Call to change the law

Published : Jul 28, 2001 00:00 IST

WITH umpires continually being exposed by getting no balls wrong in England's Test clashes this season, the call has come to change the law.

It all came to a head in the second and final Test against Pakistan, when four batsmen were out to deliveries which replays showed were no balls.

The chief publicist for the change back to the old ball rule has been Richie Benaud, both on TV and through his newspaper column.

On the third day of the first Test between Australia and England, Richie came up with the fact that 20,000 no balls have been called since the law was changed in the early Sixties.

He used the figure as evidence to show the law needed amending more about the carelessness, nay stupidity of the bowlers.

The law states that some part of the bowler's front foot must be behind the popping crease. In my view it is all simple and all a bowler has to do is make sure and practise doing this.

Unfortunately, you can attend any practice irrespective of the standard and you will find that very few bowlers bother to do it at practice.

Some are even up to a yard over the crease, so how can they possibly get it right and why should we feel sorry for the bowlers when they get called in a match?

Richie wants the law changed to the one that applied when he played.

It was then based on the back foot and any bowler who placed his foot behind the level of the stumps was accepted as OK.

Unfortunately the ball is delivered off the front, and not the back foot, and as a result the front foot was well over the popping crease when a bowler let the ball go.

Most bowlers, including Richie, were draggers and this allowed them to get even closer to the batsmen before they let the ball go.

Many bowlers cultivated the drag and were able to drag so far that their front foot was nearly a yard over the front line and a yard closer than they should have been to the batsman.

Former England captain Peter May, in reply to a question by an English journalist as to why they didn't get forward more to a prodigious dragger, a giant Aussie fast bowler Gordon Rorke, summed it up, when he replied, "I am scared if I do he will step on my toe."

An exaggeration of course, but fast bowlers did get a huge advantage at that time and the rule was changed to force all bowlers to deliver the ball from the appropriate distance.

If this hadn't happened, bowlers would have cultivated the drag more. The longest dragger I ever saw was a bowler from Kent whose drag was measured at nearly two metres.

Almost all the great fast bowlers of the time, such as Ray Lindwall, Freddie Trueman and Frank Tyson were draggers and delivered the ball from closer to the batsmen than they should have. As a result shots, such as the drives were going out of the game as batsmen didn't have the time to play the shots.

Can you imagine how the giant West Indies bowlers of the Seventies and Eighties with their long legs and giant strides would have been?

To counter the draggers, umpires resorted to placing disks at a point where they felt the bowlers should land to allow for the drag.

How far back they were placed depended on how long the bowler's delivery stride or drag was. In all cases the umpires used the frontline as the guide as to where they wanted the bowler to deliver the ball from. It was a cumbersome and not very accurate way of doing things.

Umpires had to stand back further from the stumps than they wanted to, or turn their heads to view the back foot landing.

As I understand from those seeking changes the disk system will be used and the front line will still be the guide.

One of the main and perhaps only valid reason, put forward in considering returning to the old rule, is that the umpires don't have the time to view the foot landing on or over the line and then look up to be able to give decisions at the other end.

I can't go along with this for surely umpires will find it difficult to, on occasions, with the big striders and long legged fast bowlers, look at the disk, some times to the back and then look up.

Umpires will also have to check the frontline occasionally to ensure they do have the disk in the right spot. Complicated, yes, and fraught with problems.

As an opening batsman I can tell you it was tough and gave the bowlers an unfair advantage.

It also gives the umpires too much room for interpretation. They and they alone decide how far the disk should be behind the stumps and this is sure to cause controversy as soon as the TV cameras show the bowler's front foot too far down the wicket.

Modern umpires want the law to stay the way it is. They believe it is the best way and the simplest.

If they feel that it is the way to go then surely the rule should stay as it is.

A point to consider when the original laws were written. Did our law-makers decide to use as the guide the front foot and popping crease or the batting crease?

Somehow I feel they probably wanted the ball to be bowled from as close to 22 yards as possible and if that was the case perhaps bowlers had to keep their front foot behind the batting crease and deliver the ball from the stumps.

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