A thought experiment concerning the Laws of Cricket

This kernel for this post was the reaction to Kevin Pietersen’s “switch hitting” exploits in the recent One Day International against New Zealand, but this post is not about switch hitting as such. The thought experiment was suggested to me by a friend (and now team mate) Graham Pontin and it is an interesting one.

The furore caused an examination of Laws 36 (Leg Before Wicket) and Law 41 (The fielder). Law 36 says the Leg Side is where the batsman’s legs are when the ball comes into play (at the start of the bowler’s run up). Law 41 says that there shall be no more than two fielders behind square on the leg side when the bowler bowls the ball.

Here’s the thought experiment: imagine I am a well-known international right-handed batsman in a Test Match (I said it was a thought experiment – use your imagination!). The field is set – there are two slips and a gully. At the start of the bowler’s run up I take a left-handed stance. During the run-up I change round to my normal right-handed stance and play a normal shot.

If the slips had lined up for my initial left-handed stance then I have taken them out of the game by turning round; it’s a free hit. If the slips had lined up for a right-hander then it would be a No Ball on account of them being behind square on the “leg side”. If I am struck on the pad by a ball pitching outside what is effectively my off stump, it’s Not Out on account of the Law saying it’s actually my leg stump.

It seems like I am getting a clear advantage by lining up the wrong way then turning round as the bowler approaches.

The question is: what should the bowler do? Or perhaps, being a bowler and therefore somewhat dim, what should his captain tell him to do?

1. Bowl outside the (right hander’s) off stump
Bad tactic because there are no slips or gully.

2. Refuse to bowl until I turn round
There are big fines for slow over rates these days. You’ve got to bowl sometime.

3. Bowl wide outside the (right hander’s) leg stump
This seems to be the most promising tactic – the umpire ought not to call a Wide since it is legally still the off stump. However, this is stalemate – you can’t get me out like that. And I could still improvise a shot if I know this is the tactic you have chosen.

Does the Law need to be changed? I think not – there’s always Law 42 (Fair and unfair play). As an umpire I would be quite happy to say that the imaginary batsman is not acting within the spirit and traditions of the game, and to impose the sanctions described in law 42.10 (Batsman wasting time) – one warning to the batsman then for a second offense five runs to the fielding side. I didn’t actually know this sanction existed – the runs are added to the fielding side’s previous innings. Does anybody know if this has ever happened?

This is not to stifle innovation – Kevin Pietersen’s exploits are admirable and an adornment to the game. But a batsman attempting to exploit the Laws in a legalistic way is certainly wasting everybody’s time and should be penalised.

There’s your answer, Graham.

1 Response to “A thought experiment concerning the Laws of Cricket”

  1. 1 Graham Pontin July 4, 2008 at 15:16

    Right, I had a long reply to this all typed out and it vanished. I hate blogs, I really do.

    Let me boil it down to 2 points:

    1) Consider an truly ambidexterous batsman, I don’t think he is playing outwith the spirit of the game by turning around. But what he is doing is making a mokery of fielding. Say goodbye to slips – what would be the point. Say hello instead to 4/5 fields with everyone in generic positions. For me, that’s boring – good fielding and well set fields can influence a game hugely. But you need to be able to bowl to plans and bowl to fields – how are you supposed to do that when you don’t know which way round the batsman is going to face?

    2) If the batsman is allowed to turn round then the field must be allowed to counter this by moving also. This is expressly forbidden (a fielder may not materially change his or her position once the ball is live). So a batsman can turn round but I can’t run up from deep-backwards-square-leg to Point? Ludicrous.

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