Queensland's Marnus Labuschagne became the first player to be penalised under the "fake fielding" law, which was recently incorporated by the ICC into its playing conditions.
Attempting to intercept a drive from Cricket Australia XI batsman Param Uppal in the JLT Cup, Labuschagne, fielding at cover, dived to his right, stood up and mocked a throw as the ball had passed him. Uppal stopped in his stride, hesitated for a moment, but eventually finished the run. The umpires consequently awarded five runs to CA XI for violating Law 41.5, which deals with "deliberate distraction, deception or obstruction of a batsman".
According to the lawmaker, these actions are against the spirit of cricket. But is mock fielding, which has the same five-run penalty as ball tampering, a severe violation?
What exactly prompted the MCC, custodians of the laws, to determine mock fielding as an indiscretion? Also is distraction, deception or an obstruction easy to interpret for the on-field umpires? Fraser Stewart, MCC's Laws of Cricket manager, reveals the details around Law 41.5.
Why was the "fake fielding" law introduced?
Stewart: The reason for the introduction of this law was that fielders were deliberately pretending to have the ball as a means of fooling the batsmen, thereby preventing them from taking further runs. The batsmen would see a slide and a feigned throw and would decline, for example, a second run. By the time they realised the ball had not been thrown, it would then be too late to take the second run. This was felt to be unfair. It was becoming an increasingly used practice at various levels of the game. It formed one of the questions in MCC's global consultation and the response was overwhelmingly in favour of introducing a law to ban the practice.
So Labuschagne was clearly guilty of Law 41.5?
Stewart: Fielders may not try to deceive either batsman. The fielder here [Labuschagne] has tried to deceive the batsmen, attempting to convince them that there is no chance of a run. It is clear to see how the feigned throw stops them temporarily. The umpires are completely correct to award five penalty runs under Law 41.5. The batsmen can also choose who is to face the next ball, and the ball should not count as one for the over.
If Labuschagne had not mocked the throw, would he still have been penalised?
Stewart: If the fielder had just dived, it would not have been a breach of the law. He made a genuine attempt to stop the ball by diving. He just missed it but had done nothing wrong with that part. Where he erred was when he did the fake throw. This quite clearly led the batsmen to believe that he had indeed stopped the ball.
In other circumstances, if the slide takes place when the fielder isn't close to the ball and it wasn't a genuine attempt to stop it, the umpires will have to decide if they considered the slide to have been an attempt to deceive the batsman. Context is everything and it's hard to give a ruling without seeing each case.
But how advisable is it to have a law that is so open to interpretation and subjectivity. Take this example. Would Kumar Sangakkara have been guilty of this new law?
Stewart: The Sangakkara example is less clear-cut. Technically, he is deliberately attempting to deceive the batsman, but I'm not sure what advantage he is gaining - not that the gaining of an advantage needs to be proved. It seems to be done more out of jest than out of an attempt to cause confusion and prevent a run being scored. Under the letter of the Law, one could not argue with the penalty being imposed. Equally, however, an umpire might choose to handle it by having a quiet word and informing him of the new law. As with any law like this, it is always going to be for the umpires to decide what is "deliberate" and what is "deception".
There are wicketkeepers who collect the ball down the leg side, turn around pretending they have missed the ball, and run a batsman out after he sets off for a single. Does that count as deception?
Stewart: If a wicketkeeper is deliberately trying to make it look like he has missed the ball when he has it in his hands for a stumping, it is an attempt to deceive the batsman and would fall foul of the law. It is for the umpires on the field to decide if it is deception or not as per Law 41.5.2.
While collecting throws, the Indian wicketkeeper MS Dhoni, for example, pretends like there is nothing happening to lull the running batsman into a false sense of security before whipping the bails off quickly when the throw comes in. Is that a foul act, too?
Stewart: If Dhoni is deliberately trying to make it look like he has missed the ball when he has it in his hands for a stumping, it is an attempt to deceive the batsman and would fall foul of the law. However, transferring it onto the stumps in a subtle way after receiving the ball would be acceptable. It is for the umpires on the field to decide if it is deception or not.
How about a fielder in the deep, chasing after a ball and sliding when the boundary rider is actually going to pick the ball up and throw. Would that be the violation?
Stewart: As for the fielder sliding - that would depend on context - is he/she trying to convince the batsmen that the ball is closer to being thrown in than it actually is? If so, it is deception. Is he/she is simply getting out of the way so their team-mate has a clear throw? If so, it is not deception. How close to the ball was he when he made the slide, and was there any feigned throw? These are the matters that the umpire should consider.
Law 41.5: Deliberate distraction, deception or obstruction of batsman
41.5.1 In addition to 41.4, it is unfair for any fielder wilfully to attempt, by word or action, to distract, deceive or obstruct either batsman after the striker has received the ball.
41.5.2 It is for either one of the umpires to decide whether any distraction, deception or obstruction is wilful or not.
41.5.3 If either umpire considers that a fielder has caused or attempted to cause such a distraction, deception or obstruction, he/she shall immediately call and signal Dead ball and inform the other umpire of the reason for the call.
41.5.4 Neither batsman shall be dismissed from that delivery.
41.5.5 If an obstruction involves physical contact, the umpires together shall decide whether or not an offence under Law 42 (Players' conduct) has been committed.
22.214.171.124 If an offence under Law 42 (Players' conduct) has been committed, they shall apply the relevant procedures in Law 42 and shall also apply each of 41.5.7 to 41.5.9.
126.96.36.199 If they consider that there has been no offence under Law 42 (Players' conduct), they shall apply each of 41.5.6 to 41.5.10.
41.5.6 The bowler's end umpire shall
- award 5 Penalty runs to the batting side.
- inform the captain of the fielding side of the reason for this action and as soon as practicable inform the captain of the batting side
41.5.7 The ball shall not count as one of the over.
41.5.8 Any runs completed by the batsmen before the offence shall be scored, together with any runs for penalties awarded to either side. Additionally, the run in progress shall be scored whether or not the batsmen had already crossed at the instant of the offence.
41.5.9 The batsmen at the wicket shall decide which of them is to face the next delivery.
41.5.10 The umpires together shall report the occurrence as soon as possible after the match to the Executive of the offending side and to any Governing Body responsible for the match, who shall take such action as is considered appropriate against the captain, any other individuals concerned and, if appropriate, the team.
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo