December 22, 2012

Go back to the back foot

That'll reduce the number of illegal deliveries bowled, improve over rates, and give umpires more time to spend on the important decisions

In 1962 the no-ball law was changed to a front-foot one from one that previously used the back foot as the guide. This was the administrators' answer to the perceived problem of dragging, where bowlers occasionally delivered the ball with their front foot in advance of the batting crease while still adhering to the back-foot regulations.

Prior to the law change, in 529 Tests there had only been 15 instances of 20 or more no-balls (not scored off) bowled in a match. There have been more than 1500 Test matches since that momentous change and no less than 803 instances where the no-ball count has reached that same level.

A company would be delighted with such a percentage increase in sales, but all that cricket administrators have done is diminish the game.

The front-foot no-ball law has added considerably to the number of illegal deliveries without ever looking like eradicating the problem. Apart from the fact that they should never have adopted the front-foot law with all the evidence and expert opinion opposing it, the administrators have shown little inclination to revert to the eminently more sensible back-foot adjudication.

By going back to the back-foot no-ball law, there would be a number of positive side effects on the game.

The number of illegal deliveries would be significantly reduced, but when one is delivered it would actually amount to a penalty against the fielding side. The extra time presented to a batsman by an earlier no-ball call, would result in some big hits - which would excite the fans and act as a deterrent to bowlers. The reduction in the number of no-balls would also improve over rates and hopefully eradicate overtime, which is a tedious blight on the game in addition to being a sore point with television networks.

The front-foot law detracts from the time the umpire has to focus on the striker's end for a possible decision. A return to the back-foot law would allow umpires more time to focus on the decision-making process, which should bring improved results.

Because of the awkward angle from which the umpire views the bowler's front foot, the current law creates no-balls. With the advent of increased television scrutiny the umpires are also forced to watch the front line closely, which must surely decrease the time left for focusing on the business end when fast bowlers are operating. All this scrutiny for a bowler overstepping by a few millimetres, which is generally the case, has virtually no effect on the delivery at the batsman's end.

If a back-foot no-ball law were adopted, television would have little reason to focus on the front-foot placement. The side-on run-out cameras could then be used to monitor footage and ensure that draggers aren't gaining a foothold in the game, thus eradicating the only objection I've heard to the reintroduction of the back-foot no-ball law.

However, please don't hang by the neck waiting for this law change to occur.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist