How Prudent Are Cricket Laws?: An Examination of the Brendon McCullum Incident
The lap shot is very common in cricket these days. Also common is the anticipating wicket-keeper moving toward leg-slip in hope of catching the ball. But the law says it isn't allowed.
Here, I take a look at one such incident involving Rahul Dravid and Brendon McCullum from a Test match earlier played in the year at Wellington and discuss in accordance to cricket laws 40.3(a) and 40.4.
In what transpired out to be the most stunning and controversial moment of the day, McCullum, anticipating Dravid’s paddle sweep, moved to his left hoping to catch the ball in the afternoon of the third Test in Wellington as you can see from the video below.
And when he did, only barely, leaving the bowler, batsman, commentary experts and viewers dumbfounded in what was a remarkable piece of anticipation, some were busy digging up the law book to seek if that was, indeed, fair!
Law 40.4: Movement by wicket-keeper
It is unfair if the wicket-keeper standing back makes a significant movement towards the wicket after the ball comes into play and before it reaches the striker. In the event of such unfair movement by the wicket-keeper, either umpire shall call and signal Dead ball. It will not be considered a significant movement if the wicket-keeper moves a few paces forward for a slower delivery.
So, was McCullum a genius or a cheat?
One reading of law 40.4 for wicket-keeper will tell you that McCullum was wrong in moving (almost four or five feet down the leg-side) even while Dravid was shaping to go down on his right-knee to lap it through the vacant leg-slip.
The replays showed time-and-again that the moment Rahul even slightly indicated of playing the dingy lap, McCullum was pedaling frantically to his left to cover that shot and Taylor from the First Slip was moving to his left in case Rahul got a top edge, or even if Rahul missed the ball, he would be able to cover for a wicket-keeper not in his position.
All said and done, according to the law, the ball was dead the moment McCullum started making significant movement down the leg even before Rahul had played his shot. Definitely, it was not a case of moving forward a few paces for a slower delivery!
There is this wonderful thing in sport, which more often than not separates the best from the rest. It is called anticipation.
A batsman can anticipate a short ball and be ready on his back foot to play the shot. When you anticipate well, a batsman can make a quick bowler bowling 150 kmph look silly.
Similarly, a spin bowler who can anticipate a skip down the wicket from the batsman can make him look silly by even getting him stumped by bowling a wide down leg. It goes for fielders, either saving runs or taking catches. Legend has it that the likes of Eknath Solkar moved sideways with the advancing batsman at short-leg and silly-point so as to be ready to take bat-pads of the great spin bowlers of the '60s and '70s.
Unpredictability is what makes sport the ultimate spectacle it is, and when some can anticipate a sequence of play from an opponent, it makes him all the better prepared to tackle what is thrown at him. Like, in this case, McCullum predicted the lap shot, took the chance as his team was in dire need of wicket, and took the catch in a freak moment of genius.
Law 40.4 states that the ball was dead. There is another argument—law 40.3(a) that states that such a movement be construed a No ball.
Law 40.3: The wicket-keeper shall remain wholly behind the wicket at the striker's end from the moment the ball comes into play until...
(a) a ball delivered by the bowler either
(i) touches the bat or person of the striker
or (ii) passes the wicket at the striker's end
or (b) the striker attempts a run.
In the event of the wicket-keeper contravening this Law, the umpire at the striker's end shall call and signal No ball as soon as possible after the delivery of the ball.
In many cases the law is age-old and overlapping. Here is a case in point. You have the rule of No ball and Dead ball for the McCullum incident (not that you can’t, but why?).
In any case, it is impossible for the umpire to determine the position of the wicket-keeper just about when a batsman is to play a shot. Also, it is only normal for wicket-keepers to shoot down the leg on a pre-planned leg-side stumping.
The cricket world hardly made any noise of this or call it unfair like it did with the Brad Haddin incident in Australia, where he dislodged the bails before the ball hit the stumps. It goes to show the sheer freakish mode of the dismissal.
We have seen Gilchrist try that time and again to do a McCullum in Adelaide in 2003-04, when Dravid scored more than 300 runs in that match, only to come a cropper. Even if McCullum tried, it is highly improbable that he would pull off such a dismissal again in his career.
Many of the laws on the game belie common sense. This is just a case in point. All said and done, well done McCullum!
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