Not cricket? Of course it is

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 Ponting’s bat, Dravid’s ball, Brearley’s helmet (see Q517), all kinds of weird and wonderful things. We’ve even had the Trevor Chappell underarm incident.

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.

Here’s why:

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.

12 thoughts on “Not cricket? Of course it is”

  1. Fully agree, JP, with the proviso that a batsman should accept a poor LBW decision as the consequence of his own hubris.

    It’s a bit unfair to ask the umpire to decide whether the ball has pitched outside leg stump when that is a movable feast.

  2. Mike, the question has come up as a result of the recent controversy. There appear to be a number of sub-questions. One, should the bowler be allowed to change hands? Two, should the bowler be allowed to change from over- to round- or vice versa?

    In both cases the answer seems related to time. Bowlers do change from over the wicket to round, but they do this before starting their run-up. The umpire has to change position, as does the non-striker.

    When it comes to changing hands at the start of the run-up, I see no problem. But a bowler changing hands just before releasing the ball? I think it would be physically taxing to say the very least, if not bordering on the impossible.

    Somehow I don’t think that would happen, so we might as well say “ok, let bowlers do it if they want to”. David Gower asked Ian Botham the same question, and Botham couldn’t even imagine a bowler trying.

    Anyway, there is no earthly reason why the batsman and bowler have to have symmetric rights. They do different things.

  3. The bowler can bowl with either hand and can change during the over, but he has to allow the umpire to check whether he is bowling a no-ball. This is why he has to inform the umpire which side of the wicket he is using. It is also the reason why he is not allowed to bowl from a long way behind the crease – both feet must be visible to the umpire.

    Given the mechanics of bowling, this means the bowler has to decide at the start of his run-up which hand he will use or his feet would end up in the wrong place and he would fall over and look a tit.

    I see no functional reason why he should have to tell the umpire which hand he proposes to use, still less the batsman. However, Law 24.1 says he must do so.

    Pietersen has the freedom within the Laws to experiment. The bowler does not. Fair? Maybe not, but it’s difficult to imagine a bowler so ambidextrous that he can bowl with sufficient control with either arm. And the investment he would have to make to learn to do so would be greater than learning to bowl a variety of deliveries with one arm.

  4. Me again.

    Daniel Vettori made an interesting point about the fairness of this stroke. He said that the legislators need to decide how wides are adjudicated when the batsman turns round.

    This is important in limited-overs cricket because the wide law is strictly applied and is asymetric – wides are called much closer to the leg stump than the off.

    If the “leg stump” is fixed at the start of the bowler’s run up (when the ball comes into play) then the bowler’s options are very severely restricted when he delivers the ball. Anything outside what is now the off stump is a wide. Anything straighter is easy to hit (if you are KP!).

    I’m not saying the Law or the playing conditions should be changed – just that this makes KP’s innovation more and more interesting. Who will be next to try it? Dhoni?

  5. It is a lot harder to switch from bowling right handed to bowling left handed than it is to do the same batting.

    A batsman has two hands on the bat, so his stronger hand alway has some control over the weaker. If you bowl with your ‘wrong’ hand, you can’t use the other one, too.

    The only bowler I have come across in the first class game who could bowl equally well with either hand was Aftab Habib – and in his case ‘equally well’ meant ‘not very well at all’.

    [As an aside, it would be interesting to see how Darren Gough would fare, as he bowls right handed but writes left handed]

Let me know what you think

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