See ball, hit ball. Nothing to it. Switch hit? Go on then. Bugger, missed it, hit me on the pad. Outside the line, surely. Out?! LBW? But I changed my stance, umpire. There’s a law about this now, isn’t there?
Cricket will always be a game of cute and complicated rules, otherwise known as The Laws of Cricket. It is one of the reasons we choose to play and watch a sport which sounds so simple: bowling a ball to a batsman so he (or she) can hit it. I doubt many of us cricket lovers can claim to know all the laws, yet it is cricket’s laws – and obscurities – which make it such a gripping game, across all formats.
It is a game that has gone from underarm bowling (Law 24,1b, and remember Trevor Chappell?) to coloured clothing, and even the much-maligned ‘super sub’ ruling which saw one of Vikram Solanki’s last comebacks as an international cricketer produce a fifty at number eight.
The latest new ODI regulations are very much a case of keeping up with the times. But will they actually make much difference? Two new balls, so might it swing for a few more overs? I don’t think it’s going to stop the likes of Virender Sehwag or Brendon McCullum from teeing off, but the recent series between India and England did show that there appeared to be a bit more of an advantage to the bowlers in the first ten overs.
There are to be no more runners allowed for injured batsman, which I don’t mind, as it is often more exciting and unpredictable if a batsman is batting on one leg.
The issue of the bowler running out a batsman backing up is one of my pet hates. Yes, sometimes batsmen can go over the top in trying to claim an unfair advantage, but the amount of times I’ve seen bowlers stop and do it in games I have been playing in, purely because they think it looks good, is simply annoying. It just leaves everyone else shouting: “Get on with it”. I think it’s an inane law, but MCC and ICC clearly disagree.
Not that long ago I witnessed another incident, caused by another new, updated law. I was playing in a village match for my local team when one of the bowlers fell foul of what I would regard as a pointless law.
Unbeknown to most of us, you are now not allowed to bowl the ball into the ground when warming up for your bowling spell. Why? Because the ball might get a little dirty and enable reverse swing. Now, I can’t think of many occasions when reverse swing has happened in a game I’ve been playing in – we’re more worried about whether the teas are up to standard.
The particular bowler concerned, moreover, could not have been bowling at more than 30 miles an hour, so he had as much chance of scuffing up the ball by bowling it into the outfield as Freddie Flintoff has of getting in before midnight. But the player was still warned for doing it, and then, almost from habit, proceeded to do it again a few overs later, causing him to be suspended from bowling for half an hour. He also stormed off the field at this point, which didn’t make matters any better.
To the letter of the law, the umpire was right to pull the bowler up on it, but the game’s laws are also there to be interpreted by the umpires and should always be sprinkled with a touch of common sense. We were even told off one time for practising with an old ball five minutes before play started, which is apparently contrary to another law. Why?
Throughout last summer, though, I continually saw county and international players still doing this. Now surely, if anyone should be allowed to abuse this law, it should not be players who are the role models of the sport.
As long as cricket is played the laws will be ever-changing. Keeping up with the latest innovations, such as the switch hit, is vital to the development of the game at all levels.
Some say rules are made to broken, and some of them are. Perhaps it is just part of cricket’s appeal when the more pedantic ones, like Law 17,3b (ii) as outlined above, are applied.