January 20, 2013

No-ball, not dead ball

Why put a batsman at a disadvantage for a bowler's rudimentary mistake of colliding with the stumps?

Steven Finn is developing into one of the finest fast bowlers in the world but every time his knee buckles and he collides with the stumps in his delivery stride, I throw up my hands in despair at the failure to introduce a simple change to the Law that would address the issue for all time.

The MCC indicated that the Laws would be reviewed after the 2012 Headingley Test, when South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, was reprieved after edging to first slip, because Finn had dislodged the bails at the non-striker's end with his knee and umpire Steve Davis had called dead ball.

Davis cited Law 23.4(b)(vi), stating that Smith had been distracted. It later transpired that both South Africa batsmen had previously complained to the umpires that Finn's habit of knocking into the stumps was off-putting.

Finn's tendency was regarded seriously enough in the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka in September to be formally raised at the pre-tournament briefing for coaches and captains. They were informed that any bowler breaking the stumps would first receive a warning and on every further occasion the delivery would be ruled as a dead ball.

As it happened, when England played New Zealand, the umpires forgot about the warning. Finn collided with the stumps in each of his last three overs. As a dead ball was ruled, no runs could be accrued from the deliveries in question. New Zealand missed out on a leg-side wide, a single, and then, on the final occasion, James Franklin drilled the ball through mid-off for four only for the boundary to be removed from the records.

Smith deserved to be reprieved; New Zealand deserved those runs. The dead-ball ruling protects the batsmen from dismissal but does not reward them with runs. The Law needs to be changed. The solution is staring everybody in the face. The ruling should not be a dead ball, it should be a no-ball. That way the batsman always gets whatever benefits accrue and an extra delivery as well. If batsmen stumble into the stumps in the process of playing a shot, they are given out hit-wicket. For bowlers to suffer a no-ball would be the least they deserve.

Meanwhile, Finn needs to stop kicking the stumps and kick the habit instead.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo