The Edges Of Law
As the Sehwag-Suraj Randiv episode showed, the laws of the game can sometimes make cricket look silly. Here are some bewildering possibilities:
- Scenario I One ball left, two runs to win. A batsman on 96 hits the ball towards the boundary, completes two runs running. The ball subsequently crosses the boundary, but he doesn't get a four—because the match was over as soon as he completed two runs. If he had not run, he would have got four runs and reached his 100.
- Scenario II One run is required off the last ball. It's a no-ball. In the excitement, the batsman doesn't see the signal, runs, and fails to safely reach the crease. As the match is over with the no-ball, he'd be not out. By the same token, if he hits a six or four (like Sehwag did), he doesn’t get those runs.
- Scenario III Two runs are required off the last ball. It's a no-ball, the batsmen try for a
single and one of them is out. In this case, he's out. Why? Because the no-ball wouldn’t have completed the match.
- Scenario IV One required off the last ball, the batsman is stumped off a wide ball. The team gets one run and wins, because the stumping happens post-result.
- Scenario V Six is needed off the over and four runs have been scored off the first five balls. The umpire miscounts, declares the match over, handing victory to the bowling side. The laws state: "if an umpire miscounts the number of balls, the over as counted by the umpire shall stand."
“The law is an ass.” Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, having bequeathed us this ageless phrase, further wished that the law’s “eye may be opened by experience”. In fact, the law isn’t always an ass—peculiar circumstances make it so. Nor does legislation necessarily make a better man—you can legislate to your heart’s content and yet produce knaves who’ll twist the law. Like poor old Suraj Randiv who, in a moment he’ll probably regret all his life, bowled a deliberate no-ball that denied Virender Sehwag a century. This earned him the wrath of the Indian media, even though he didn’t actually break any law in the MCC’s book.
Randiv’s act, though, has brought scrutiny upon the laws. But the law that he worked around to deny Sehwag a century isn’t without logic. As umpire Krishna Hariharan notes, laws aren’t made for individual milestones. “The match ended with the no-ball because a result was achieved,” Hariharan says. “If the law is changed so that runs made by the batsman are allowed, shouldn’t dismissals be allowed too? Yes, that too could affect the result of a match.” Hariharan cites an example to illustrate his point: A team needs two to win off the last ball of a Test match, with one wicket in hand. Now, under changed rules, if a batsman is given out stumped off a wide ball, Hariharan says it would lead to a situation where a batsman is out despite a result being reached, a situation he terms absurd. But isn’t it equally absurd that a batsman hits a ball out of the ground and gets nothing?
Laws indeed can lead to absurdities. Picture this: with two runs to win off the last ball, a batsman on 96 hits the ball towards the boundary and runs, fearing the ball could be stopped. He completes two runs, and then the ball crosses the boundary. The team wins, but the batsman is stranded on 98. Why? Because the match got over with the second run he ran. If he hadn’t run at all, he would have got a four. Aren’t such laws flawed? “Perhaps the rules could be changed in these cases,” concedes Hariharan.
The laws of cricket sagely observe that “the incident on which a ruling is required (by the MCC) must not be merely invented for disputation but must have actually occurred in play.” Thus, it required a Trevor Chappell to bowl underarm for the MCC to formally ban underarm bowling; Dennis Lillee helped formalise the rules about the bat when he walked in with an aluminium bat in a Test. So, it can be done.
Incidentally, former minister Shashi Tharoor, invoking the spirit of Mr Bumble, declared that the law is an ass because if Sehwag had tried to go for a run off that no-ball, he could have been run out. No, the ruling is that the match is over with the no-ball—he would have stayed not out. He could be run out only if two runs were needed and he had attempted a run. (See infographic)
Yet, there are glaring potential problems with some laws which should be addressed before they stir controversy. According to the laws, “If an umpire miscounts the number of balls, the over as counted by the umpire shall stand.” Now, suppose an umpire miscounts to five or seven balls in the last over of a match—it can affect the result of a game. This one’s easy to rectify—simply allow the TV umpire to intervene if he notices such errors. But the TV umpire can give his opinion only if he’s asked by the on-field umpires. “When an on-field umpire makes an error, he obviously believes he’s right,” says former India opener Aakash Chopra. “So, in cases of glaring errors, the third umpire should be allowed to intervene, unasked.”
There are rules that need clarification. One refers to the fractious issue of ball-tampering. The laws allow the fielders to “polish the ball provided that no artificial substance is used....” Asks Hariharan, “Is saliva a natural substance? And supposing it is, what about saliva laced with a lozenge in a player’s mouth? This law requires immediate clarification.” Here’s another one—when a batsman tries to damage the pitch for his bowlers’ benefit in the next innings, the laws can’t do much. The batsman can be warned and five runs awarded to the other team for subsequent infringements. “But if his team can afford to be penalised, in lieu of the advantage it gains by bowling on a damaged pitch, and continues to damage the pitch, the umpire can’t do anything,” says Hariharan. He recommends empowering the umpire to declare the batsman out after repeated offence.
Some strongly feel sledging too should be legislated against. “It’s against the spirit of the game to abuse opponents, but players do it all the time,” says former umpire A.V. Jayaprakash. “All abuse should be barred by law, like racial abuse is.”
Home’s a good place to begin a fairplay initiative, because there’s much dirt in the domestic game. Kicking the spirit of cricket out of the ground happens all the time, says Chopra. “For instance, bowlers do deny batsmen centuries the way Randiv did,” he says. “Ball-tampering happens, time-wasting happens, players damage the pitch. There are fewer cameras, no media scrutiny, and the umpire can’t see it all.”
Observers feel the “spirit” needs to be codified into actual crime and punishment. But Chopra counters, “Cricket is distinct from the other sports because of its focus on fairplay. We must retain this. And however many laws you make, a player can think of a way to cheat. If Randiv had been more cunning, he could have bowled a marginal no-ball and nobody would have known.”
But strict and certain punishment is a deterrent. As Charles Dickens’s impossibly officious beadle noted, experience and amendment might evict a few asses from the law books—at least the more egregious ones.