The loud appeals for LBW and umpires' decisions on them have been a big source of trouble in cricket. How correct a decision may be, neither the batsmen are satisfied nor scores of spectators. Despite their good intentions and the best of judgement the umpires remain the targets of criticism. Till the last few years when the Players' Code of Conduct was not strictly enforced, more than often the LBW decisions caused altercations, protests, demonstrations and at times open conflicts between players and umpires. The appointment of international umpires did solve the problem to some extent but the doubts continue to arise whenever a local umpire is appointed. There is rarely a tour from which a visiting side returns home without frustration caused on account of some doubtful LBW decisions The advancement in technology and the introduction of a TV Umpire, however, brought some solace to the game as well as the spectators. It eliminated to a considerable extent the chances of doubtful decisions in respect of run out, stumping and bat and pad catches etc but the most controversial of all, LBW continues to remain the major point of conflict.
LBW is governed by Law-36 of the Laws of Cricket, which reads: - "The striker shall be out LBW in the circumstances set out below".
(a) Striker attempting to play the ball: The striker shall be out LBW, if he first intercepts with any part of his person, dress or equipment a fair ball which would have hit the wicket and which has not previously touched his bat or a hand holding the bat provided that: (i) The ball pitched, in a straight line between wicket and wicket or on the off side of the striker's wicket, or was intercepted full pitch, and (ii) The point of impact is in a straight line between wicket and wicket, even if above the level of the bails.
(b) Striker making no attempt to play the ball: The striker shall be out LBW even if the ball is intercepted outside the line of the off stump, if in the opinion of the Umpire, he has made no genuine attempt to play the ball with his bat, but has intercepted the ball with some part of his person and if the other circumstances set out in (a) above apply.
The above rule is reproduced from the Laws of Cricket 1980 Code. Despite innumerable conflicts and controversies that took place during the last two decades, the law remains the same. The ICC perhaps did not feel that there was any requirement of a change or improvement in the law. It is, however, learnt that South Africa is experimenting to solve the problem by placing the subject under the ambit of advancing TV technology, the result of which shall be eagerly awaited.
To discuss the problem in a comprehensive manner let us trace the history of LBW. The law was first enacted in 1774 and read, "The striker is out if he puts his leg before the wicket with a design to stop the ball and actually prevent the ball from hitting it". It is said that the LBW law may not have been framed if a player named Ring was not deliberately putting his leg in the way and taking advantage out of it. The law was revised nine times between 1774 and 1831 and in each form the fact as to where the ball pitched was considered immaterial.
In 1883 the MCC appointed a special committee to review the laws of cricket. After considering its report the following law was passed: "That the practice of deliberately defending the wicket with the person instead of the bat is contrary to the spirit of the game and inconsistent with strict fairness. The MCC will discount and prevent this practice by every means in their power".
Further importance was given to the subject, when at a special meeting held in 1901 another resolution was passed saying: "If with any part of his person except the hand, which is between wicket and wicket the batsman intercepts the ball which would have hit the wicket, he is out LBW." The most significant thing about this resolution was that besides being very abstract it embraced the leg side as well as the off side. It was carried by 259 to 188 votes but did not become the law because a two third majority was not obtained. The game thus remained batting oriented. Too much of liberty given to the batsmen encouraged excessive pad play depriving the bowlers of countless wickets. The statistics reveal that in 1870 the LBW ratio was as remote as 1 in 40. It further dropped to 1 in 67 by 1882-84 when the Australian bowler Fred Spoforth took 404 wickets of which only 6 were LBW. It would be interesting to know that by 1980 the ratio rose to 1 in 6.
In 1932 the game was hit by the famous bodyline controversy. Harold Larwood the exponent of this alarming bodyline technique claimed justification of his method due to the frustration caused by the then LBW law. He suggested that the only practical move to neutralize his leg theory was to alter the LBW law to allow "Out" decision if the ball would have hit the wicket even if pitched off the wicket on the off side.
There was no doubt that in those days the bat was predominant and the bowlers had to toil hard to get the wickets. In English County Cricket in 1933 no less than 34 innings of 200 and above were played and there was wide spread dissatisfaction with the way batsmen abused the LBW law by covering up the wickets. In 1935 the Advisory County Cricket Committee voted to give trial to a change in the law so that a batsman could be given out to a ball pitching outside the off stump. This was precisely what Larwood had suggested. The change was aimed at obliterating the excessive pad play that had crept into the game. Wisden, however, felt that the new rule did not go far enough, because it gave an apparent advantage to the off spinners and the in-swing bowlers while the leg spinners were ignored. But the experiments conducted on different types of pitches in the variable weather of England showed that the game had benefited from the alteration.
Although the revised rule provided adequate advantage to the bowler, the cricket world stood where it was in the early 30's. With the game having advanced and the batsmen having become accomplished in the art of batting, they are openly exploiting the inherent deficiencies of the rule despite strict umpiring and more emphasis laid on players' discipline. It is surprising that the Laws of Cricket- Code 2000 carries not even the change of punctuation in Law-36. It remains, as it was more than half a century ago. One really fails to understand, why the top cricket brains in the ICC have not felt the need for a change in the law which has become terribly out of date with progress of the game as well as advancement in the field of technology.
The leg spinner who remained the victim of injustice for all these years continues to suffer from the grave disadvantage. Deprived of the benefits of this law, the leg spinners are gradually becoming a rare species. The dire need to bring them back in the game is being universally felt. To encourage the leg spinners, the law needs to be altered to give the same penalty on the leg side as the one that applies on the off. Similarly where the point of impact is discussed in Clause (b)(ii), the words "even if above the level of the bails" contradict Clause (a) in which the interception applies to ' a fair ball which would have hit the wicket". Being contrary to the spirit of the rule it needs to be deleted.
An LBW appeal has always been one of the most difficult decisions required of an umpire to adjudicate. The decision is based on the judgement and opinion of the umpire, who is considered to be in the best possible position to make a decision. Since many of the decisions being doubtful create conflicts and controversies, there is certainly a need to bring perfection in this important aspect of the game. This can be done either by adopting the modern technology or by improving the standards of umpiring.
According to the South African plan, the on field umpires will be allowed to utilize the "LBW mat" to request assistance from the television umpire for verifying whether the ball is pitched outside the line of the leg-stump and whether the first point of impact of the ball on the striker's person is between the wicket and wicket. Considering the television technology supplemented by the LBW mat having advanced enough to find the fact, South Africa is planning to try the system in their domestic cricket, the results of which shall be eagerly awaited.
Since the advancement in TV technology has helped a lot in modernizing the game and raising the spectators' interest, there is no harm in introducing the same to get rid of the malady that ails this most controversial aspect of cricket. The top experts in television technology will, however, have to study one important aspect in detail and find a solution. As per the existing practice the television cameras covering the pitch are mounted on platforms 20-40 feet high. They can perhaps produce the LBW mat showing line of the ball but cannot correctly pick up flight of the ball after it has pitched on the track. The flight that determines whether the ball would have hit the stumps can only be judged from the point where the umpire stands.
The matter was discussed with Umpire Khizer Hayat, a veteran of 36 Tests and 62 One-Day Internationals, who as a member of the International Panel of Umpires supervised matches during the World Cup Championships held in 1987, 1992 and 1996. He is of the opinion that the plan to entrust the 3rd Umpire to adjudicate on LBW decisions would not be feasible. He referred to the book, "Cricket umpiring and scoring by Tom Smith MBE," which as the official book of the Association of Cricket Umpires, contains the MCC's laws of cricket with interpretations and definitions for umpires and is considered as the Bible for umpiring. The guidelines given therein provide lot of discretion to the umpires to judge every case on its individual merit and give a decision. This cannot possibly be transferred to the 3rd Umpire who would be fully dependent on the camera picture absolutely devoid of the considerations that the umpires have in giving a decision. Another international umpire who was contacted for his views on the subject was also of the same opinion. All said and done, one may conclude that LBW is going to remain the source of trouble in cricket perhaps for a long time.