The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Chapter 4

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THE effect of the l.b.w. law as interpreted at present is that a batsman is given out if he misses the ball with his bat and stops it with any part of his person, which for all practical purposes means the legs, but the ball must have pitched in the bowler's territory, i.e. between wicket and wicket, and would, in the opinion of the umpire, have hit the wicket but for the interception of the batsman's legs. The change which in the opinion of many should be made; is to strike out the words which make it obligatory that the ball should pitch in the bowler's territory, i.e. the space of ground eight inches wide between wicket and wicket. The ball may pitch anywhere, but that part of the leg which the ball hits must be between wicket and wicket, so that a bats­ man never can be out if he stands clear of the wicket.

The first point to be noticed is that some sort of principle was laid down in 1774 when the first l.b.w. law was made that a batsman should not save his wicket with his legs. It is impossible to say precisely what the framers of all the dozen or so l.b.w. laws from 1774 to the present day meant as to where the ball should pitch, it is sufficient that the 1774 law answered its purpose for about a century, for batsmen did not use their legs to defend their wicket; they thought it was unsportsmanlike. Having then established some principle, the first question may be asked, are the legs a proper and legitimate line of defence or are they not? If they are, why should they not be used to any sort of ball, and abolish the l.b.w. rule altogether; if they are not, why may they be properly used to balls which pitch outside the bowler's territory and not to those which pitch in the bowler's territory?

It is now laid down in the text-books that to use the legs is not only sportsmanlike, but is the proper method to adopt to balls pitching outside the bowler's territory. In a very interesting chapter on batting by Mr. D. J. Knight in the 1920 edition of the Badminton Library Cricket, it is said, page xlii: "There is nothing wrong or contrary to the spirit of the game in bringing the legs back together in front of the wicket and behind the bat to act as an extra defence, so long as the ball has pitched off the wicket," and in another place, page xliii: "We do not for a moment advocate the playing of the ball with the legs alone, with the bat in the air. . . . Every ball, no matter what it is, should be attempted to be met with the bat except, of course, the leaving alone of the off ball. But there is no possible harm in the batsman making use of a last line of defence in the event of the bat not proving sufficient, provided always that the bat is invariably resorted to in the first instance. To bring both legs back together in front of the wicket to a ball that pitches straight is unsound and bad cricket, and should not be indulged in, except of course when a daring push to leg off a straight one is being attempted." But Mr. Knight seems somewhat to contradict himself, for he writes in another place, page 47: " When leaving the off ball alone it is strongly advisable to keep the bat well up in the air above the head and to back up and cover the unguarded wicket with both legs. Many a time have men been clean bowled, and so ignominiously too, by a break-back by ignoring this simple rule."

Mr. Knight in the passages quoted above lays down the principle that to bring both legs back together to straight balls—i.e. those pitched between wicket and wicket, is bad cricket except when a pull to leg off, presumably a very short ball or full pitch is attempted, which is not only sound but just. This is very obvious advice because if the bat misses, the batsman is given out l.b.w. But when we come to balls that pitch off the wicket, i.e. outside the bowler's territory, we see what deadly results have ensued from Shrewsbury's example. Mr. Knight tells us in effect that to most of these balls the legs are to be used as often as the bat to defend the wicket. Even when the ball is attempted to be met with the bat, the legs are to be placed in such a position that they are a second line of defence, while when off balls are left alone, which modern batsmen do again and again, the bat should be kept well up in the air above the head out of action altogether; the legs should cover the wicket and may be used not only to stop the ball, but actually to kick it with the knee if the batsman chooses to do so.

In 1923, Oxford played the Army and The Times' report of the 6th of June, 1923, contains the following: "Mr. Jardine stopped one terrible break-back from Captain Hyndson with his pads, a wonderfully good stroke of its kind, but he was just too late with his right leg for a similar ball in the next over." This incident moved the righteous soul of the late Mr. S. H. Pardon to wrath. It was common knowledge that Mr. Pardon was the writer of the weekly cricket notes in The Times, and in the issue of the 6th of June, 1923, he wrote as follows on this proceeding of Mr. Jardine: "This incident shows to what a pass we are coming to under the modern teaching that batsmen may in certain circumstances, that is, when the ball pitches outside the wicket, regard their legs as a second line of defence." . . .

"The New Badminton Library commended what old-fashioned cricketers would consider an outrage on the game." . . . "The wicket is eight inches wide, the bat four and a half." . . Law-framers never imagined that batsmen would think themselves justified in using two well-padded legs as defensive weapons." . . . " The question does not admit of argument, . . . the evil goes far deeper, it is a grievous injustice to bowler; it is futile to bewail shortage of bowling if as in Hyndson's case by illegitimate means." Earlier in the year, in Wisden's Almanack of 1923, Mr. Pardon in his notes, after remarking that nothing had been done to bring about any change in the law, wrote: "One can at least go on protesting against the pestilent doctrine laid down in the new Badminton that a batsman, in playing a ball that pitches outside the wicket is entitled to regard two well-padded legs as a second line of defence. Surely nothing could be more flagrantly opposed to the true spirit of cricket."

This trenchant criticism of Mr. Pardon in Wisden's Almanack and The Times in 1923 naturally led Mr. Knight to endeavour to make some reply, which will be found in the Pall Mall Gazette of the 16th of June, 1923. In this article Mr. Knight repeats what he wrote in the Badminton Library, and refers to the Jardine incident and writes: "Mr. Pardon assumes that Mr. Jardine simply held his bat out of harm's way and deliberately walked in front of his wicket and let the ball hit him on the pad." Mr. Knight then writes:—"Now with all respect to Mr. Jardine I say that this was a wrong procedure, if all he could hope for and rely on to stop him from being bowled were his legs, neglecting the function of his bat altogether." But the account in The Times giving the description of how Mr. Jardine saved his wicket on the first occasion with his pads and was just too late with his right leg in the next over and was bowled, says nothing of the bat at all, and the description leaves the impression on the readers' mind that no attempt was made to play the two balls referred to with the bat. But even if Mr. Jardine did this he followed the advice given by Mr. Knight in the Badminton (p. xlvii) where he writes: "When leaving the off ball alone it is strongly advisable to keep the bat well up in the air above the head and cover the unguarded wicket with both legs." If Mr. Jardine did make some attempt to play the ball with the bat, which was not apparently noticed by The Times' reporter, he followed the advice given on page xlii of the Badminton book, to bring the legs back together in front of the wicket and behind the bat, "to act as an extra defence." Mr. Jardine, whether he made some attempt to play the ball with the bat or not, has Mr. Knight's approval, the only difference being that the legs were the first line of defence in the first case, and the second in the second case.

In the same article Mr. Knight describes how he himself was clean bowled by Kennedy in a Surrey and Hants match. He was bowled "neck and crop by a big of break. ... I played back to it, but my bat was hung out far from my body, and so my right leg was not guarding the stumps." Mr. Knight then quotes what he calls "words of wisdom" from Tom Hayward, spoken to him in the Pavilion afterwards. "Oh, sir, why didn't you get your legs there in case the ball beat the bat." Mr. Pardon at the end of the above-quoted article wrote: "Nothing read for twenty years impressed me more than Hayward's frank admission that his legs had saved his wicket hundreds of times." Where Hayward made this admission is immaterial; Mr. Pardon read it somewhere. Hayward in his first-class cricket career made 43,409 runs, and who can tell how many of these thousands were due to his saving his wicket hundreds of times with his legs? Every week innumerable cases occur of saving the wicket with the legs, and thousands of runs are the result, and worst of all larger and larger grows the number of drawn matches, and if this is not stopped the debacle will come. Mr. Knight, in the Pall Mall, seems to think that this leg-play is all correct because Shrewsbury did it: "It is repeatedly employed by the peerless Jack Hobbs," and he might have added many more. It is the only blot on the Shrewsbury escutcheon, and peerless as Hobbs is he would have been more peerless still if he had not saved his wicket so often with his legs. I myself saw Hobbs last year deliberately follow Mr. Knight's advice, for he put his bat out of action and stopped a ball of Kennedy's with his knee.

In a previous chapter it has been pointed out how often the much to be wished for change in the l.b.w. rule has been misunderstood, and it is constantly forgotten that nobody can be given out l.b.w. if he keeps his legs clear of the bowler's territory. The resolution carried through by an insufficient majority was worded as follows: "The striker is out if with any part of his person (except the hand) which is between wicket and wicket he intercept the ball which would hit his wicket l.b.w." Mr. Knight seemed not to have recognized this for in the Pall Mall article he wrote: "If you changed the l.b.w. laws and gave a man out in the event of the ball striking his legs, and which would otherwise have struck the wicket . . . that would entail an endless number of l.b.w. decisions fatal to the batsman . . . there are quite enough of them now." There is no mention here about the necessity that the legs must be between wicket and wicket for a batsman to be given out l.b.w.

"There are quite enough of them now," and this refers to cases of l.b.w.!

It is true that cases of l.b.w. are frequent, but they ought to be more so, as long as batsmen follow Mr. Knight's teaching. Some balls that pitch off the wicket batsmen try to play with the bat, but fail to do so, but following Mr. Knight's advice the legs are brought up and save the wicket, acting as a second line of defence. Other balls the bats­ man, pointing the bat to the sky, stops with the legs only, and in this case the legs are used as a first line of defence. Hayward did this and saved his wicket, by his own confession, hundreds of times and many batsmen do the same.

And yet some people blame the bowlers!