The New No-ball Nonsense by John Holder

18th January 2014

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

John Holder on the Change in the No-ball Law

Steven Finn was the third member of the original English touring party to return home early from the Ashes this week. The only player from that squad not to feature at all in the 5-0 Test series defeat, he was described by England’s limited overs Head Coach Ashley Giles as “not selectable”.

Many believe his loss of form and collapse of confidence dates back to the tribulations surrounding his close-to-the-wicket run-up, which saw him regularly career into the stumps at the non-striker’s end. The complaints about his ‘off-putting’ delivery stride, and the subsequent reconstituting of the no-ball law in response (ruling that if the non-striker’s stumps are disturbed by the bowler it is now a no-ball) may well have been contributory factors to the failed re-modelling of his bowling action, and recent disintegration.

Former international umpire, John Holder here gives his views on that amendment to the no-ball law:

There has been a new addition to the Laws of Cricket from October 1st 2013 and it makes no sense whatsoever. In fact it is a total nonsense. If a part of a bowler’s person breaks the wicket at his end in delivery, the umpire at that end will call and signal no-ball because the bowler is presumed to have distracted the striker.

This came to a head in 2012 at Headingley in a Test Match. Steven Finn was bowling for England against South Africa. A delivery was edged by Graeme Smith and was caught by Matt Prior. Smith complained to umpire Steve Davis that he was distracted when Finn’s foot broke the wicket and that had caused him to edge the ball. Umpire Davis called dead ball and Smith was ruled not out.

On numerous occasions afterwards dead ball was called when the bowler broke the wicket on delivery, even when the ball was played to the boundary.

Let us examine what actually happens when a batsman takes strike. He watches how the bowler holds the ball as that will tell him what the bowler is trying to do. He continues to watch the bowler’s grip all the way through his run to the wicket, then that bowling hand through the swing and release of the ball, then all the way up the pitch towards him. At no stage does he have time to look at the bowler’s body breaking the wicket.

Two days after the incident with Finn I had a similar incident in a Central Lancs League match. The opening bowler at my end, delivering from close to the wicket, sent down a perfectly placed outswinger. The home team’s captain, Clinton Perren, a former Queensland batsman, played the swinging delivery into the covers and ran a single. When he got to my end and the ball became dead I asked him if he had been distracted. He asked me why and I told him that the bowler’s foot had broken the wicket. He replied that he was watching the ball and had not been distracted.

I umpired 1st Class cricket for 27 years plus International cricket. On dozens of occasions bowlers broke the wicket but there was NEVER a complaint from a striker of having been distracted. The biggest culprit for breaking the wicket was Mark Ealham, the former England, Kent and Nottinghamshire medium pacer. Stuart Lampitt of Worcestershire also regularly broke the wicket in delivery but there were no complaints.

I believe that the South Africans’ complaint was a ploy to affect Finn’s rhythm and put him off his stride and it worked. Finn is 6ft 7ins tall and he releases the ball at a height of over 9ft. If the striker was watching Finn’s bowling hand, he would not have been aware of the wicket having been broken, unless Finn had ploughed into them, knocking at least one of them out of the ground.

There has never been any advantage to the fielding side when the bowler breaks the wicket in delivery. In fact it is disadvantageous. If a ball is straight driven and a bail dislodged, to effect a run out, a stump must be struck out of the ground completely by a member of the fielding side or removed by a hand which contains the ball. No longer can a batsman be run out when the ball is deflected onto the wicket, just dislodging a bail. So bringing this law in is as sensible as using a sledge-hammer to crack a non-existent nut.

Several leagues around England feel as I do and have decided to ignore this nonsensical law.

John Holder

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