Alter the rule? (1899)

Leg before wicket

Mr. R. A. H. Mitchell, writes :-

"I have long been in favour of the alteration in the l. b. w. rule which Mr. Bligh advocates in the letter just sent me. I brought it forward in 1884 when the M. C. C. revised the rules, and I have seen no reason to alter my view. It seems to me that if the batsman places his leg in a line from wicket to wicket (a breadth of 8 inches), he does so at his own peril. It ought only to be done for the purpose of hitting the ball off the wicket. If he misjudge the ball and saves his wicket with his leg he ought to pay the penalty whether the ball pitched straight or not, always supposing that the ball would in the umpire's opinion have hit the wicket. It is in my opinion quite contrary to the spirit of the game that a batsman should save his wicket with his legs: at all events he ought not to encroach on the eight inches in front of the wicket without paying a penalty when he makes a mistake. As long as he keeps clear of this eight inches with his legs and feet he cannot be l. b. w. and this is all the privilege he ought to have under this rule. Some have said that this alteration in the l. b. w. rule would make the umpire's task a harder one than it it is now, because it would be so extremely difficult to tell whether a ball which does not pitch straight but turns at a sharpish angle would hit the wicket or not. There may be some truth in this, but I think the difficulty is exaggerated. Under the present rule the umpire has to judge :-

    (a).
  • Whether the ball has pitched straight.
  • (b).
  • Whether the batsman's leg is in a line between wicket and wicket.
  • (c).
  • Whether the ball would hit his wicket.

I have umpired a great deal for many years and I have always found that the most difficult point to determine is whether the ball has pitched straight, particularly if the ball is not right up. This difficulty under the proposed alteration would disappear. All that the umpire would have to determine is whether the batsman's leg is in a line between wicket and wicket and whether in his opinion the ball would have hit the wicket. If the alteration was made I should propose as an experiment (to be given up if not satisfactory) that two chalk lines should be marked defining for a couple of yards in front of the batsman the true breadth of 8 inches between wicket and wicket so that he must keep his legs clear if he is not to risk l. b. w. This would be fairer on the batsman and make the umpire's duty, I think, easier. I, however, only suggest it as an experiment, for I see some difficulties might perhaps arise."

LORD HARRIS, says:-

"I should hesitate to make any abrupt alteration in the 'Laws of Cricket' calculated to materially affect 'batting,' without a previous trial of the effect of any proposed change. I do think that 'bowling' needs material assistance in some form or other, but what that should be I hesitate to decide on in my own mind. The alteration of 'l. b. w.' is not the only form in which assistance might be given. The wicket might be heightened or broadened, or both. If the M. C. C. could arrange some matches with a view to test the effect of such alterations, it would, perhaps, save us from making a bad mistake. The M. C. C. have great facilities for carrying out such hints in August or September, and might be willing to undertake the task."

MR. V. E. WALKER, writes:

"I quite agree with the main point of Mr. Bligh's article, and think that the l. b. w. Law requires altering. If the batsman is in a line between wicket and wicket and stops the ball-no matter where it pitches-with any part of his body he should be given out l. b. w. I maintain that it would assist umpires. The point they would have to decide would be easier-simply, would the ball have hit the wicket if the leg, &c. had not prevented it? They would not have it cast in their teeth 'the ball did not pitch straight by half-an-inch"!-or six inches." Mr. Walker goes on to say the game is being spoilt by the ridiculously long scores. He says, "I have long thought and stated that grounds should be fenced in in some way, and that hits should be run out. I should like-if it were possible-to have grounds of one uniform size, say 90 to 100 yards from wicket to boundary in every direction." Mr. Walker, with all his vast experience, speaks in more positive terms than almost anyone else who has written.

The HON. ALFRED LYTTLETON says: -

"With reference to Mr. Bligh's article, I think that the long scoring of the present day is so destructive to the best interests of the game, that I would welcome almost any change to minimise the evil. My own inclination is towards slightly reducing the width of the bat, but this may be thought by many too revolutionary, and failing it, I certainly am in favour of Mr. Bligh's proposals."

Mr. E. M. GRACE sends me the following: -

You have asked me a difficult question, and Mr. E. V. Bligh is trying to solve a more difficult problem. To begin with, Tarrant never broke from the leg, and if I remember rightly Mr. Harvey Fellows and John Wisden seldom did so. Take Mr. C. L. Townsend, at present one of our best leg twisters. He never hardly would hit a man on the leg with his leg before the wicket; his only chance would be when the batsman played back-when they play out at them very seldom does a batsman put his leg in front. Mr. Bligh's rule would help the off-twisters very much and would prevent the abominable practice of stopping the ball on purpose with the leg a la Shrewsbury and very many others. No one can speak more feelingly about l. b. w., than I, for in more than fifty innings the ball has hit me full on the right hand and no where else. How's that umpire? Out l. b. w. Then again, in our local matches the ball has only to hit me on the leg. How's that-nine times out of ten it is given out. As the rule now is you have the poor satisfaction of knowing you were not out-alter it -you lose even that, and are entirely at the caprice of the umpire. At our country matches the umpire is almost always the best player for his side -generally giving two or three out of opponents and two or three in for his own side. Ask the Hon. E. V. Bligh what he thought of Wenman when that umpire on July 29, 1863, at Swifts Park, Cranbrook, first of all gave him in when he was out, and then gave him l. b. w. for a ball that pitched three inches outside his leg stump and we won the match. Instead of altering l. b. w. provide every fielder with a penny worth of cobbler's wax, and then all catches would be made and few centuries scored. Something of a time test would not be a bad thing, especially in one day matches-say six hours to play: at half time let the opponents go in, the side making the most runs in the time to win the match. This would make a much more enjoyable match than declaring the innings, leaving it impossible for the other side to win and seldom lose." Asked for a definite answer as to whether he is in favour of Mr. Bligh's suggested alteration in the law of leg-before-wicket, Mr. E. M. Grace said "No."

ROBERT THOMS, the veteran umpire, writes: -

From the tenor of the capitally written article on l. b. w. by the Hon. E. V. Bligh, he points out, 'that something ought to be done to check the centuries, shorten the game, and thereby get more matches played out,' which is very certain would be the case if the mooted alteration of Law XXIV. does take place. It is now close on thirty years ago since agitation first began to simmer over this question, and in a lengthy article that I wrote on the subject in 1871 for a Cricket Annual, the summing up was as follows: the bat ought to play the ball that is about to hit the wicket, and in a spirit of fairness, if the bowler, by extra spin or break-back, can beat the batsman, it seems but right that he should have the benefit of his skill, the more so when the perfection to which grounds are now brought, is kept in mind, and the difficulty-speaking professionally-of making the ball do anything, added to which, the now dashing style displayed by our great batsmen, of going to the ball, seems to place the bowler at a disadvantage, which an alteration in Law XXIV. would tend to rectify. Since those words were written matters cricketical quieted down to a great extent until 1888, when the question of l b w began to 'bubble' again, and nearly came to the 'boil' in 1893, for a drastic change in the law, mainly brought about by the wholesale scientific and unseemly legging that was then in full form, but which unsightly style of play has been happily shunted, or almost so. In the copious discussion that then ensued in WISDEN'S ALMANACK of 1888, this subject of l b w was most lucidly entered into by Lord Harris and Mr. V. E. Walker-two of the most prominent cricketers, consummate judges of the game, and the very best captains that ever handled a team-whilst also many other well-known cricketers have from time to time explicitly expressed their opinions on this 'bane of umpires'- the Law XXIV.- and its workings. If the Upper House of Cricket-the Marylebone Club-which I sincerely hope will, as long as the game flourishes, legislate its laws-thinks that the time has arrived for taking up this momentous question, then let a gathering of its leading 'Magnates' be called together, combined with past and present representative County Cricketers, with whom the stability and welfare of our National Game can well be trusted -and decide accordingly.

Mr. JOHN SHUTER sends the following interesting letter:-

"Referring to Mr. Bligh's letter headed 'Cricket Centuries,' there can be no doubt that of late years the scores have been both individually and collectively so large that the interests of the game are in some danger, but it must not be overlooked that wet or unsettled seasons must be considered, as well as very dry ones. All cricketers know the difficulties of making a long score where the former state prevails, and therefore I think any proposed alteration in the laws should be approached with caution. Personally I am all in favour of letting in the leg break bowler, but if I read Mr. Bligh"s suggested alteration of the l. b. w. rule aright, not only will the leg break bowler be let in, but the off break bowler will gain such an advantage that there will be but little inducement left to the former to practice his wily art -it being practically impossible to play forward with a straight bat to a good length ball breaking from the off without putting the left leg (without any sinister motive) in front of the wicket, and thus producing a huge crop of l. b. w."s. This sinister motive to which I have referred has a great deal to answer for, and, as at present constituted, the laws place it in the umpire"s hands to judge whether or not a ball pitches in a straight line from wicket to wicket and would have hit the wicket. Surely it is not too much to ask the umpire to judge whether a batsman steps in front of his wicket with the deliberate intention of defending his wicket with some part of his person. Under such conditions some of the ludicrous attempts to play breaking balls -leg breaks especially- such as we are all accustomed to see, would soon disappear, and the game be freed from what has been for years a blot on its escutcheon. The leg break bowler would be able to bowl with the feeling that the batsman would no longer be able to play his good length balls with his legs in front of his wicket, as is mostly done at present; whilst the off break bowler would also gain, though not so much as in the case of Mr. Bligh"s suggested alteration. The deliberate leg or body player should no longer be allowed to exist, and the umpire is the man to stop him. I cannot think that two classes of rules as hinted at by Mr. Bligh would be to the interest of the game, but I most strongly advocate a low boundary round the ground and the running out of everything inside the boundary. It would bring the bowler on a nearer equality to the batsman, give many more chances of a run out, make the fielding much more interesting, and give an impetus to the practising and perfecting of that most attractive part of the game, i.e., accurate long field throwing.

Mr. F. S. Jackson says:-

The article is certainly interesting and no doubt there is something to be said in favour of altering the l. b. w. rule, but I must confess that in my opinion the present rule is as good as any that I can think of as a substitute. I don"t think it needs any alteration at present. If you want to alter a rule I would suggest the declaring of an innings at an end should be permitted any time after lunch on the second day of a three-day match. Vide-Yorks v. Derby, 1898, Chesterfield, 543 for no wicket; ten men have to throw their wickets away! I proposed this alteration in the rule two years ago, but without any effect.

Mr. GREGOR MACGREGOR is in agreement with Mr. Bligh. He expresses himself briefly as follows:-

With regard to your query as to my opinion about the existing law as to leg-before-wicket, my view is that it needs revision, and that Mr. E. V. Bligh"s proposed alteration would be an improvement. Apart from the fact that, in my opinion, scores are much too long nowadays, it seems very unfair to a bowler that immediately a ball is pitched a fraction outside the wicket, the batsman can deliberately protect his wicket with his person. In addition to this, it seems to me that it would make the duties of the umpire much easier.

The HON. EDWARD LYTTELTON, writes from Haileybury:-

I have not been able to give full attention to this very intricate question, but it seems to me quite clear that something ought to have been done long ago to help the bowlers, without making them too invincible on sticky wickets. At present a thunder-shower in the night generally settles the hash of one side irretrievably, and the game is nothing like so good to watch as it used to be. Mr. Bligh"s proposal is well worth trying, it could do no harm-and if it revived the leg break it would be a real blessing. But this would take many years. It is a difficult art anywhere, more so than the off break, and yet the latter is beyond the power of most bowlers on these smooth wickets. The suggestion as to confining reform to first-class matches I would strongly support in the case of any alteration in the boundary law necessitating more running; but I don't see why this l. b. w. change should not be universal. I doubt the effect even of both changes together being very considerable, and should anticipate further reforms being required before very long; whether they will be carried out is another question. Cricketers seem wholly untainted with radicalism, else something would have been done years ago. The evil began about 1875 and has been getting steadily worse ever since.

Mr. DAVID BUCHANAN says:-

With a view to check the extraordinary run-getting of the present day, by putting the bowling more on an equality with the batting, various alterations of the rules have from time to time been suggested, and the alterations which have been made by allowing the bowler to raise his hand above the shoulder, by the change in Law XXIV from foot and leg to any part of the person, by the permission to change ends more than once in an innings, so long as no two overs are bowled in succession by the same man, and by the addition of a fifth ball to the over, just and proper concessions have been made to the bowler; while by the alteration from 80 to 120 runs for follow-on in a three-day match, and the declaration of the closing of an innings being allowed, the noble game of cricket has been considerably benefited. Many years since when as a fast bowler, and putting plenty of devil in the ball, the ball beat the batsman, and by just flying over the wicket lost me scores of wickets, I advocated the addition of one inch to the stumps, an alteration which would have made no difference to the game, but, of course, would have been hailed by me with delight had it taken place, and the long innings of many batsmen much curtailed. As to the vexed question of lbw, if umpires were perfect, vexation of spirit and many heart burnings would be saved to bowlers. In the interview with the "Yorkshire Evening Post," an account of which appeared in the issue of November 12th, two instances are given, and in the case of W. G. at Birmingham, the umpire had no business to give an adverse decision, the ball being pitched right up, and hitting him a few inches up the leg, he at the same time covering every stump. Another case in which my appeal was affirmed by spectators, the decision being against me was this:-In the second innings of a match 14 Free Foresters v. County of Surrey, at the Oval, Mortlock batting, an appeal for a palpable l b w was given against me. A friend, a good cricketer, who was sitting in the pavilion with one or two other cricketing friends, in a nearly direct line behind the wicket, told me on coming in after the innings was over that Mortlock was really "out." The fact is that an umpire has a very difficult and responsible post. The bowler has, or should have, every faculty on the stretch, and be intently watching the progress of the ball to see exactly where it pitches, and so on as a preparation, if nothing occurs, for the succeeding one. The umpire should also have his faculties of sight and hearing concentrated on every ball, but from not being so peculiarly interested as the bowler and wicket-keeper, an appeal sometimes takes him by surprise. I think if the law relating to lbw read thus:-XXIV. Or if with any part of his person he stops the ball, which, in the opinion of the umpire at the bowler's wicket shall have been pitched in a straight line from it to the striker's wicket or in a line not exceeding four inches from the leg stump of the striker's wicket- leg-before-wicket, indiscriminate leg-hitting would be discouraged, and the cultivation of the onside forward stroke-a stroke unknown to present day cricketers-promoted. The best exponent of this stroke I have seen was "Hoare, of John's. He was a Fellow of the College, and in my undergraduate days it was a treat to see him at practice with two professional bowlers at him, beautifully playing this stroke. Why should a batsman exultingly to himself, and delightfully to the spectators, keep on hitting balls just off the leg stump, to square and long leg, and which would take the wicket, not pay the penalty when he misses one. In a case like this it would be far easier for the umpire to give a just decision on an appeal than under the present law."

R. G. BARLOW writes from Blackpool:-

"In reply to your letter of the 18th, I shall be pleased to give you my views on "Leg before." It is my opinion that it would be far better to allow the rule on the above subject to remain unaltered. As regards a means for the preventing of so many "Centuries," I should suggest the raising of the stumps a few inches. I notice in the article you sent, one remedy suggested is abolishing the toss. It has been my opinion for a number of years that the visiting team should have the choice of innings. My reason for this is in case of home-and-home matches to give each team a chance of having first innings."

Mr. HARVEY FELLOWS says:-

"Mr. Bligh is wrong as to Tarrant and my bowling breaking in from the leg. It broke back from the off-but it matters not. My opinion is that overhead bowling (as now-a-days) is very much easier to play than round arm bowling. But round arm bowling requires a very great deal of practice (to become a first rare bowler) annually, but until it is again bowled there will be "centuries." I have always been of opinion that the law of leg before-wicket is unfair and gives the batsman an advantage to which he is not entitled. The batsman wears leg-pads, say two-and-a-half to three inches in width, on both legs wherewith to guard his wicket, i.e., the pad is one and a half inches beyond the width of each leg, and two legs make it three inches. Why should he be allowed to thus stop a straight ball from the bowler's hand in a direct line to the wicket? If he misses the ball with his bat, he ought not to be allowed to stop it with his padded legs. I am only speaking of a straight ball from the bowler's hand to the wicket, and maintain, as I have always done, that the batsman should be out. The law of leg-before-wicket should be altered accordingly. If a ball breaks in from the leg, the batsman should not be out in that case. The batsmen of the present day would not have made such long scores against the best round arm bowlers of the past. Did any one ever see such short-pitched balls as Kortright and Woods now bowl, in former days by good bowlers? Never-I have seen those two bowlers bowl balls pitching about half way. Fancy that in former days!

LOUIS HALL, the famous Yorkshire batsman, writes me from Uppingham:

"Referring to the article 'Cricket Centuries' but particularly to the l b w Rule, I should say, that looking at the matter from all standpoints, I cannot see that it would be advisable to make the law 'that if in the opinion of the umpire the ball would hit the wicket, then l b w.' My reasons are in the first place our climate is so uncertain that under certain conditions matches would be too short instead of too long, therefore from a cricket and a financial point of view, I think it is not within the range of practical politics. From an umpire's standpoint it would get him out of a great difficulty as the l b w is one of the most disputed points in the game."

RICHARD DAFT, expressing no personal opinion as to the law of l b w, contents himself with saying:-

"During my last season's umpiring in County Matches I was very pleased to find that the habit of deliberately putting the legs or body in front of a breaking ball was very little indulged in, and I think that it is gradually dying out; it certainly is less done than it was a few years ago. I am a great believer in the wisdom of the Marylebone Club, and I feel sure that when the proper time arrives for any alteration in the rule relating to 'Leg before Wicket,' the committee of Lord's, jointly with the captains of the first-class Counties, will make such alterations."

AN "OLD BLUE," who is no stranger to the pages of WISDEN, has kindly sent me his views. He writes as follows:-

"On the whole I agree with Mr. Bligh. Something must be done. But more is required than Mr. Bligh suggests. Though it gives great power to the umpire, I would allow him to say 'out' if the batsman never attempts to play the ball but deliberately stops it with his leg or goes in front of his wicket to save it. If the batsman plays at the ball, and it beats him and hits his leg, then the batsman would not be out, unless the ball were pitched straight. No man ought to go to the wickets to play with his legs, but with his bat. The great objection to a change is the additional responsibility thrown upon the umpire, who is often, at present, hardly judged, and, on some grounds, might be very unpopular. For this reason alone it may be said, leave things as they are, yet I see no other way of checking the habit, chiefly introduced at Nottingham. I am not so confident as Mr. Bligh that his suggestions would produce good bowlers round the wicket, because such bowlers would require short-leg, long-leg and long-stop. I do not believe there is a wicket-keeper alive who could do without a long-stop, if we possessed a really tip-top round-the-wicket bowler. The ball inside the leg that beat the batsman would beat the wicket-keeper too: he must in many cases lose sight of it. A false hit to leg is very often a catch to the long-stop. 'Oh! but the long-stop is the loss of a fielder.' Not at all, if he is required, any more than putting all the men to the 'off' for a particular kind of bowling. 'But the smooth grounds make the round-the-wicket bowling useless.' That remains to be seen. I do not think the present-day-players are at all proficient for leg-play, except when the ball breaks from the off, with over the wicket bowling. An off ball which can be seen all the way, can never be as deadly as one between the legs to the leg stump, which it is very difficult sometimes to follow. If the umpire had the power to give a man out who stopped the ball with his legs, without playing at it, the innings of not a few batsmen would be shortened by a round-the-wicket bowler."

MR. FREDK. GALE, the "Old Buffer," has favoured me with the following note on the Leg Before Wicket Rule:-

"I have been asked to 'speak a piece' about the vexed question of l b w After an apprenticeship of two seasons as a 'fag' at Winchester College, which means being a slave to the game-first season as semper longstop to practice wickets and a second as doing 'general utility' in fielding in the middle of the practice ground when three or four practice wickets were pitched on different sides of the special cricket turf which covered an area of about 80 yards square, I was passed quickly through the Junior XI and was promoted to the second XI, sixty years ago in 1838. From 1838 onwards I never remember the time when batsmen did not ask for guard from the spot over which bowler's hand would be in delivery and did not also ask 'are both my legs clear of the wicket from the bowler's hand.'? In those days lbw was given against a batsman who stopped a ball which would have hit the wicket if travelling in a line from bowler's hand to it-the wicket-with anything but his bat. The chivalry of the game demanded that the bowler should always, if asked, show the umpire where his hand would be. Moreover in those days a boy who was out of cricket fagging was expected to learn umpiring thoroughly and to act as umpire whenever wanted; the second master, Charles Wordsworth of world-known fame, who was constantly playing, was quite satisfied with the umpiring. The Hon. Mr. Bligh has hit the right nail on the head and has most accurately described the 'on break' of the bowlers fifty or sixty years ago and his remedy of making 'the 8 inch ribbon of turf' between the wickets sacred ground to the bowler to be intruded on only by the batsman's bat, in stopping a ball which would hit the wicket is right. I saw all the best bowlers in leg-before-wicket from my Town Malling days from 1837, and my London days since 1842 when bowlers had the benefit of their break. Until the last 20 years the bowler was always allowed full benefit of his break. Many years ago I proposed in John Lillywhite's Guide to have a parallelogram about four yards long and two feet wide, the base of which would be bowler's crease on both sides of wicket, starting from two points measured along the bowler's crease. Lord Bessborough and Mr. I. D. Walker reduced the width by eight inches and had the parallelogram drawn with whitewash on the ground at Harrow and found that it did not interfere in any way with the batsman's sight. Their parallelogram gave the bowler 4in. break on either side of the ribbon of turf between the wickets. My suggestion was that any ball pitching in front of or within the parallelogram should be stopped with the bat only. Lord Bessborough in a letter to me which is before me now dated 1888, writes:-If the M. C. C. agree to any change in the law of l b w, your lines to mark a space opposite to or within which the ball must pitch to get a lbw ought to be tried. In 1845 Fuller Pilch, who had the Canterbury County Ground and who took much pains with me, taught me a little more, namely: to go a few yards behind the wicket and take guard to the bowler's hand, using the middle stump as an alignment. According to present practice I have seen many batsmen get practically four or five innings by shameful abuse of the pad. The good old veteran umpire-Robert Thoms- has told me again and again, and authorised me to put it in print, that if the old practice of giving l. b. w. from bowler's hand to wicket was authorized by law he could judge it easily.

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