December 16, 2012

Hand it to the bowler

A handled-the-ball dismissal should count towards a bowler's wicket tally

Old Trafford, 1993. Graham Gooch has reached 133 not out and appears to be batting England to a draw against Australia in the first Ashes Test. Merv Hughes, all bustle and bluster, hurls down a ball that pushes Gooch onto the back foot, seaming into England's captain and cramping him.

Slightly late on the shot, Gooch jams the ball down into the batting crease, and turns to see it threatening to land directly on top of the stumps. In an instant of panic, he pushes it away (watch from 9 mins 25 secs) with his hand, and Australia's surprised but vehement appeal for handled the ball is met by Dickie Bird's raised finger.

Hughes is at the centre of celebrations, having drawn the error that caused Gooch's brain snap. But he is not awarded any credit for the wicket. Hearing of this anomaly later, Hughes is quite understandably upset. "Why not?" is the substance of his protest at "b Hughes" not being entered into the scorecard after "Gooch, handled the ball". Hughes, and any other bowler to have pushed a batsman into such a fatal error, has every right to ask the question.

On the face of it, handled-the-ball dismissals are not credited to the bowler because there are other circumstances in which it is possible for the batsman to be given out. He may pick up the ball and throw it back to the bowler, who is within his rights - if not the right spirit - to appeal for the wicket. This was the fate that befell Andrew Hilditch in Perth against Pakistan in 1979, and there was little credit due to the bowler Sarfraz Nawaz in the circumstances.

However, this scenario is far, far less common than that of Gooch and Hughes. In Chennai in 2001, Steve Waugh did precisely the same thing, using his hand to prevent himself from being bowled by Harbhajan Singh and so forfeiting his wicket. In 1986, Mohinder Amarnath transgressed similarly against Greg Matthews, with much the same result. If the batsman has stopped a bowled dismissal via illegal means, why should the bowler not be granted the wicket that was going to be his anyway?

It would certainly be no more of a reward for the bowler concerned than that he receives when a batsman is out hit-wicket, having trodden on his stumps in the act of playing a stroke. Often those dismissals happen when the ball is in very little danger of actually defeating the batsman by conventional means; the fault is far more with the batsman than the credit with the bowler.

Cricket's fine balance between bat and ball is among its greatest assets, but this is one instance in which the bowlers can feel rightly hard done by. Gooch's dismissal has stood in history as the moment the Old Trafford Test tilted decisively towards Australia. Hughes should be allowed to claim it as his Test wicket No. 213.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Tony on December 17, 2012, 4:02 GMT

    Just because it happens once in a decade doesnt mean a injustice should keep happening. There's nothing wrong with a bowler gets credit even if it is at time, an undue credit. But one of the pressing issue is the DRS, having to come from players. It doesnt ensure fairplay. Most part of it goes to luck. why not the umpire himself consult the third umpire as many times as he wants for any dismissal. Also like no-ball self review, all outs can be self reviewed. (LBW, nicks ..). TV companies will be happy because wicket-break ad can be interrupted to announce the modified result and hence people wont change channel.

  • Kalvinder on December 16, 2012, 20:36 GMT

    I'm sorry but am I missing something here? A call for a minor tweak in the scorecard caused by an event that happens (at best) once a decade. Of all the possible changes to the cricketing landscape, I can't say this ranks as the most pressing or ground-breaking.

  • Michael on December 16, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    Given that the Gooch dismissal is the only one of its kind I have actually seen in more than 30 years of watching cricket, its doesnt seem to be a really pressing issue. Resolving the problems of DRS, not to mention getting all the cricket nations on the same page with it in the 1st place, woulod seem to be a much higher priority for starters.

  • Tristan on December 16, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    Personally I think that hit-wicket should not be credited to the bowler either

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 7:11 GMT

    If a batsman can be awarded with runs from overthrows then I see no reason why the bowler should not be given credit for getting someone out handled the ball. It shouldn't matter if the batsman tapped it away from the stumps or picked it up from the pitch because when a fielder gets a direct hit that goes to the boundary, the runs are awarded to the batsman who was on strike. I just think there should be some fairness.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 6:55 GMT

    So once per decade a bowler gets traduced? I think we can live with that. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  • The on December 16, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    f correctly points out that many non-credited dismissals are "forced" (obstruction preventing a catch, although not a runout). The problem goes away if you have an official Scorer with baseball-style powers to charge Errors instead of awarding Runs etc.

    Then anything that prevents a bowler wicket would be credited to the bowler (HB preventing a broken wicket, forced hit wicket, some OTF). OTF preventing a runout would not be credited to the bowler.

    We would also have reliable stats on who is giving away the most Errors. Not just fielders - Umpires could be charged with Errors as well!

    But no, this isn't a huge issue. There's not a lot of wickets stripped from bowlers, and a lot of HWs been gifted over the years when the batsman has simply committed a howler (eg flicking the bails off pulling a rank long-hop).

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2012, 3:54 GMT

    I agree with the sentiment, though the execution may end up confusing. We couldn't just say 'bowled' for each incidence of handling the ball, because there are many that don't even threaten the stumps. Also the confusion by which you can be out handled the ball on a no-ball, but not bowled. If Gooch had received a no-ball, he could be out handled the ball, but not bowled, so he would have been fine had just let it break the wicket. Should credit still be given to the bowler when it was a no-ball? And there are other situations where it wasn't the bowler's action that caused the wicket. Like in the act of running. Either batsman.

    Which means you'd end up with two or three categories of one form of dismissal which very rarely comes up anyway.

    Same case could be argued for obstructing a catch. If my partner or I bump the bowler while he is standing under a high caught and bowled, I am out obstructing the field, but by all rights, the bowler should have a caught and bowled to his name.

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