Deep down most players, supporters and followers believe cricket is a sport run by batsmen for batsmen, and this view was only strengthened on Monday when the International Cricket Council’s disciplinary committee decided to ban and fine Denesh Ramdin, the West Indian wicketkeeper, for breaching the ICC’s code of conduct.
Ramdin was wrong to claim he had cleanly taken a catch to dismiss Misbah-ul-Haq during Friday’s Champions Trophy encounter between Pakistan and West Indies, but the ICC has set an extremely dangerous and inconsistent precedent by disciplining him as it has. Ramdin’s crime was to produce “conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game”, which he probably did.
The incident looked poor and had Ramdin explained to the umpires that he was not 100 per cent sure whether he had taken the catch cleanly then everything would have been OK. The trouble is fielders do not always know whether they have taken a catch cleanly. Believe it or not, cricketers do not always watch the ball right into their hands. Often a catch is taken through an instinctive reaction rather than a conscious movement of the body. On most occasions a fielder will place his or her hands where they believe the ball will go. The good catchers get this right more often than the poor ones.
We had a contentious incident during this week’s LV=CC match between Middlesex and Sussex when Matt Prior, the England wicketkeeper, was unhappy to be given out caught. Prior was certain the ball touched the ground as the fielder juggled it, the fielder believed he took a clean catch. On this rare occasion the decision went the fielding side’s way.
My beef, however, is not with the fact that Ramdin has been disciplined, although the sentence is extremely harsh, but that the “conduct contrary to the spirit of the game” ruling is not used consistently. I know I am a bitter and twisted old bowler but I cannot work out what the difference is between a fielder claiming a catch that touched grass and a batsman standing his ground to wait for the umpire’s decision when he has knowingly edged the ball through to the wicketkeeper.
In both situations a cricketer is attempting to deceive the umpire and the opposing team. How can it be that one incident is thought to be an offence and the other simply part of the game? It is absolute codswallop.
If there is to be consistency then any batsman given “not out” caught must be banned and fined if he is subsequently found to have touched the ball with his bat. Batsmen, of course, will say the reason they wait for the umpire’s decision is because they were not sure whether they hit it or not. Again, on most occasions, this is absolute codswallop. Technology has shown us that batsmen immediately know when the ball has hit their bat when they are wrongly given out lbw. It is amazing how they can feel some fine edges and not others.
A fielder should also be disciplined if he does not own up to knowingly touching the boundary rope when he has the ball in his hand. Perhaps a bowler should be disciplined for an audacious appeal that is blatantly not out. If these rules were applied the Champions Trophy would quickly end up being a six-a-side competition.
The history of these rulings and law changes has been one-sided – working predominantly in favour of batsmen, and against bowlers and fielders.
You do not need to look too deeply into the history books to see these changes. Bodyline and the great West Indies pace attack led to captains not being able to place fielders where they want and bowlers only being allowed to bowl one short ball per over. Bowlers now have to keep their front foot behind a line – it used to be the back foot – and heaven forbid he knocks the bails off at his end, as Steven Finn occasionally does.
Even now, in the days of technology, commentators compliment the decision of an umpire giving a batsman “not out” lbw when replays show the ball would have gone on to hit the stumps. These utterings still leave me scratching my head. After all, the ball does not have to knock a stump out of the ground to dislodge a bail.
There was one rule devised in 1774 that helped a bowler, which was called “lbw”. In 1795 the first batsman was given out for getting his leg in the way of a ball that would have gone on to hit the stumps. There must have been a lot of wayward bowling during those 21 intervening years.