Leg before or not leg before: that is the question.
“I was half way down the wicket!” is just one of the more printable comments heard from batsmen falling foul of the LBW appeal.
“It pitched outside leg” and “it hit me above the knee roll” are popular alternatives. Bowlers on the other hand can be heard lamenting “He was right back on the stumps” or “it hit him low down on his back pad” when expressing their indignation at not getting the ‘nod’ from the umpire.
The first test between England and the West Indies produced a fascinating passage of play involving Shivnarine Chanderpaul which brought home to me the complexities of the LBW law. In one fascinating session he was involved in three LBW appeals, which provided talking points on the topic of LBW.
Firstly, he “padded off” an inswinging delivery without playing a shot. A huge appeal resulted in him being given out. A review showed the ball just missing off stump, reprieved. Shortly after he was struck low down in front of the stumps, a confident appeal was turned down. This time England reviewed and Hawkeye backed the umpire original decision, showing the ball had pitched outside leg, just. Finally, another inswinger struck Chanderpaul on the front foot.
Another strong appeal was turned down, Strauss could be seen to be gesticulating towards the bowler believing the ball had pitched outside the line. No review. Replays showed that Chanderpaul had been hit in line and would have been given out.
This little cameo got me thinking about LBW law and the way it has evolved over the years. In the very early days of cricket there was actually no LBW law (the good old days some might say!) and indeed it was only in 1744 where a clause was placed in the laws which gave an umpire the power to give out anyone who was deliberately obstructing a ball from hitting the wicket.
By 1823 there was no longer any necessity to take the batsman’s intent into account. If the ball struck you even when you were making a clear attempt to hit it, you could be given out. The law remained virtually unchanged for a century however an upsurge in the practice of “pad play” where a player made no attempt to play a shot but simply allowed the ball to hit their pads and rebound to safety prompted another review.
During this period LBW decisions were quite low; there were also an increasing amount of drawn matches which worried the authorities. In order to redress the balance between bat and ball a number of measures were introduced including a smaller ball and larger wicket.
Then in 1935 an experimental law was introduced in which the batsman could be dismissed lbw even if the ball pitched outside the line of off stump, in other words, a ball which turned or swung into the batsman but did not pitch in line with the wickets.
That season almost one third of the 1500 LBW decisions given as “out” were to the new amended law. In 1937 the experimental law officially became a part of the laws of cricket. The last major change to the LBW law didn’t appear until 1970 and was not adopted officially until 1980.
This change meant a batsman could be out to a ball pitching outside off stump if he offered no shot and most importantly the part of the person hit does not have to be in line wicket to wicket, i.e. ‘Hit outside the line of off stump’ In recent times the effects of technology has had a major bearing on the LBW law, arguably the most controversial development has been that of the Decision Review System (DRS) Whereby the a batsman or bowler can review an LBW decision if they have not agreed with the onfield umpires assessment.
The most controversial series involving DRS was that of the recent England tour to UAE to play Pakistan in February of 2012. During that three match series there was a record number of LBW decisions, mainly blamed on the DRS system whereby Umpires have seen that even when batsmen took a big stride down the pitch that the ball will sometimes go on to hit the stumps, meaning that they’re far more willing to give batsmen out.
Also DRS backed the onfield umpires call even when the ball was only shaving the outside of the stumps, in essence it was taking away the benefit of the doubt which had been with the batsman and gave it to the bowlers.
It was also argued that there was some form of “DRS Brainfreeze” in the England camp, leading to batsmen’s techniques falling apart and being struck plumb in front. The game of cricket has always evolved to grow the interest of the viewing public, so that the game might thrive.
I wonder what the next “tweak” to the LBW law might be - Any suggestions?