a longer lifespan, a test for cricketers' memories everywhere. This regulation seems to have a life of its own.

Cook still sounded bemused. "There was a little bit of confusion," he said. "Apparently we had been told that because he knocked them over twice in one of the previous games he was a 'serial offender' and that he was going to get called straight away. The umpires were pretty clear that they had told us so I must have been deaf when I was listening to them.

"Do I think it's fair? At the moment, with emotions running quite high, probably not. I know umpires have a tough job but it's obviously frustrating."

It is worth noting that it was Davis who called dead ball in the Headingley Test in August when Finn thought he had Graeme Smith caught in the slip on 6. He went on to score 52. Australia had earlier complained about Finn dislodging the bails during the one-day series against England last June.

In the aftermath of the Smith incident, the MCC, the custodian of the Laws of the game since their formation in 1787, admitted the episode had highlighted a grey area in the Laws and stated that they would review them. At present Law 23.4(b)(iv) states that either umpire should call and signal dead ball when: "The striker is distracted by any noise or movement or in any other way while he is preparing to receive, or receiving a delivery. This shall apply whether the source of the distraction is within the game or outside it. The ball shall not count as one of the over."

The Laws could be clarified. If all such incidents resulted in umpires automatically calling a no-ball it would remove any element of doubt or argument. It would also end the injustice of a batsman being denied a boundary following a bowler's error. No runs can be scored off a dead ball.

From an England perspective there is an even more simple solution: Finn has to stop dislodging the bails in his delivery stride. Just as bowlers have to learn the discipline of not over-stepping or pushing the ball down the leg side, so he has to eradicate the fault from his game.

To do it once or twice might be forgiveable, but to continue to do it in important situations several months after the problem became apparent appears unnecessarily profligate. Finn and England really only have themselves to blame.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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