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

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