Cricket | Time to get rid of the baggage and modernise the LBW law

The simplification of the lbw rules will ensure that batsmen use their bats more rather than hide behind their pads.  

The 12th century French thinker and theologian Peter Abelard is credited with the saying, “Only god can judge the intentions of an individual.” Human beings can only judge actions. Yet, when the leg before wicket law was codified, in the 18th century, it stated the batsman was out if he “put his leg before the wicket with a design to stop the ball…” Umpires were thus called to judge intention.

Law 36 has remained a bugbear, calling for judgement of line, intent, and recently, predictive path decided by a robot. It requires the impact to be between wicket and wicket. The batsman could be out even outside the off stump, according a later refinement, if he made no attempt to play the ball. But a ball pitching outside the leg stump, as every schoolboy knows, cannot get an LBW decision.

The Don’s take

In the 1930s, Don Bradman wrote to the Marylebone Cricket Club, custodians of the Laws, suggesting that a batsman be given out to a ball pitching outside the off stump if in the opinion of the umpire it would have gone on to hit the stumps (regardless of where it pitched).

“Leg guards are designed to prevent injury,” wrote Bradman, “not to enable protection of the stump.”

Now Ian Chappell has said much the same thing (“The pads are there to save the batsman from injury not dismissal.”) while advocating that a ball pitched outside the leg stump be treated similarly.

In espncricinfo he says the Law should read, “Any delivery that strikes the pad without first hitting the bat and, in the umpire’s opinion, would go on to hit the stumps is out regardless of whether or not a shot is attempted.” So much simpler and logical.

Desired effect

It echoes a proposal by the County Cricket Council in 1881 which the MCC did not accept. In 1902 it was tried out by the second class counties, and the consensus was that it had the desired effect of stopping men playing with their legs and not the bat.

But what is so special about the ball pitched outside the leg stump in the first place? There are two issues, one cultural, and the other physical.

The physical was spelt out by Ranji in his Jubilee Book of Cricket thus: “A good length ball pitching on or just outside the leg stump is the most likely of all to light upon the ‘blind spot’.” His friend and equally famous cricketer C B Fry clarified further: “the blind spot is created by the batsman himself when his head is in such a position with regard to the ball that his eyes have no chance.”

All sports that involve a moving ball have blind spots for the player, but only a batsman is protected from dismissal by the rules. If it was done to discourage negative bowling, umpires have the power to deal with that now.

Gentleman’s game

The cultural reason is interesting, and should have no place in today’s cricket. In Victorian times when the game developed, it was considered ill-mannered, uncouth, vulgar even, to play a shot behind the wicket on the leg side. It was about the class system, the amateur spirit, Henry Newbolt and his Play up! Play up and play the game. It was not Christian. Which perhaps explains why, after Ranji invented the leg glance, it was said he never played a Christian stroke in his life!

As Fry explained, “ if one hit the ball in an unexpected direction on the on side, one apologized to the bowler… the opposing captain never put the fielder there; he expected you to drive on the off side like a gentleman.”

Over the years, batsmen have got away with pad play, kicking away spinners on a wearing pitch, or playing bat and pad close together to confuse the umpire who has to decide which the ball hit first.

Increasingly batsmen dominate the modern game, so they can afford to give up some of the protection provided by the Laws. Chappell’s proposal is sound: Forget where the ball pitches and whether it strikes the pad outside the line or not; if it’s going to hit the stumps, it’s out.

Back to basics

It will return cricket to its basics: bowlers trying to hit the stumps, and batsmen preventing them from doing so with bat in hand. Pads, gloves, helmets, thigh guards, elbow guards, forearm guards, boxes, rib shields, chest guards are protective equipment meant to give batsmen a sense of physical safety. Like umpires, they should be noticed only when they fail at their jobs. Or, in the case of gloves when the ball nicks them on the way to a fielder, and pads when they get in the way of the stumps regardless of where the ball has previously been.

The MCC hasn’t said yes to Bradman’s suggestion yet, so Chappell might have to wait awhile.

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 10:01:26 AM |

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