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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Adeel on February 4, 2013, 17:59 GMT

    The most ridiculous rule is Free hit. I have no idea how such a rule which has a clear contradiction was passed. How can you have a valid/legal ball and batsman considered not-out. They should have made free hit ball an extra ball and not count it towards the legal balls of the over. Previously if there was 1 ball remaining in an over bowler could potentially take a wicket even if a no ball is bowled. That is not the case any more, if 1 ball is left and bowler bowls a no ball, next ball which is last ball of the over is a free hit so no wicket can be taken of that ball.

  • Dummy4 on February 4, 2013, 17:19 GMT

    The rule I would change - and I've been saying this for years - is the rule crediting runs taken on overthrows to the batsman. The runs taken on an overthrow should be considered in the same way as byes. Runs credited to the batsman should be limited to those taken as a direct result of the batsman's actions. A poor throw by a fielder resulting to runs taken on the otherthrow, should be credited as an extra and marked against the fielder making the error. To me, this is an inconsistency in the laws of cricket that should be changed. If a batsman hits the ball and takes a single and an overzealous fielder throws the ball past the stumps and his temamates, and it crosses the boundary, why should the natsman be given credit for this?

  • Shekar on February 4, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    This is the first rule change that actually makes sense to me - do away with Leg Byes and Byes altogether. I understand kabe_ag7's point that this will be a relatively dramatic rule change and one that will take some getting accustomed to (players and viewers alike). However, I think the suggestion is extremely intuitive, the reasoning is beyond rock solid, and the risk of controversy (through runs allowed/disallowed) is limited (and mostly BAU as far as cricket is concerned). Great suggestion.

  • Cricinfouser on February 3, 2013, 21:44 GMT

    Interesting discussion point but, like most of the articles in this series, consists of fixing something which isn't broken. Most leg byes accrue from balls heading down leg side, when the bowler is rightly penalised. Fewer result from the batsman taking evasive action. It's not a problem worth worrying about.

  • Christopher on February 3, 2013, 16:01 GMT

    I personally feel that runs should only reward batsmen's class (runs off the bat), or penalise bad balls (no ball and wides) or poor fielding (byes and overthrows). Leg byes are awarded when the batsman either fails to hit the ball with his bat or fails to evade a bouncer. The bowler bowls a good ball and yet his side gets penalised for it. To me that makes no logical sense.

  • John on February 3, 2013, 11:54 GMT

    Leg Byes should be removed from the game full stop.The only Extras should be for Wides,Byes and No Balls.After all what is the bat for,if not for hitting the ball.I was taught as a youngster learning the game that you always keep your eyes on the ball at all times,and if you let it hit you and suffered injury it was your own fault.As for the comments on the dimensions of modern day bats,it seems to me a complete waste of time because if you look at the top 10 in the all time Batting Averages you will find that they all played with smaller bats,uncovered pitches,no helmets etc,the Back Foot Law and no D.R.S..Another Rule that in my opinion that needs looking at is the one that allows the Stumping off a Wide.Why should a bowler gain an advantage from an illegal delivery.In the end the game should be a fair balance between bat and ball,played on good playing surfaces,not doctored to suit the home side,which has happened in the not far distant past.

  • Swami on February 3, 2013, 10:53 GMT

    I totally agree. In fact I would go so far as to say that if the ball hits the batsmans helmet, he should be out. Dilscoop is the ultimate insult to a fast bowler. The fast bowler has no defence against a well armoured batsman playing a ridiculous paddle sweep. Helmets were brought into the game in order to avoid life threatening injuries, not to disturb the balance between bat and ball. Any batsman would rather be judged out than be knocked on the head and have his skull broken. Thats the tradeoff he should make when he decides to don a helmet.

  • T on February 3, 2013, 10:28 GMT

    The bouncer is still a very dangerous ball even with all the protection batsmen wear these days. Batsmen have NO protection in the front neck area. In my opinion a fast delivery of the same speed hitting the batsmen in certain parts of the neck has a higher chance of fatality than the head which is relatively well protected with the strong skull bone compared to the neck. Its an evolutionary curse stemming from the human bipedal position. In four legged animals the neck is naturally protected by the orientation but in bipeds it is not. Charging bulls etc bend their head downward to expose their horns but this also coincidentally protects their neck. So the original premise of the article that somehow implies that batsmen have it easy from the bouncer of today is false and the article fails on that alone.

  • Tim on February 3, 2013, 2:39 GMT

    disagree, if you get runs taking evasive action that is part of the game. Bowlers can counteract this by bowling at the stumps. If they want to bowl bouncers they need to realise that a stray one might rebound off the helmet or arm guard and fly for runs. It's part of the risk of bowling a short one. And I know plenty of guys who've got serious concussions getting hit in the helmet so while it obviously offers a lot of protection you can't just expect to take hits there to build your team's score. The batsmen aren't invulnerable, even with all the newest gear.

  • Dummy4 on February 2, 2013, 21:25 GMT

    What you don't take into account is the difference in the standard of bowling that modern day batsman have to face. Remember when the UAE captain dared to face Allan Donald without a helmet? You could do it in the old days, but not these days!!