I love cricket. [As if you haven’t noticed]. Been a fervent follower of the game for over 40 years, been privileged to watch may great cricketers during that time.
The years haven’t been short of controversy. The first I can remember was the D’Oliviera incident in 1968, when the South African tour was cancelled after Basil was included in the touring squad. Then there was the World Series Cricket breakaway, the Packer controversy as it was called. We’ve had questions about Tony Greig’s fielding position, Murali’s double-jointedness (leading to his exceeding the elbow extension and flexion limits that most cricketers have never heard of) , Paul Adams’s Frog in a Blender action, Lever’s use of vaseline.
We’ve had the limited-overs game introduced and then get more and more limited, as 60 became 50 and now we have 20.
In all that time, I have never seen a more stupid controversy than this one:
Kevin Pietersen has introduced a new stroke into cricket lore. He faces a bowler right-handed, and then, as the ball is released, switches stance and grip to become a left-hander, then sweeps the ball into oblivion past the boundary ropes, for six.
I watched him do this today, twice, as England played New Zealand. Absolutely amazing strokes, great talent, great timing, great strength. And then I heard about the controversy. [While I had read about it briefly over the last year or so, I had dismissed the arguments].
What is the controversy? That Pietersen starts with a right-hand-grip on the bat and then switches to a left-hand grip, and that this places the bowler at a disadvantage.
Pfui, as Nero Wolfe was wont to say. Double Pfui.
1. The stroke of the reverse sweep has been around for a very long time. Hanif Mohammed is credited with having “invented” it, though some people say it was his brother Mushtaq. Hanif is known to have used the stroke in January 1958, over 50 years ago, in an “away” Test match, against one of the best teams in the world, the West Indies.
2. The “disadvantage” the bowler is placed under is apparently all to do with field placements. Law 41.5, The Fielder deals with onside limitations and potential no-balls. Law 36, the LBW rule, is focused on the definition of the offside.
3. The controversy is apparently around the use of the phrase “striker’s stance at the moment the ball comes into play for that delivery” in the LBW law, and in the phrase “at the instant of the bowler’s delivery” in the Fielder rule
Pfui again. The reverse sweep has been around for 50 years, and it was in use for a very long time before anyone had the talent and power and timing to use it for a boundary, much less a six. Pietersen has moved the standards even higher by having the sheer effrontery (and magical ability) to change his grip and not just his stance.
The two Laws being cited are laws that apparently came into place to correct other weaknesses in the aftermath of controversy, such as the Bodyline tour. If we have to change the law to state that the batsman is considered RHB or LHB based on what he declares himself to be as he takes up his initial stance at the start of his innings, then so be it.
But claim that he’s breaking the law, or that his stroke is illegal? Puh-leease. Nobody said it was illegal when Gatting failed to pull it off, with abysmal consequences, here.
What Pietersen is doing is playing cricket. Gloriously. If, as a result of KP trying the reverse sweep while changing hands, he is out LBW as a left-hander, then let’s have him given out. If, as a result of KP trying the reverse sweep while changing hands, he misses altogether, who is going to claim a no-ball? The umpire’s not going to call it. KP’s not going to ask for it. Maybe critics think that the bowler’s going to no-ball himself?
Enough of this guff.