In all the furore surrounding the run out of Ian Bell in the Second Test on Sunday, and his subsequent reinstatement, one factor seems to have been largely over-looked. Surely, the ball was dead before the bails were removed and the Indians appealed?
“Law 26.1.(b) The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play.”
Eoin Morgan hit the ball to the boundary, where Praveen Kumar dived successfully to stop it. Unfortunately, Kumar failed to realise he had done so. Although he managed to flick the ball back, he tumbled over the boundary, sat up on his backside for a second looking befuddled, and then languidly got up and strolled slowly over to the ball, which he then threw in. There can be no doubt that he had assumed a boundary had been scored, and the he regarded the ball as having ceased to be in play.
Seeing Kumar’s actions and body language, there is no doubt that the batsmen, Bell and Morgan, also regarded the ball as no longer being in play.
What of the rest of the fielding side? Watch the video of the incident again. None of them appears to be acting in a particularly urgent manner, as they would normally be if they seriously believed a run out was imminently possible. Rahul Dravid has picked up the spare fielding helmet kept some yards behind wicket-keeper Dhoni, and like Bell, Morgan and his fellow slip Laxman is making his way nonchantly towards the pavilion, possibly anticipating his tea time fairy cake. Dhoni collects the throw from Kumar, and tosses it to Mukund who is standing by the stumps, and he does indeed remove the bails, although neither of them makes a big deal of the situation or launches into a vociferous appeal. Their actions are hardly those of players who seriously believe the ball to still be in play.
It seems to me that the criterion of Law 26.1(b) has been fulfilled: “…the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it [the ball] as in play.”
In which case, the umpire at the bowler’s end should have called “dead ball”, and we could all have been saved the subsequent overblown pompous debate about the “spirit of cricket”, whatever that is.
The only point of contention here is whether Dhoni and Mukund believed the ball to be “in play”. In throwing the ball (slowly, underarm) to Mukund, it could be interpreted that Dhoni (and Mukund) did indeed believe it was still live. On the other hand, the manner in which they carry out this act is that of players who are merely trying their luck and have no real expectation of success.
In any case, in interpreting Law 23.1.(b) common sense must of course be applied. How many of the fielding side need to be convinced that the ball is dead before the umpire can deem it so? What if, say, that well known eccentric Sreesanth suddenly decided on a whim, because he could and because it was a Sunday in a month with a “u” in it, that the ball was never ever dead, no siree, like in a game of Indoor Cricket? It would be nonsense of course.
In any case Kumar’s actions and body language on the boundary suggested to all and sundry that the ball had gone for 4 and was dead. I’ve seen it a zillion times in club cricket when some space cadet teenager misfields on the fine leg boundary and then sits lost in a daze while the ball lies quietly at his feet and the players all shout at him to confirm whether it has crossed the imaginary line between the boundary markers. No-one is seriously going to attempt to run out the bemused batsmen at that point.
I should also mention here Law 26.2: “Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide”. This simply emphasises that the umpires could have immediately called “dead ball” and saved all the subsequent debate, the beatifying of St Dhoni by cricket’s establishment (a man who had refused to withdraw his appeal 3 times on the field and, in any case it seems, had his mind subsequently changed by St Sachin), the confirmation in some fans minds that Ian Bell is still more Sherminator than Terminator, and Australians all over the globe agreeing with each other that the Indians (and English establishment) are as soft as they always thought they were.
And let’s not even think about what would have happened had England run out Sachin in that manner.
(My thanks to Paddy Briggs and the anonymous commenter on his blog on this subject for prompting me to write this).