When people start to play fast and loose with the word cheat, lawyers immediately begin to salivate. Dominic Cork, who captains Derbyshire, has never been known as one who is eager to allow controversy to go harmlessly past the off stump if he could possibly avoid it. This time he may have gone a step too far.
One would have thought by now that tight finishes in limited-overs matches had become so commonplace that rather than get into a frenzy, competitive players would have shrugged their shoulders and said, "Well, here we are again," or something like that.
For Cork, the ultimate competitor, every day is a fresh start and a place in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 competition, the game's brazenly appealing new hussy, was, of course, attractive to a side that already fears they may not have too much more to hope for from the present season. Victory over Leicestershire at Grace Road would have made sure that Derbyshire would have taken part in what may be a frenzied finals day at Trent Bridge on 19 July.
Brad Hodge, the Australian who is playing for Leicestershire, took a catch at long on to dismiss Derbyshire's Steve Selwood in the penultimate over, reducing Derbyshire, who needed 172 to win, to 153 for 8. Cork and Derbyshire have maintained that while celebrating the catch, Hodge carried the ball over the boundary line and Selwood's reward should have been six runs, which would have taken Derbyshire closer to victory. As it was, they lost by one run. Although the initial complaints came from their coach, Adrian Pierson, Cork will have later made his case with the utmost energy. At the time, after weighing up the pros and cons and having had a chat with Hodge, Roy Palmer, a most experienced umpire, decided to let things stand.
Hodge said that he caught the ball three or four yards inside the rope and was simply showing the ball to the crowd. He had no idea whether or not he stepped over the boundary, but claimed that he had made the catch a good three or four seconds earlier and was not carried over the line by the momentum of making the catch.
Law 23 states that the ball becomes dead when the batsman is out. If a fielder overbalances and falls over the boundary immediately after taking a catch, six runs should be given. If, on the other hand, the catch has been comfortably held, as this was with the fielder retaining "complete control over the further disposal of the ball", the ball was dead and Hodge could do what he liked with it.
Cork, taking a leaf out of Greg Rusedski's book, fired vociferously from the hip in accusing Hodge of cheating, which implies a deliberate and conscious act. Hodge, naturally, will be keen to make sure that this does not remain as a slur against his name. Cork also had a go at Tim Lamb of the England and Wales Cricket Board. It is probably too late to expect him to grow up, but he should be reminded in no uncertain terms by Derbyshire of his responsibilities. It will then depend on how charitable Hodge feels about it all.
If it should all reach the law courts, Cork will have some explaining to do. An immediate and sincere apology would do no harm although that may not be Cork's style. It is not the first time he has been too hot-headed for his own good.
The problems of interpreting the Laws cropped up at the recent meeting of the International Cricket Council at Lord's. The delegates decided to consider seriously the benefits of using more than two umpires on the field of play. The main idea under discussion was the use of a third umpire to stand square with the wicket at the bowler's end. His job would simply be to call the no-balls, leaving the umpire behind the stumps to concentrate on the other end.
With only two officials on the field, cricket is more sparing in this department than any other major team sport. Although the third umpire might cause an uncomfortable clutter, he would in a sense be cricket's equivalent of a linesman or touch judge.
In baseball, one umpire stands about five or six feet behind the striker as if he was a perilously close first slip and he doesn't seem to get in the way of the action too much. A third umpire to judge no-balls would be an admirable idea and I am becoming increasingly in favour of these things being decided by the human rather than the electronic eye, which may not always be infallible. The Laws were drawn up for the human eye and those all-important words, "the benefit of the doubt" allow for umpiring error and uncertainty. Hawkeyes and Snickometers are all very well, but cricket, not even one-day cricket, has yet become on a par with Space Invaders. The game is unquestionably on the move, but not always forward.
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