The Crisis in Cricket and the "Leg Before Rule"/Chapter 5

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



IT is not easy in a controversy to look on all sides of a question, and this platitude is repeated here because to many of us it appears that when any change in the laws of cricket are proposed, batsmen are too frequently purely advocates and not often enough judges. They fail to see things from all points of view; batsmen they are, and as such do they look at the question; they forget the bowler and the interests of the game as a whole. It is not surprising that this should be so, indeed it is very natural; it is noticed here only because it seems that batsmen in this very controversy about l.b.w. overlook what is fair to the bowler. Take as an instance the bowling out of Mr. Knight by Kennedy, described by the batsman himself in the last chapter. Here the batsman was clean bowled by what was evidently a very fine ball which pitched outside the off stump and broke back. Hayward, and it seems the batsman also, were almost moved to tears because Kennedy got a wicket with a fine ball which beat the bat and the batsman because he did not use his legs as a second line of defence. An impartial outsider might well ask what more could Kennedy have done. No bowler can produce shooters on modern wickets, and Kennedy did all that a bowler could do in bowling a good length ball that broke back, and if such balls do not get wickets, no other result but huge unhealthy scoring and drawn matches are possible.

As Mr. Pardon said, a wicket is eight inches broad and a bat four and a half inches wide, and if batsmen follow the advice given not only by Mr. Knight in the Badminton, but by others, and bring the legs together in front of the wicket and behind the bat to act as an extra defence to balls pitched outside the wicket, it is difficult to understand how batsmen can be bowled out at all on modern wickets by balls pitched outside the bowler's territory. And if they leave balls alone in the future as much as they do now catches must take a long time in coming. I asked Mr. Howell, the celebrated Australian bowler, more than twenty years ago, how batsmen could be got out on Australian wickets, and he replied that they never would be got out were it not for the fact that sometimes they got themselves out. This state of things is coming to pass here in England, where indeed it is already difficult enough to finish matches in three fine days.

It must be admitted that there is a great difference in the general feeling about l.b.w. between batsmen of these days and those of former times. It is a delicate subject to write about and I hasten to say at the start that I do not consider that modern batsmen are necessarily bad sportsmen because they use the legs to guard the wicket. Times are changed and there is a different atmosphere now as compared with that of forty and fifty years ago. Batsmen in old times somehow felt a little ashamed when given out l.b.w. because it never occurred to anybody to consider the legs as a proper means of defending the wicket, and their consciences pricked them a little for being guilty of doing something contrary to the spirit of the game. Shrewsbury, about 1885, brought the matter to the front by using the legs to guard the wicket, and now most modern batsmen consider they are quite en titled to do so. It is a matter of opinion, but I do not hesitate to say that I deeply regret that this change of mind prevails, simply because legs used in this way must be unfair to the bowler. If batsmen had used the legs as they do now, after the ruling of the M.C.C. at the time of the Dark and Caldecourt incident about the year 1837, there would have been some excuse for them, for undoubtedly the wickets up to 1870-5 were far more difficult to bat on, especially at Lords, but they did not do so. If they had it would have created storms of disapproval. Since Shrewsbury's action the gradual increase of leg play has come in while the wickets have got better and better, or as I prefer to say, easier and easier to bat on until the ball seldom gets up stump high, and as for shooters, I have not seen half a dozen genuine dead shooters in the last thirty years.

Now what would be the position if the l.b.w. law was altered and the batsman given out l.b.w., no matter where the ball pitches, if with the legs or any part of the person being between wicket and wicket the ball is prevented from hitting the wicket? It would simply be the reinstating of the legs to their proper function; they would be a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The legs may be placed in any position the batsman likes, and this should be the place from which he thinks he can best play the ball with the bat, but if he fails to do this and if that part of hisperson (which practically means his legs) being between wicket and wicket prevents the ball hitting the wicket, the umpire shall give him out, no matter where the ball pitches. It would not be considered to be unsportsmanlike if he covered the wicket with his legs, after the rule was altered, because to do so would simply be at his own risk; the great principle would be established that the bat and the bat only should be used, and if the bat is beaten so is the batsman, who must pay the penalty.

This alteration in the l.b.w. rule would put the game very much in the position that it was from 1860 to about 1885, when Shrewsbury introduced the evil practice of using the legs as a first and second line of defence. The change would probably make very little difference, at any rate at first, in the style of play. Mr. Knight's teaching to bring the legs together in front of the wicket and behind the bat to balls that pitch off the wicket to act as an extra defence will be obeyed and so will that given by Mr. Warner in the Book of Cricket, page 38, as follows: "In playing back the right leg should be placed in the direction the ball is taking with the bat as near as possible to the leg." Mr. Knight candidly says that his advice is given to provide an extra line of defence and, with all respect to Mr. Knight, this is a pestilent doctrine as Mr. Pardon said, but Mr. Warner does not do this for that reason, but because "The nearer the batsman's body is to the ball the more likely is he to make a correct stroke." I agree, but if after having taken up the position recommended by Mr. Warner because from it the batsman can best see the ball and make a correct stroke, he nevertheless misses the ball, all the greater credit is due to the bowler, and why should he not get his reward? It is the batsman who has failed and he gets off scot free.

Batsmen seem to think that the world would come to an end if under the circumstances mentioned above they would be out. They can almost be heard talking with blanched faces and with bated breath when the bare suggestion to change the l.b.w. rule is made. We know we have a bat, they seem to say, but how can we be expected with such a puny piece of wood, only four and a quarter inches broad, to play good bowling and balls pitched outside the bowler's territory without adding our legs to protect the wicket? They do not appear to see that itisin consequence of their not getting out early enough or often enough that the great game is in danger of being ruined owing to rungetting and drawn matches. Mr. Maclaren, in his day a splendid batsman and a close observer, and moreover a somewhat severe critic of present-day batsmen, wrote an article in the News of the World of the 25th of July, 1926, in which he shows himself to be in favour of giving the benefit of the doubt for the bowler and against the batsman in all l.b.w. decisions. For this I am grateful, but any further alteration of the l.b.w. rule would in his opinion "defeat its own object, as it must penalise the one man deserving better treatment . . . the forcing batsman of strong back play who gets in front solely for the purpose of forcing the turning ball to the on boundary." But the fact remains that presumably the batsman has taken up the position Mr. Maclaren recommends because it was the best for forcing the ball to the on boundary or merely stopping it, in either case with the bat. He fails to do this, or in other words, the bowler has beaten him, and if that part of the leg which is hit by the ball is between wicket and wicket, surely it is only fair to the bowler that he should be given out. Why should the batsman who has failed go on with his innings while the bowler who has succeeded is deprived of his just reward?

Batsmen must play the ball with the bat, this is the one and only essential point, and to save the wicket with the legs is unfair to the bowler, and contrary to the traditions of the game. If legs are a fair means of defending the wicket why have a l.b.w. law at all? But as there is a law which establishes the principle that at any rate to balls pitching between wicket and wicket the legs are not to be used for defending the wicket, there is no valid reason why they may be used against balls pitched, it may be only an inch, outside the bowler's territory.