Commonsense is not a word that appears prominently in cricket's Laws and Regulations but had it been used yesterday by umpire Steve Davis it would have forestalled a farcical situation. The predicament concerned the England fast bowler Steven Finn and the fact that he occasionally gets too close to the stumps in his delivery stride, a tendency that can result in his right knee dislodging the bails at the bowler's end as he delivers the ball.
In the past two or three years Finn has committed this apparent crime on numerous occasions while playing for Middlesex and England but, before yesterday, I have never seen an umpire call "dead ball" when it has happened. Little had been made of it by commentators or pundits, either. It had not been an issue. But it became one yesterday when Davis made the surprising call, which happened to coincide with Graeme Smith edging a Finn delivery to Andrew Strauss at first slip.
Prior to this, and after previously seeing Finn dislodge the bails while bowling to Alviro Petersen, Smith had gone to Davis to say it was a distraction. It obviously influenced the umpire's decision-making. Yet it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the wise old South African captain identified this as a potential opportunity to unsettle England's youngest and most hostile bowler.
Is the bails being removed a distraction for a batsman? Do me a favour. Batsmen look for ways to put a bowler off, the most common being stopping them in their run-up because, apparently, something/somebody is moving around the sight screen. It is a nonsense. Some batsmen, if they could, would try stopping airplanes flying behind a sight screen so they do not catch their eye. You'd never think they were paid to closely watch the ball.
If it was a tactic by Smith, it probably worked because the threat of a "dead ball" being called would have weighed heavily on Finn's mind as he ran in to bowl, in the same way that worrying about bowling no-balls would.
By signalling "dead ball" Davis set a dangerous precedent, which led to further non-balls being called. Umpires, of course, have the power to stop play when they want, which is what calling "dead ball" does. But by doing this, and with Finn dislodging the bails on several more occasions – which he tends to do more when bowling at left- handed batsmen – a farcical situation was arising. And why was it farcical? Because, according to the Laws and Regulations, Finn was doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Finn is not the first bowler to have occasionally knocked the bails off in delivering – there have been bowlers who have accidentally kicked stumps out of the ground in their final stride. Many, myself included, sometimes catch their fingers on the stumps as they swing their arm round to bowl. Shaun Pollock, the great South African fast bowler, used to do it, as did Mark Ealham, the Kent and England all-rounder. Hitting the stumps with your hand can cause you to bowl a bad ball but the biggest problem is that it bloody hurts.
Until now this has only been a minor issue for Finn. Yes, it is a signal that he is jumping in to the stumps at the moment of delivery rather than bowling through his action, but this is the sort of minor issue bowlers deal with on a daily basis. It can be easily corrected, probably by straightening his run-up a little.
Similar instances occurred during most, if not all, of Finn's previous Test, ODI and T20 matches this summer, and the games were completed without a hitch. Football managers talk about consistent decision-making; it has to be the same in cricket. Decisions have to be thought through, too.
Angus Fraser is a former England opening bowler
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