February 21, 2016

Bring back the back-foot no-ball law

Given how front-foot line calls are tougher than they look, this change would allow the umpire more time to focus on decisions after the ball is delivered
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Incorrect calls, like the one that let Adam Voges off in the Wellington Test, also cause delays, slowing over rates

No one should be surprised that the front-foot no-ball law is creating controversy and confusion and that umpire Richard Illingworth's error gave Adam Voges a monumental reprieve in the Wellington Test.

In 1962, Richie Benaud asked Sir Donald Bradman - both favoured a back-foot law - to act as an umpire in the nets to prove how the then new front-foot no-ball law was unworkable. When the photographs taken in that experiment were developed, Benaud found, "An umpire, on more occasions than not, would be calling no-ball when, in fact, the ball was perfectly legitimate, by something like half an inch. It was just that the umpire's line of sight was pushing the bowler's boot forward so it looked as though it was a no-ball."

Knowing that, it's no surprise Illingworth incorrectly called Doug Bracewell's delivery that bowled Voges a no-ball. What's less clear is why a batsman is reprieved by video replay of a no-ball but a bowler isn't entitled to similar privileges. The answer, we're told, is the poor old batsman might alter his shot on hearing the umpire's call of "no-ball".

What planet are these officials from? If a bowler - even one operating at 150 to 160 kph - oversteps by mere millimetres (the general infringement), it makes absolutely no difference at the batsman's end. And secondly, under the front-foot no-ball law a batsman facing a fast bowler doesn't have time to change his mind, let alone his shot, by the time the umpire's call registers.

Over the years, all sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful changes to the law have been proposed, including that a third umpire be placed on the field to adjudicate solely on the front foot. I wonder what excuse would be proffered when this umpire inevitably got in a tangle with a fielder during either an attempted catch or run-out?

A simple return to a back-foot no-ball law, which was only abandoned because of draggers, would not only eradicate the confusion and inconsistency but also bring other positives to the game.

If the umpire placed a disc where he wants the bowler to land his back foot so that he's not encroaching on the batsman's territory, that should ensure fair play all round

A back-foot no-ball law would virtually eradicate the infringement and make over rates less of a blight on the game. By having the standing umpire concentrate on the bowler's back foot rather than front foot, he would have longer to focus on the batsman's end of the pitch. This should improve umpiring standards, especially when fast bowlers are operating.

How do you overcome the sole objection to this change: the possibility that it would resurrect draggers, with their front foot landing way beyond the batting crease?

If the umpire placed a disc where he wants the bowler to land his back foot so that he's not encroaching on the batsman's territory, that should ensure fair play all round.

How does the umpire know where to place the disc for each bowler? Simple. There's footage of every international bowler taken from side-on via run-out cameras, so by viewing this footage, a mark is established for all bowlers. This is one way technology can be utilised to improve the game. Bowlers' marks could be reviewed from time to time.

There are two complaints about this proposed system.

1) It's arbitrary.

Well, no more so than the front-foot no-ball law, where bowlers of differing heights land their back foot in vastly different positions. This would be the same under the proposed law but the umpire has more time to adjudicate by watching the back rather than the front foot.

2) Umpires prefer laws that are black and white.

What can be more muddled than the current situation, where replays of two different deliveries, going on to strike exactly the same spot on a stump, show one is out and the other is not out lbw, because of the decision made by the on-field umpire? The black-and-white excuse is pure obfuscation.

As I often hear, "The problem with common sense is, it's not that common." That saying is applicable to many of the current laws and it's time the flaws were seriously addressed.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 24, 2016, 21:33 GMT

    Maybe another solution could be that the whole of the front foot has to be grounded behind the crease.This would make the line belonging to the umpire,which is the same as when adjudicating a run out.If there is no part of the bat grounded behind the crease the batsman is dismissed.Any part of the foot on or beyond the crease then a no ball is called and these should be called every time they occur.

  • ram on February 24, 2016, 4:43 GMT

    The rule should be the same to school cricket as well as Test cricket

  • ram on February 23, 2016, 22:58 GMT

    Kapildev the famous Indian never bowled a single noball in his long career

  • Shyam on February 23, 2016, 7:58 GMT

    The issue about front foot no balls had been exacerbated by the act umpires aren't calling no balls regularly and only checking for it when the batsman is given out! If the bowler is not called before a wicket he will not pay any attention to where his foot is. Call it in the game every single time and these incidences will drop. I also like the idea of the third umpire calling no balls because 1 - the cameras are already in place; and 2 - the batsman can play the ball on its merits. The fact a run is conceded and another ball needs to be bowled is enough punishment for over stepping the line by a few mms, me thinks. If needed free hits can be introduced into test cricket but I don't like that idea.

  • Abid on February 23, 2016, 5:41 GMT

    Go through ball checking method of tennis for checking the no balls. This will give you 100 percent correct result.

  • tim on February 23, 2016, 1:08 GMT

    I respect Ian Chappell enormously, but clearly he was never around in Test cricket when the draggers were plying their trade. While I don't think anyone would disagree with a number of the pros, the simple fact is that the biggest con is just how much further fast bowlers would actually get down the pitch using the back foot rule. There are plenty of pictures around showing some bowlers, including a number of Australia's own bowlers of the 50's, landing their front foot almost a yard past the front crease because of the excessive drag they managed to get- remember the old days of the steel cap on the back foot, so that it would protect the toe from excessive wear due to the drag they had down to a fine art? Another point worth noting is that it would have a detrimental effect on many slow bowlers, in that many don't take a particularly excessive final step and will probably be landing their front foot well behind the batting crease.

  •   Martin Briggs on February 22, 2016, 21:21 GMT

    Can everyone please stop talking about sensors, laser technology, discs and the like. Along with giving the job to the 3rd or 4th umpire. We may be talking about millimetres here and it's quicker and easier for the onfield umpire to all it that a guy sitting up in the stand with a tv screen 100 yards away from the action. As soon as he calls for replays (as he no doubt regularly would), the play slows. Then we'd have 10-11 overs an hour and everyone moaning about no balls would then be moaning about over rates. It's a no-win situation. Leave it as it is and let the umpires do their job. There are greater problems to deal with than these. Also, what almost everyone on these online forums fails to appreciate is that the no ball law and ICC guidelines/regulations relating to them are subtly and fundamentally different. The emphasis on the basis and threshold of satisfaction has now been transferred towards the bowler by the ICC and contributes to the problem of no balls not being called.

  •   Martin Briggs on February 22, 2016, 21:04 GMT

    @BILL4 - lbw's possible to balls pitching outside leg stump would be utter lunacy as it would reward bowlers for pitching the ball a foot or more outside leg and still getting a decision and completely alter the fabric of cricket. On a broader scale it would lead to sides selecting, for example, two left arm seamers and 3 or 4 leg spinners (bowling round the wicket) and left arm spinners (bowling over the wicket) bowling negatively into a r/hander's pads, trying to bowl the batsman round his legs, get him lbw or caught by one of two man behind square leg from a miscued lap/sweep out of sheer frustration. Cricket would be utterly unwatchable. And it would happen as sides would have nothing to lose by doing so. Remember watching Giles bowl to Tendulkar a few years ago? Spectators wouldn't get bored because there wouldn't be any watching - in any format. Also, @Dinosaurus - well done for correcting Kyled - if he can't get the basic facts right, what's the point in posting anything?...

  • jay on February 22, 2016, 17:07 GMT

    Does a bowler bowl off his front foot or back foot ? If the answer to that question is not both, one of the front foot and the back foot no-ball rules is more arbitrary or useless than the other. If an umpire's line of sight will see him call a no-ball when the bowler's foot is half an inch behind, the umpire recalibrates. At least thats how normal human beings work if I know I a glass is less than half full I pour more the next time

  • Altaf on February 22, 2016, 14:56 GMT

    The cult of checking front-foot no-ball after wicket needs to be removed. They limits DRS review to save time, but other side they check no-ball after almost every wickets, even in many cases foot way behind the line.

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