Bouncers by John Holder

16th December 2014

Patrolling the Boundary  – a view from the outfield

There’s a particularly unpleasant tropical illness that is proving very ‘popular’ in the Caribbean at the moment. While I’ve been fortunate enough to (thus far) avoid a touch of the cursed ‘chick v’ (rougher than the dreaded dengue, I’m told), I was laid low until the beginning of this week with a far more common and familiar ailment to us Brits – which I picked up in New Orleans.

Hence, I’ve got some catching up to do: I’ve been behind on my blogging here at RBH – but worse that that, I’ve been remiss with my most prolific guest contributor.

Former international umpire, John Holder sent me two or three items which have been languishing in the in-tray, neglected until now. Here is the first of them: 

Hi David

This is an email which I sent to Adam Mountford from Test Match Special. BBC World Service rang me this afternoon to go on a live chat show on Sunday at 5.40pm to discuss safety in the game.



Hello Adam,

Following the tragic death of Phil Hughes there has been talk about making the game safer by the banning of bouncers. I got a call from BBC World Service this afternoon, asking me to do a live chat on Sunday evening on the subject.

The wearing of helmets has all too often given batsmen a false sense of security, resulting in many playing the hook shot but not playing it properly. Also those who duck turn their heads away and do not watch the ball. As a result they get hit. I saw a very similar incident in a county match at Lord’s where Middlesex were playing Durham, back in the ’90s.

A young Michael Gough faced Abdul Razzak with the new ball. Michael got a short delivery rising chest high. He ducked and turned his head away, with the result that the ball struck him a sickening blow behind his left ear. Blood spurted everywhere as Michael slumped to the ground. I was the bowler’s end umpire and it was not a pleasant thing to witness. Michael was at that stage a very promising opening batsman and useful off-spinner but that injury virtually put an end to his first class career because though he recovered physically, his confidence was destroyed.

Before helmets, very few batsmen got struck by bouncers because they used to watch the bouncing ball and either moved inside the line or back, watching the ball pass by.

Heavy bats also cannot be wielded as quickly as lighter ones when facing fast bowling. When I played, the average weight was around 2 lbs 6 ounces. Many bats today weigh over three pounds and many are heavier. Although they hit the ball much further, they cannot be manoeuvered as adroitly as lighter ones.

At present under ICC ‘s playing conditions, the bouncer which passes over the head of the striker standing upright at the crease is called a ‘wide’. But if the batsman hits it ‘wide’ cannot be called. This gives the bowler the chance to get a wicket. If every ball bouncing over shoulder height of the striker standing upright at the crease were called ‘no-ball’ instead, then the bowler would not only be penalised but he would be unable to get a wicket, or bowl a dot ball. Additionally, there would be fewer balls bouncing around the batsman’s head, thereby reducing the chance of head injuries. Umpires would be instructed to be very strict in applying this law. If there are plans to change the no-ball law I think they should adopt my idea.



John Holder is a highly respected former international umpire, who stood in Tests & ODIs between 1988-2001, and in 1st-class cricket from 1982-2009. He was also the innovative mind behind the introduction of the ‘bowl-out’ to settle washed out one-day games.


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