March 16, 2013

No runs for deflections off direct hits

If the ball ricochets off the stumps after an attempted run-out, why should it benefit the batsman?

Cricket gets bums on the seats, it would be fair to say, because fans, in general, want to see runs being scored, and over the years the lawmakers have erred on the side of awarding extra runs. Thus the leg-bye, the overthrow, the extra for wide, and now the free hit off the no-ball. You are unlikely to ever see a batsman being penalised a run for playing a poor shot.

The idea behind the overthrow is fathomable, and even digestible. If there was no penalty, it would carry the danger of fielders taking to throwing the ball randomly and indiscreetly and slowing the game down. But I would make two changes to the law.

I'd stop awarding the runs to the batsman. Let him earn the runs that he has already run, or the ones he was in the process of running when the throw was made, but the ones that result from overthrows should simply be treated as extras, just as byes and leg-byes are.

What I consider an outrage are overthrows off direct hits. Of course, there is the possibility of a showy fielder strutting his wares with the odd unnecessary throw, or an aggressive bowler throwing down the stumps to show the batsman his place, but to reward the batting side for a genuine direct hit defies every tenet of justice. A throw that misses its mark has every chance of being cut off by a fielder backing up, but you never know where a ball might ricochet to, off the stumps.

Imagine this. Two to win off the last ball. The batsman manages to squeeze the yorker out and scampers a single; a fielder from within the circle hares in, scoops the ball up and throws the stumps down. It's a desperately close call and the replays show the batsman to be in by a fraction. But the ball has been deflected to an unguarded area, allowing the batsmen to sprint the winning second run.

Batsmen get the benefit of the doubt following the principle of justice that an innocent must never be hung. But what sense does it make to penalise an act of brilliance?

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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