May 11, 2012

Why the switch hit isn't kosher

If you allow it, you'd have to make other concessions, including permitting a bowler to bowl with either arm

I am overjoyed that the ICC is going to review the switch hit. As it stands it is unfair and strikes at the sanctity of our sport, which must seek to maintain a balance between bat and ball. The box office can take sides - things that look dramatic are always worth a view - but at heart the game must be fair to bat and ball. Well, if not in reality, at least in principle.

The batsmen will lobby for the stroke, as industry associations do for excise and tax laws that favour them. It is what they must do, and they will argue on the grounds of skill and difficulty, as Kevin Pietersen has done. They are correct in part. It is a shot that is fraught with risk and is difficult to play. But it is neither legal nor fair. Running Ponzi schemes requires enormous intelligence and courage, as does forging passports, but they cannot be allowed on that ground.

Indeed, this week we saw a demonstration of skill by an outrageously talented young man that was breathtaking to watch. Steve Smith caught a ball by the boundary and tossed it in the air as he stumbled over the rope. The ball followed him over, but, showing great presence of mind, Smith jumped in the air, scooped the ball, both feet off the ground as he did, back into the playing area, landed beyond the rope, and popped back in to the field of play to catch the ball before it landed. For sheer skill and difficulty, he should have been rewarded with the catch, but the law doesn't allow it. It might seem cruel but it is fair. On another day a fielder might back-pedal a few yards beyond the rope, jump in the air, catch the ball and throw it back into play before he lands, then either run back and complete the catch or let a team-mate catch it. The current provision, where the last contact with the ground has to be within the playing area, is fair for that reason.

If the Smith catch was allowed on the grounds on which batsman ask for the switch hit to be legitimate, it would open up a can of worms. And so you have to go by the principle of fairness, even if takes away a bit of drama. Unless, of course, you want both sides to benefit, which will happen if you also allow a right-arm bowler to run in and suddenly switch hands to bowl left-arm.

The bowlers must have equal opportunity. The ICC is looking at allowing an lbw verdict for the switch hit, working on the principle that a right-hand batsman becomes a left-hand one when he plays the shot and so a ball that would have pitched outside leg stump is now deemed to have pitched outside off. Indeed, I believe there is fair ground to allow an lbw for a ball that pitches either side of the stumps when a batsman changes hands. (It is, of course, different with the reverse sweep, since a right-hander remains a right-hander and the feet do not move differently either.)

And let's allow ambidextrous bowlers too. If anything, suddenly changing your bowling arm is even more difficult than suddenly switching to being a left-hand batsman. Some years ago a Japanese bowler ran in and bowled with either arm in one of the Asian qualifying tournaments, and while naivete might have been at the heart of that effort, it shows it is possible.

The other interesting bit of news was that the ICC will look at the risk versus the reward of playing the switch hit and see it if is indeed as rewarding as it is made out to be. It will be a good academic exercise but the precedent will be dangerous. Can you do a similar risk-versus-reward study on bowlers with bent arms, for example? (Oops, I forgot there aren't any and what I've been seeing recently is merely an illusion!)

Do we complicate things too much in the garb of moving ahead? Or is this an inevitable part of the evolution of the game? Certainly it is a debate worth having, and I look forward to more evolved thoughts than this article can manage.

Harsha Bhogle commentates on the IPL and other cricket, and is a television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ali on May 14, 2012, 15:24 GMT

    @ bobagorof how many ambidexterous bowlers youve heard of. trust me if it was easy, you would have seen them by now. dont screw an innovative stroke by going into the legal debate. there are more important issues to discuss like DRS, duckworth lewis etc. you dont have ambidexterous bowlers because there is no law allowing them but infact you dont have them because there aint any. can you visualise waseem akram swinging the ball with the right arm just like he did with the left arm. its nothing to do with laws just like switch hitters are a rarity because its too difficult.

  • Dummy4 on May 14, 2012, 14:00 GMT

    The picture in the article is that of a batsman playing the reverse sweep not the switch hit. In this case, any change in the LBW law should not apply. This is exactly the problem though. The switch hit is even more difficult to play than the reverse sweep or shot. For that particular reason, it's not just the LBW law that should change but a a new changes that limit the time at which the batsman changes his grip. It's not as simple as this article makes it out to be and will never be. The laws of the game should be simple. not get complex.

  • Dummy4 on May 14, 2012, 6:32 GMT

    C'mon Harsha there ain't be equal opportunity in modern day cricket anymore. So don't be ridiculous as u know far better than what I do about the game of cricket. It's a very cruel game for the bowlers and it would be barring some exceptions. And so far switch hit matters, I don't why it's been made an issue out of it! And what amazes me even more is your logic. I am damn sure that it would have been praised it had any Indian (Sehwag, Sachin, Dhoni or anyone else) would have been the better exponent of this shot, but alas... it's KP, non-Indian, so it's being slammed as unethical and blah blah blah. Agree that u'v fantastic history of quality & dominating batsmen but why don't u just can digest the fact that other nations too have some mightily talented, exciting and entertaining strokeplayers!?

  • Michael on May 14, 2012, 3:10 GMT

    @Abhishek Mahajan: Why should some bowlers have a higher quota of overs than others? I've never understood the thinking there. It makes sense to say 'in a limited overs match we have X overs, let's require Y bowlers, so each bowler can bowl a maximum of X/Y = Z overs". If you want to allow more flexibility, change Y. In a 20 over match, requiring only 2 or 4 bowlers instead of 5 would allow all bowlers to bowl 10 or 5, with the team able to use additional bowlers if they wish but not being required to do so. The team can then choose to select extra batsmen if they're confident of their 2 (or 4) bowlers. But you aren't giving some bowlers a higher quota than others - everyone operates under the same rules.

  • Michael on May 14, 2012, 2:58 GMT

    @blogossip: If you don't legislate for it, someone will do it. Harsha has given an example of an ambidextrous bower who could bowl with either hand. It might be difficult, but it can be done by certain people - not everyone, but the laws need to stand up to extreme examples as well as the mundane. I can't switch-hit either, but KP can, so it can be done. Personally, I believe that a batsman should be able to play the ball any way (s)he chooses (some tailenders can be quite entertaining in their non-textbook methods), as long as they abide by the same conditions as bowlers. So if they don't have to 'declare' which hand they're batting with, the bowler shouldn't have to declare which hand they're bowling with - or, put another way, which side of the wicket they're bowling from. Most bowlers will still specialise in one method, but the odd cricketer (like Colin Miller) may be able to do either, and the laws need to cover them.

  • T G on May 14, 2012, 0:21 GMT

    I would allow the switch hit but amend the lbw rule so that, when a batsman enters into the position of a switch-hitter, both sides of the pitch are now deemed to be the off-side. This would mean, in essence, a switch-hitter could be out lbw to a ball pitching outside his leg stump. Switch-hitting is about improvising. Doesn't a fast bowler improvise when he bowls a slower delivery? Doesn't a wicket-keeper improvise by moving to the legside, knowing the bowler will deliberately bowl a fast delivery down legside, in an attempt to stump the batsman? As it is, a batsman in his normal stance is allowed to move all over the crease whilst the bowler is in his delivery stride. Is switch-hitting really much different?

  • Jay on May 13, 2012, 16:14 GMT

    Harsha - Perhaps, a close look at the "switch-hitter" rule in baseball might steer the "switch-hit" cricket debate in the right direction. Yes, in baseball, a batter can surely switch sides as long as the pitcher is not in the "ready position" (Rule 6.06). Once the pitcher steps on the rubber, whichever side the batter is on is the side he must bat from for that pitch. He is called out if batter attempts to switch sides during pitcher's windup. Using this baseball analogy, the "kosher" cricket question is: What's the "ready position"? Is it when a bowler starts his run-up (steps on rubber) or the start of his delivery action (windup)? Therein may lie clues to a solution. That two of the most innovative batsmen - "dil-scoop" Dilshan & "switch-hit" KP - were embroiled in a bowler-batsman standoff shows an urgent need for resolution. Obviously Dilshan saw things differently as a bowler. Putting oneself in the other guy's shoes often helps in resolving issues. Clarify the rules first! TBC

  • ali on May 13, 2012, 15:54 GMT

    harsha inspite of your pedigree in writing about cricket, you sound like a virtual novice when you critiicise switch hit. you think its as simple to play right or left handed as it is to bowl round the wicket or over the wicket. its too difficult and its also very difficult for bowlers to bowl right or left arm- nothing to do with laws. just try it out to find whether you can bowl with either arm or search for any club cricketer who can do it. mate admire this innovation as cricket sometimes becomes too boring and predictable

  • Addicted on May 13, 2012, 12:07 GMT

    Harsha, the whole switch hit debate is clouding the real issue. There is no reason to disallow LBWs simply because the ball is pitching outside the leg stump. The only relevant question should be if the ball will be hitting the stumps or not.

  • Jay on May 13, 2012, 11:12 GMT

    (Contd) Baseball also has instituted new rules for "ambidextrous" pitchers (Rule 6.06b). The pitcher must visually indicate to the umpire, batter and runner(s) which way he will begin pitching to the batter. Engaging the rubber with the glove on a particular hand is considered a definitive commitment to which arm he will throw with. The batter will then choose which side of the plate he will bat from. The pitcher must throw one pitch to the batter before any "switch" by either player is allowed. After one pitch is thrown, the pitcher and batter may each change positions one time per at-bat. ICC can surely learn from benchmarking these "switch-hitter" baseball practices and then put into practice that which makes the most sense for cricket. Bottom-line: Clarify the rules. Institute and enforce them. Everything else (eg, lbw) will fall in place. You have raised some good "kosher" issues, Harsha!

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