Ever since the days of boyhood when a pair of pads would be shared by my brother and I, we have both wondered about a question. Those were the days of youth and glory – youth definite glory doubtful. Only one leg needed to be padded up simply because the other one would be worn by the other brother batting at the other end. But let’s cut the chase and come straight to the point. Why is a batsman not given out if the ball pitches outside the leg stump?
Why the immunity?
What is so special about the ball when pitched outside the leg stump? And that rule continues to haunt me even today. With spin vision and even the third umpire turning a vicious nonchalant eye to all LBW appeals to balls pitched outside the leg stump. What is the difference? What law makes the leg stump so different that even if the ball hits the middle of the middle stump but has pitched half an inch outside leg the batsman breathes easy?
While I do not want to get too technical with the laws that govern the lbw dismissal, there is however some need to look at the laws itself just to understand how redundant it has become.
Without getting into too many technicalities the LBW law simply states that the batsman would be declared out if he obstructs the ball with any part of the body other than his bat or hand( the parts that are considered to be “bat”) if, it would have gone onto hit the stumps.
And this rule is extremely simple if the ball pitches on the off stump, outside the off, the middle stump or even the leg stump.
But then the rule becomes demonic.
If the ball pitches outside the leg stump and even would have gone onto hit the stumps the batsman is declared “Not Out”. All Cricketing fans scream in unison Why? Why the hell?
To make matters more relevant and particularly incisive we need to evaluate an example. An example of a ball. The ball of the century!
June the 4th 1993. Shane Warne the ‘wily magician’ is at the top of his runup and facing him is a confident looking Mike Gatting in front of the stumps. It’s the very first ball of that Ashes series.
A few years ago, the ICC had shared a video of Warne, in which the great man called the ball of the century a “fluke”.
“The ball of the century was a fluke. Really was, I never did it again, but I think it was meant to be. As a leg-spinner we always want to bowl a perfect leg-break every ball, I managed to do it first up, it changed my life both on and off the field. Very proud that I bowled it. Mike Gatting was the best player of spin in England’s team, so to do that first up in England, was a special moment,” Warne said in the video.
That ball of the century had pitched probably on the sixth stump outside leg, spun like a spitting cobra to bamboozle Mike Gatting and collide into his off stump. Now just imagine a miraculous twist of fate that alters history.
First ball of that Ashes series and Shane Warne bowls that same delivery and it pitches on the sixth stump outside leg and spinning like a top curls towards Gatting’s off stump. But this time the ball thuds into his legs. Nobody even appeals. And Gatting smiles. Because he knows that he is safe as a rooster in his cage.
Just because there is a law that protects his wicket. Even if that is unfair. And Dickey Bird has an eerie smile on his face standing behind the stumps. Because he had seen the original!
For me the ball spinning from outside leg stump bowled by magician leg break bowlers is top artillery in their arsenal. And the law that bars all dismissals to deliveries that pitch outside leg is grossly unfair. Unfair to the bowlers – even making mandatory batsmen look more than equal to task.
And what about left handed bowlers like Wasim Akram bowling to right handed batsmen? Wasim Akram would have been counting wickets in multiples of thousands if he hadn’t been restricted by the rule books. After serious scrutiny I haven’t been able to find any logical reasoning behind the law. There is just some indication that when the ball pitches outside the leg stump it is outside the batsman’s line of vision. Line of vision? Somebody must be crazy. Get your eyesight checked please!
More so because in the modern times batsmen even change their stance and virtually become left handed from a right hander. I am referring to the sudden change of stance and grip before executing the reverse sweep. Where does the argument of the ball being outside the batsman’s line of vision stand then? It just does not have any sense.
There is another argument that when the ball is pitched outside the leg stump it becomes a little more difficult to score. Hence even the wide ball rule becomes more stringent to balls pitched outside leg. Hogwash again. History in batsmanship has proved beyond any reasonable doubt that human beings holding the cricket bat have predominantly been super leg side players. Be it the Vivian Richards or the Ricky Pointings the Mohammar Azharuddins or the god of cricket Sachin Tendulkar himself.
And the left handers like Brian Lara and Adam Gilchrist were sheer magic too on their leg side. They were ruthless to deliveries pitched on or outside the leg stump. In fact they regularly dispatched deliveries pitched on the middle and even sometimes outside the off stump over square leg and mid-wicket. Such was their prowess.
But the leg stump rule still persists. Much like useless governments that persist just because there is wide spread apathy among the masses and no word in protest. But who would protest? It is a batsman’s game dude. Bowlers are just there to complete the numbers. Hence even in the modern age when stump vision and other technicalities repeatedly prove in virtually every match how stupid the rule really is, batsmen thrive in immunity.
Let’s look at another example. Imagine a situation where batsmen would be barred from playing the cover drive to balls pitched on or outside the off stump. Playing the cover drive would be valid and allowed only to balls pitched on the middle or leg stump but not on the off stump.
Imagine what would happen? You would have batsmen compelled to play the inside out shot. And everybody would try aping Sourav Ganguly the God on the off side and mostly perish trying to be so. That would make it even stevens. Wouldn’t it?
So the time has indeed come to re-look at the LBW rule. Do not make the game unfair for bowlers and hugely power drive it in favour of the batsmen. Else rename the batters. Call them legmen and live on with the rule.
But if sanity drives decision making then the LBW rule would be “pitch forked” into the Indian ocean and the beautiful game would be played beautifully. All’s well that ends well.