March 22, 2013

Permit two run-outs off the same delivery

Take a leaf out of baseball and give fielders a chance to aim for a higher level of achievement

A run-out is the most gut-wrenching of dismissals. It takes place in a segment of play that is removed from the central conflict between bat and ball, creating situations in which you often get executed for no fault of your own. Like any needless death, a run-out is surrounded by an explosive mix of circumstances that are fertile territory for drama, pathos, even farce.

If the intent of sport is to entertain and dramatise, what better way to achieve those aims than to take your most incendiary plotline and turn it up a notch? One run-out is tragic enough. Now imagine two run-out dismissals at the same time.

Here's a typical scenario: Batsman A fails to make his ground and gets run out from an outfielder's smart throw to the wicketkeeper. Batsman B, meanwhile, is also out of his ground (for any number of reasons - ball-watching, mishearing, miscalculating, or just having a plain old brain freeze). The wicketkeeper fires a throw to the bowler, who happens to be well positioned over the stumps and clips the bails to run batsman B out as well.

At the moment this can't happen in cricket because the laws don't allow it. But there is precedent in baseball, where the rules permit something called a double play, in which two batters get dismissed within the same continuous playing action if they are both off base.

It won't take much of a tweak in the laws to recreate this in cricket. All you need is to stipulate that after a run-out the ball isn't dead until the remaining batsman has also made his ground. If he doesn't, he too can be run out. That would result in two stomach-turning dismissals, effectively off the same delivery - the equivalent of a vicious stabbing, followed by a twisting of the knife. As a spectacle, you really couldn't ask for more.

The amendment required will be to Law 23 (dead ball). As presently configured, one of the conditions for the ball becoming dead is if a batsman gets dismissed. This could be rewritten to state that the ball is dead after a batsman is dismissed, except in case of a run-out, when it is not dead until after the remaining batsman has made his ground. If he fails to make his ground, permissible modes of dismissal (most obviously a run-out, but theoretically also obstructing the field) will apply.

This kind of a double-play run-out isn't really as radical as you might think. As a passage of play, it isn't much different from two dismissals off consecutive deliveries, which happens all the time. It even reinforces the basic intent of the run-out law (Law 38), which is to emphasise peril whenever the batsman is out of his ground.

Cricket's version of a double play could even end up being a terrific boost to the art of fielding, because fielders would have a new height of achievement to aim for. The number of double plays executed could become a cherished stat, as coveted by fielders as centuries are by batsmen and five-fors by bowlers. Fielding is the most overlooked part of the game; this could be just thing it needs.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

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