A turn and many twists

Cricket

David Warner stretched the rules with his switch hit, a shot that found approval from the governing body.

Little did Shiva Singh realise that his bizarre yet interesting style of delivery, that he used sparingly to keep the surprise element going, would trigger a raging debate, even forcing the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the guardians of the laws of cricket, to issue a clarification. 

The Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner, who was part of India’s under-19 World Cup winning team early this year, took a 360-degree turn at the crease before delivering a ball during a C K Nayudu (U-23) match against Bengal in Kalyani. Umpire Vinod Seshan immediately declared it a ‘dead ball’ and then warned the UP captain and the concerned bowler that he would continue to deem it a dead ball every time the ball was bowled in that fashion.       

Former ICC Elite Panel umpire Simon Taufel has weighed in on the controversy and found the bowler to be at fault as did the MCC. Quoting the law that deals with “deliberate distraction, deception or obstruction of batsmen” the MCC said the umpire had the authority to take appropriate action as he deems fit in such cases.

Kevin Pietersen
Kevin Pietersen

The debate here is multi-dimensional. The first one: are the bowlers constantly put in a disadvantageous position by too many restrictions even as the batsmen are allowed to innovate with their strokes. And secondly, the interpretation of the law itself by the match officials.

When Kevin Pietersen, largely credited with inventing the switch-hit, employed the shot more than a decade ago, it inspired awe and aversion in equal measure. While it was incredible to watch a batsman change his stance (from right-hander to left-hander and vice versa) during the course of a bowler’s run-up and still pull off a shot, bowlers loathed the move because they would have set the field to a right-hander and thought it put them in distinct disadvantage. The MCC decided against banning switch-hit and even went on to say that “the stroke is exciting for the game of cricket.”

Shouldn’t then bowlers be allowed to be a bit cheeky? While it may not be as exhilarating as a switch-hit, it is not easy to twirl 360-degree at the final stride of your delivery, still maintain balance and deliver a perfectly legal delivery. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander too. 

The MCC’s clarification also appears a bit skewed towards batsmen. While it says there should be no issues with the twirl so long as it is part of a bowler’s run-up, it has objection when it is introduced as a surprise element in which case it becomes a distraction.

“The law states that the offence is the attempt to distract the batsman, rather than the striker actually being distracted. Consequently, it was for the umpire to decide if he felt that the tactic was done as an attempt to distract the striker,” MCC said in its post.

“Unless the 360-degree twirl was part of the bowler’s run-up for every ball, the umpire may need to consider whether he/she feels that the twirl was done in an attempt to distract the batsman in some way.

“This is particularly so if there was no apparent advantage to be gained from the twirl, unlike, for example, the bowler varying the width of the release point or the length of his/her run-up, which are entirely lawful.”

So then does any batsman deliberately give any indication before executing a switch-hit? The batsman changes his stance either after a bowler has bowled his delivery (mostly in case of spinners) or when he is about to deliver the ball which maybe too late for the bowler to change plan or even stop himself from bowling.

Former India left-arm spinner Murali Kartik expressed the sentiments of the bowlers. Kartik, who has been vocal about bowlers’ plight, wasn’t too amused by MCC’s explanation. “Did MCC come and say (former South African spinner) Paul Adams’ action was distracting the batsman? At the time of loading up is there any specific rule that says you have to load up in a specific way,” Kartik asked.

When pointed out that the law is fine if a particular action is a regular part of a bowler’s run-up, Kartik had his retort ready and had a few questions for the MCC.

“So when batsmen move around the crease do they do it regularly? Do batsmen tell bowlers when they are going to play switch-hit? Or when they use the back of the bat, Andrew Symonds was using back of the bat at one stage. When the batsmen start playing sweeps or reverse sweeps does MCC say it’s distracting the bowlers?

“Ok, I will give it to them, it’s in the rules. Then what about Mankading (running out a non-striker when he backs up too far)? Why did people make such a fuss about spirit of the game when I ran out a batsman who was clearly flouting the rule and gaining unfair advantage over a bowler? Seriously, those framing the laws need to clear up their muddled thoughts.”

TV grabs of Shiva Singh’s innovative approach which was frowned upon by the officials during the C K Nayudu game recently.
TV grabs of Shiva Singh’s innovative approach which was frowned upon by the officials during the C K Nayudu game recently.

The issue, according to a BCCI umpire, isn’t as simple as favouring batsmen or putting bowlers in a disadvantageous position. “I would say the umpire (Seshan) showed good presence of the mind (to call it a dead ball),” he noted. “When there is an ambit in the law, you can always cover yourself. Deception or distraction is not a word to be followed by one and all. The MCC themselves have given a rejoinder that it’s the umpire’s call. It’s a judgement call. Even if he had not called it a dead ball, he would have been perfectly alright.

A grey area

“It’s a very grey area. Anything observed by the umpire that’s not usual is typically called a dead ball. For example, when a cap of a fielder at short-leg falls accidentally, the umpire immediately calls a dead ball though it may not cause a great damage to the proceedings.”

But the official doesn’t agree that the law is at fault and says that allowing switch-hit and banning 360-degree-twirl ball are two totally different things. The umpire may have a point here.

Can a batsman complain about a leg-spinner bowling a googly with no discernible change in action or about a pacer bowling a knuckle ball that comes considerably slower than a normal fast delivery and often deceives the batsman? Bowlers have also tried Lasith Malinga-type round-arm ball that’s distinct from their stock delivery. 

The umpire pointed out in particular to Kedar Jadhav, whose round-armish flat deliveries have become handy for India. 

“If you look at Kedar Jadhav, his right knee is almost touching the ground,” he said. “His arm is a different issue again. When he is bowling over the stumps beyond the imaginary line, which is middle stump to middle stump, that becomes a no-ball because it’s bowling like round the stumps. But as an umpire with the naked eye how do you adjudicate that? So you allow them to get away with that. Isn’t it putting the batsmen on the backfoot there?,” he reasoned. 

He, however, believes Shiva Singh has set the cat among the pigeons. “There are going to be discussions and deliberations about it in the future. After this you will certainly envisage myriad such situations, and if that happens to be in an international match, it can lead to bigger controversy. When people sit down to review laws next they may bring in some more clauses to be clearer about the rules but then the ambiguity will always remain because no clause can cover all situations. You learn and you grow!”

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A turn and many twists

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