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

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