Sri Lanka v England, 2nd Test, Colombo, 3rd day April 5, 2012

Switch is a hit

A simple change to the lbw law would encourage a stroke that makes spectators gasp in wonder
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Pity the umpire in the split second before the switch hit. ICC's directive picks the moment that a bowler's back foot lands as the start of the delivery. From this point the batsman can do as he pleases with hands and feet but not before. Three times Kevin Pietersen made to switch and three times Tillakaratne Dilshan pulled away from releasing his offbreak. On the third occasion Asad Rauf warned Pietersen for time wasting.

Incredible really. International teams bowl their overs at 13 an hour and no one blinks an eye while the most thrilling batsman makes to switch hit and finds himself on the wrong side of the law. Not Rauf's fault, he is the messenger and one with a lot on his plate. Rauf could not possibly have been sure of exactly the moment when Pietersen changed his stance because he was watching Dilshan's back foot. Er, or was he watching Dilshan's front foot, lest he no ball? Hmm, or was he watching the return crease, lest he no ball there? Or was he intent on the striker's end of the wicket, the business end, with the popping crease in his peripheral? Or was he briefly somewhere else? Long days out there in the Colombo sun.

David Warner's switch hit six over mid-off - or is it mid-on?- in a T20I against India earlier this year rang the bells once more. Now Pietersen has them clanging like Notre Dame. The switch hit is different from the reverse hit because the batsman swaps his hands on the bat and rotates his body 180 degrees, to become a left-hander in Pietersen's case. Generally, the stroke is a plus for a game that is not completely sure how to embrace the 21st century. When it is played successfully spectators, quite literally, gasp in wonder. They talk about it, most love it. We don't see it often because it is difficult, showy and takes big cojones. It's right up Pietersen's street, and Warner's. Less so say Andrew Strauss or Rahul Dravid. But they wouldn't want to stand in the way of progress.

There are two things to consider here. Cricket's lifeline is the balance between bat and ball. Given the bowler must commit to releasing the ball from one side of the wicket and with a part of his foot behind the popping crease, the batsman who is not so shackled must give something away if he wishes to change striking position. This should be leg stump.

As the law stands, a batsman should not be given out lbw if the ball pitches outside leg stump. A simple change to that law, effectively taking the leg-stump advantage away from the batsman would even it up. Thus, if you choose to switch hit you forego your leg stump and can be lbw if you are hit between wicket and wicket either way round.

The second thing is the ICC directive mentioned above. Once the bowler is at the point of delivery there is little he can do in response to the batsman's move. The directive should be that the batsman may do as he pleases from the start of the bowlers' approach to the crease. This way the bowler has a better chance to respond and should not feel that pulling way is his only defence. Were the lbw law changed, the bowler would have an aggressive option and may even see the batsman's change of stance as an opportunity to take his wicket.

From this more evenly balanced reaction to the switch hit would come the conclusion that it is the bowler who is timewasting by refusing to deliver. Not the batsman, who is bringing to the game his sense of imagination and adventure.

Former Hampshire batsman Mark Nicholas is the host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

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  • FreddyForPrimeMinister on April 7, 2012, 13:47 GMT

    @AdrianVanDenStael - I agree with you... so why didn't Tendulkar try the switch hit instead of finally being "bored out" by Giles? That's the exact reason why Pietersen's switch hit is such a brilliant innovation. You won't find a single English player criticizing any batsmen who plays the shot against them. It brings additional excitement into the game and helps to break negative field settings from whichever team - including England!

  • AdrianVanDenStael on April 6, 2012, 20:06 GMT

    @roarster: "the negative legside line employed by Dilshan ... the stalemate this grinding tactic engenders". Sounds a lot like the tactics formerly employed around the world by England sides when Ashley Giles was England's idea of a good spin bowler. Now circumstances are so different you start to see how irritatingly negative that was.

  • Rexton87 on April 6, 2012, 15:32 GMT

    If this has been done by an Indian Sri Lankan or Pak batsman then whole media including Mark Nicholas would be labelling this unfair outrageous and even cheating, but becuase It was KP so they are all full of praises. Infact this swithc hit is ugly and disgraceful to look at similar to reverse sweep which gains some surprise runs for the batsmen are equally ugly and both should be banned.

  • FreddyForPrimeMinister on April 6, 2012, 12:58 GMT

    @zenboomerang - you've got to be kidding! What chance has a batsman got to change his grip and jump around 180 degrees after the bowler's front foot has landed?! You might as well outlaw the switch hit completely, thus taking away one of the most exciting innovations of the game in recent years, along with the Dilscoop. Mark Nicholas has it bang on - and I actually thought that was indeed the law, as amended by the MCC when the switch hit was first seen. Take away the leg stump rule protection for when a batsman switches his stance - that's all that's needed. As KP himself states, the risk is all with the batsman, as he's hardly in a settled position as the ball is being bowled. If that weren't the case, why isn't every batsman doing it? The only issue could be if a batsman switched stance at say the beginning of a fast bowler's run up - perhaps the law should state that he can't do it until the bowler is at least level with the umpire and therefore in his line of sight.

  • magic_torch_jamie on April 6, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    Let's make the usual whinge then. Every new thing that is legislated is in favour of the batsman. Whenever there's a bit of doubt we always go with the bat as it's more entertaining. Yes, it is distracting to see someone change their stance as you run in and why should you then have to say if you're changing to over/round the wicket, right/left-handed? KP is not unreasonable to feel it's a way of breaking a 7-2 field stranglehold but the bowler then needs more in his armoury such as it not mattering where the ball pitches for an lbw. The other problem here is if the stance is changed right at the critical point it's yet another thing for the umpire to have to police. But just as a batsman should be able to ask for no distracting movement for concentration, so should the bowler.

  • roarster on April 6, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    It's worth bearing in mind that KP resorted to his cack handed party piece only to counter the negative legside line employed by Dilshan. Anything that breaks the stalemate this grinding tactic engenders has to be a good thing. And, lest we forget, it's not an easy thing to do, the co-ordination and timing required to get this shot right make it an extraordinary skill, one to be marvelled at not poo-pooed or discouraged by opaque rulings.

  • dummy4fb on April 6, 2012, 7:18 GMT

    We need creativity. Now is the time for a clever young soul to develop the art of spin with his right hand and a fast delivery from his left. (In school I could bowl a fairly fast delivery off a short run) The bowler runs in at and at the last moment picks which hand to bowl from. Doesn't need to change from over or around the wicket, just which hand. There are many people equally comfortable with either hand. Not just the speed but imagine the batsmen working out the angles. I see this most effictive from left handers around the wicket. You are all going to say crazy but maybe one day!!!

  • Stouffer on April 6, 2012, 7:18 GMT

    This whole idea of changing stance seems odd. How about someone like Chanderpaul who stands with a very open stance, then changes it for the delivery. Is this allowed? What if the batsman decides to walk down the pitch to hit before the ball is bowled? If I was bowling then I would send down a quicker, straight yorker. The bowler will have ample time to see what the batsman is planning, and can change accordingly.

  • RandyOZ on April 6, 2012, 5:26 GMT

    Of course Mark Nicolas would come to KPs rescue. Anyone would think he is in love with KP! Mark's solution is an absolutely terrible one, and gives all the advantage to the batsmen. There is no advantage for the bowler despite him saying there is. I guess that this lack of knowledge is exactly why he never played a test for the United XI.

  • zenboomerang on April 6, 2012, 4:39 GMT

    A simple solution that would make it easier for the umpires, bowlers & maybe batsmen is just to change the law of when a batsman can reverse his bat grip - change it to when the bowlers front foot comes down... The front foot comes down at nearly the same time as the ball is released & the umpire is starting to look down the pitch... With bowler & batters hands in their natural positions at the release of the ball, what happens after is just up to the batsman... This doesn't stop the batsman charging the bowler or moving backwards, though playing the switch hit would be riskier...

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