March 31, 2013

Allow lbws outside off even if the batsman offers a shot

Too many players escape being dismissed by pretending to play the ball

The lbw law, with all its clauses and complex quirks, is perhaps the most colourful sub-chapter in cricket's rule book. It is also the most stringent yardstick with which to judge an umpire's - or a fan's - pedigree. Behind the layers of complexity, though, Law 36 is also a logical and cogent set of rules. One part, however, doesn't quite add up.

Assume the following scenario on a wearing pitch affording a lot of spin: An offspinner delivers from over the stumps, wide of the crease, and lands the ball a good three feet wide of off stump, a smidgen short of driving length. The right-hand batsman lunges forward from the crease, aware that he can't get to the pitch of the ball and that the offbreak is going to turn in sharply. Silly point and short leg crouch in attendance, waiting for the edge.

The batsman figures two options. One, offer his front pad and shoulder arms, a response that will negate the close-in fielders but could leave him plumb if the ball turns in sufficiently. Option two is more practical, to lunge ahead with bat and pad close together, hoping to play with the bat, but with the security of the pad to protect the stumps.

For the sake of our little exercise, let's ignore whether the batsman played a shot or not. All we know is that he was hit on the pad, a full foot outside the line of off stump, no bat involved. Let's take the DRS out of the equation: everyone involved knows for a fact that the ball is headed for the middle of middle.

As Law 36 stands, the umpire's ruling depends on whether the batsman was making a "genuine attempt to play the ball with his bat". The law, however, doesn't explain why this is of import. It also leaves the judgement of what constitutes a genuine attempt to play the ball squarely on the umpire.

In plainspeak, this is what the law tells the bowler when the impact is outside the line of the stumps: We know you have beaten the bat. Yes, the ball is headed for the stumps. We are aware that the batsman has, in effect, used his pad (or some part of his body) to protect his stumps. Yet, you won't get the wicket, since the batsman was attempting to play a shot when he was beaten. Deal with it.

It's bad enough that the law protects a beaten batsman on the curious premise that he was attempting to play a shot. What makes matters worse is that batsmen - especially in the non-DRS part of the world - can get away with merely pretending to play a shot. Lean forward, push the pad outside the line of the stumps, hide the bat safely behind, and pad the ball away - can it get any easier? Umpires are far less likely to rule in a bowler's favour when this happens than when the batsman blatantly avoids playing a shot. Commentators and spectators, too, tend to be more lenient towards the pretend-shot than the shouldering of arms.

What constitutes a fair attempt at shot-making is debatable at the best of times. Interestingly, it is a call that the umpire doesn't have to make "if the point of impact is between wicket and wicket". A batsman can be out lbw even if he is playing a shot, as long as he is hit in line with the stumps. The more prodigiously a bowler deviates the ball sideways, the more likely he is to pass (and beat) a batsman outside the line of the stumps, than a bowler who spins it less. In other words, a batsman playing a shot is more likely to be out lbw to an arm ball (or a topspinner) than to an offbreak (or legbreak).

Why this discrimination against the bigger spinner of the ball? Again, the MCC manual doesn't throw light.

Perhaps, back in the day of uncovered wickets, this law gave batsmen some respite on pitches with unpredictable cut and seam. That day is well and truly in the past. Today, a bowler has to deal with short boundaries, big bats, flat pitches, and a bunch of other developments that pamper the batsman. It might be a good time to ease the bowler's burden by deleting the "attempting a shot" clause altogether. To save a batsman for attempting a shot is to reward him for intention rather than action.

Nitin Sundar is a social media manager at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ramsundar on April 3, 2013, 1:52 GMT

    I will be happier if they also add a "Rules I'd not change" section.

  • Soso on April 1, 2013, 1:18 GMT

    I completely disagree with this article. If thats the case "a ball beating the bat is out" then a ball hitting the stumps pitching outside leg should be out as well why the double standards?

    People are talking about blind spots thats nonsense. Here is good example J. Khan bowled a peach of a delivery to Amla in the last ODI in Benoni and was given out, on review it showed it marginaly pitched outside leg. Let me tell you Amla saw that ball he just was not good enough to play it, "blind spots" had nothing to do with anything. Junaid is a left arm seamer he was well within his right to pitch the ball were he did, it had nothing to do with negative bowling. Let us leave things the way they are, if a bowler is good enough then he will get his wickets Steyn has a S.R of 40 in a batsmen era by the way, the last thing we want is a trundler to look like a great when he is not. The only thing i would change is flat tracks, lets produce conducive wickets be it rank turners or a green decks.

  • ian on March 31, 2013, 22:44 GMT

    @AndyMick: if only life was as simple as you make out! The BCCI, however, operates on the basis of never-discuss-never-explain & thus democracy is a concept that's alien to them, despite being part of the largest democracy on the planet, or at least residing in the same country. As for the suggestion aired in this article, it's absolutely ludicrous, in common with the vast majority of the other suggested amendments that have been submitted under this 'Rules I'd Change' set of articles. Unless the umpire is in line with the angle of the ball ( silly mid-off or on the same line to mid-off) then no accurate judgement can be made as to the accuracy of this new lbw suggestion. Mind you, that wouldn't stop some umpires giving batsmen out from their usual position, so imcompetent is some of the recent umpiring witnessed on the international stage. Which brings us back to the use of technology & the reactionary resistance to it. The rule I'd change is: majority rules. But it won't happen!

  • David on March 31, 2013, 22:35 GMT

    Disagree. Wrong on so many levels. Not only is the umpire in totally the wrong position to judge the trajectory of a ball from outside off, but such a rule will destroy batsmanship as it currently stands, as "getting behind the ball" and "playing with bat close to pad" will be essentially meaningless. Clearing the front leg will become de rigeur and cricket will descend to the kind of T20 slugfest that I so despise. The rule I would guess was put in place to discourage negative batting more than as a reward for the bowler beating the bat. In the pre-technology days, umpires would quite often lose patience with batsmen consistently shouldering arms, and give them out (quite rightly I think) to deliveries whose trajectory was very uncertain. I've also seen (again quite rightly) players given out because the bat was tucked behind the pad (ie not genuinely playing a shot). What's next? Dismissing a batsman 'caught' for playing and missing outside off because he was "beaten"? Absurd!

  • Karthik on March 31, 2013, 20:35 GMT

    Good article. Another thing which should be done immediately is stop leg-byes. Why on earth should batting team get runs when the batsmen has failed to put bat on ball? The bowler has actually beaten the batsmen either by pace or spin but the team still gets away with runs down the leg side, sometimes even of the helmet! I remember a similar point was made by Steve Waugh many years ago and its high time MCC does something for the bowlers.

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2013, 20:22 GMT

    introduce bbw..Bat Before the Wicket......

  • Ali on March 31, 2013, 20:11 GMT

    What about the balls that pitch outside leg stump? The most difficult and amazing art of leg spin is negated by the fact that half of the balls pitch outside leg stump to the majority of the batsmen that are right-handers!

  • Andy on March 31, 2013, 19:41 GMT

    This is a great idea, but will never happen whilst the BCCI are in charge of cricket as for big turning balls you would need DRS, and India, for some reason, don't like it.

    So, for this to work the ICC has to grow some courage from somewhere and allow only one set of rules on the world cricketing stage, ALL countries have DRS REGARDLESS, or NOBOBY has DRS. simple vote of he test playing nations, majority wins, end of.

  • Sam on March 31, 2013, 18:53 GMT

    This is one rule that makes sense. According to the current rule, the batsman would have been given out if he was not playing a shot. This assumes that the umpire can judge the trajectory of the ball correctly even when it pitches outside off. Thus, why should the bowler be deprived of the wicket for bowling a great ball whether the batsman attempts to play or not?

  • Dummy4 on March 31, 2013, 18:41 GMT

    I agree with the author. Why should the batsman be given not out to a ball pitching outside off stump just because he was playing a shot? So what? Assuming the ball was going on to hit the stumps, why should the batsman be rewarded for missing it? The rule is an anomaly that makes little sense. But I would go further than the author. I would abolish leg byes (again, why should a batsman be rewarded for missing the ball which hits him) and wides, which I would now call no balls. This would now mean a batsman cannot be stumped off a wide delivery and it would still be possible to hit a wide delivery that was called no ball.

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