February 2, 2013

No freebies for the protected

Do not allow today's well-armoured batsmen to get runs when they let the ball hit their bodies rather than their bats

There are two batsmen avoiding bouncers in this photo.

On the left is Brian Close, facing Michael Holding at Old Trafford in 1976, with just pads, gloves and, presumably, an abdomen guard for protection.

On the right is Virender Sehwag, facing a South African attack led by Dale Steyn in Nagpur in 2010. In addition to the protective gear Close is wearing, Sehwag has a helmet, an arm guard, a thigh guard and, presumably, a chest protector. His gloves and pads are more cushioned than Close's too.

Once upon a time in cricket, there were valid reasons for awarding leg-byes when a batsman ran after getting hit by the short ball he was trying to avoid. Not anymore: the batsmen of the 21st century are extremely well protected, and not just by equipment.

After Bodyline, umpires were given the power to step in if they felt a bowler was trying to deliberately injure a batsman. Years later a law was introduced limiting the number of fielders behind square on the leg side to two. A bowler could bowl as many short balls as he liked, provided he was not trying to send the batsman to hospital, but there could be no more than two catchers in the quadrant between the wicketkeeper and square leg. Then in the 1990s came the law limiting the number of fast short-pitched deliveries - it is presently two per over.

So while batsmen of yore had to contend with an unrestricted number of short balls, and an unrestricted number of catchers on the leg side waiting for the ball to lob to them off a desperate fend, they were allowed to run leg-byes - if the pain allowed them to - if they had been struck on the body.

Today's batsmen face few such demons. They can even afford to take their eyes off the approaching bouncer, turn their heads, and let the ball ping off the back of their helmets. Mostly all they deal with is a ringing head as they saunter their leg-byes.

It is time the MCC amended Law 26, which deals with byes and leg-byes. It presently reads: "If a ball delivered by the bowler first strikes the person of the striker, runs shall be scored only if the umpire is satisfied that the striker has either (i) attempted to play the ball with his bat or (ii) tried to avoid being hit by the ball."

That last part must go. Batsmen taking evasive action should be treated the same way as batsmen offering no shot, and a dead ball ought to be signalled if they attempt to run.

Perhaps leg-byes should be done away with entirely. Why award extras to a team when the batsman has failed to hit the ball? Cricket's laws and equipment have changed since the time that rule was a necessity.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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