May 16, 2012

"Switching" off the leg stump in LBW's

In light of the 'switch hit', it has been proposed to emend the existing LBW rule. Presently, a batsman hit on the leg in front of the stumps cannot be given out when he has switched stance if the ball has pitched outside what is presently his present off-stump: the reasoning is that his off-stump would have been his leg stump under "normal" circumstances. The proposed emendation would ensure that a batsman playing a switch hit can be given out LBW if the ball pitches outside his present off-stump and hits him in line, thus merging switched chance and regular stance for the purpose of LBW decisions: simply, a right-hander playing a switch hit would be treated like a left-hander. As always, Harsha Bhogle makes a perspicuous and eloquent case for why this change in rule is to be welcomed. As for me, the proposed change gives me an opportunity to have a re-look at the LBW rule in general.

In plain prose the rule goes like: a batsman shall be ruled out Leg Before Wicket if (and only) if the ball hits his leg in front of the stops, and it is deemed that the ball in its trajectory will hit the stumps, and that it has not pitched outside the batsman's leg stump (here after "the leg stump clause"). The leg stump clause of the rule has always baffled me. Firstly, if the term Leg Before Wicket (and by wicket is meant the stumps) is to be taken at face value why the region where the ball pitches is relevant as long as it hits the batsman in front of the stumps is unclear to me. Secondly this makes life difficult for leg spin and right-arm quick bowlers bowling round the wicket to right-handed batsmen, and left-arm Chinaman and left-arm quick bowlers bowling round the wicket to left-handed batsmen*: given that the stock delivery of these bowlers has the tendency to pitch outside mentioned batsmen's leg stump from the suggested angle, it is impossible, as Shastri and Wasim Akram do not tire of saying, for them to get an LBW decision . The leg stump clause seems, therefore, to be an unnecessary and unfair complication to an otherwise neat rule.

While I am not aware of the context in which the existing LBW rule came to be accepted it is not difficult to hazard a guess. Cricket is a game where a bowler has, theoretically at least, the chance to get a wicket off all deliveries, but a batsman has only one chance. Besides, the game was for a very long time played only in Australia and England where the uncovered pitches arguably gave the bowlers, particularly the quicker men, an unfair advantage against the batsmen. The "leg stump" clause in the LBW rule might have been one of those incentives given to batsmen  to introduce some sense of balance between what is essentially a contest between bat and ball. In the present times, however, we have a situation where the game is tipped too much in favour of the batsmen what with the increasingly flatter pitches, smaller grounds, chunkier bats, Sehwags-and-Haydens and shorter boundaries around the world. And that is an important reason, though not the only one, to reconsider the LBW rule in its present shape.

I would personally like to see the "leg stump" clause removed, even if only as a fan, because it would make the game a lot more fun. For starters, this would deter "negative tactics" from both batting and bowling teams: while batsmen would think twice before kicking balls pitching outside their leg stump, bowlers will be encouraged to use the leg stump line as an attacking option. That is not a bad thing at all particularly considering the fact that the the third and fourth days of Test matches are often highly boring attrition affairs in places like the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies. Removal of the clause would also make LBW verdicts easier for (and on) the umpires, reducing the percentage of marginal decisions to some extent, and thereby, hopefully, reducing player dissent to such decisions as well. I may be a bit too naive but I would like to think that simpler rules would lead to better understanding and co-operation among the parties involved in cricket matches. In an era where grandstanding and gamesmanship have become the face of the Gentleman's Game, anything that clarifies - and redefines - limits and relationships within it is worth a try.

*The claim also applies to left-arm quick bowlers and orthodox spinners bowling over the wicket to right-handed batsmen, and right-arm quick bowlers and leg spinners bowling over the wicket to left-handed batsmen. 


The Venk said...

It was basically brought in to avoid negative bowling which often targets rough areas and blindspot of the batsman

Srinivas said...

I agree it might have been as a deterrent to negative tactics from bowling teams that the "leg stump" clause was introduced. Ironically, though, it is precisely the leg stump clause that MAKES the leg stump line negative ... don't you think?

And given - as I have stated in the piece - the lopsided dominance of bat on ball removing the clause would make the leg stump line "positive too". Playing from the "rough", I believe, is at least in Test cricket part of the test. Of course, I know I am just being whimsical because the ICC may not even adopt the rule change for the switch hit anytime soon. :D

The Venk said...

How does the clause make negative? Naan odi vandu un kaal ke podren. Nee evalo run adikaranu paakalan!:-P Theva illama ellarum azhuguni aatam adhuvanga! SL WC jeikkum all one should ask is, is it worth it? no! HAHAHA

Srinivas said...

This was something I wanted to discuss when we met, but forgot all about it. As usual. :D