Back to the Back Foot

June 5, 2006

by Hrishikesh

At the triangular tournament involving India, Pakistan and Australia in Amstelveen in 2004,  the ICC experimented with the third umpire making calls on no-balls. Two of the most senior umpires, David Shepherd and Steve Bucknor, officiated in Amstelveen, with no-ball calls from the third umpire appearing to take David Shepherd by surprise at times. An umpire needs to be totally focused on the job at hand and the third umpire buzzing in his ears occasionally would have done him no favours at all. Subsequently the measure was withdrawn as top umpires and players didn’t really approve of the experiment. (Some trivia for you: Anil Kumble is the first bowler to be no-balled by the third umpire). 

Still, it will take just one slightly questionable call which changes the course of a match for questions to be raised again about whether the match referee or the third umpire should be given greater responsibilities to help with no-ball decisions. The use of technology is welcome but it should not be at the expense of slowing down the game drastically. Already the TV networks are worried about the slow over rates extending the day’s play into overtime affecting their scheduling.

Given that no-balls are this important, I have a suggestion: why don’t we adopt the back-foot no-ball rule once again? The advantages of this would be three-fold:

1. It would give the umpires a lot more time to view the action at the striker’s end, and in the process would improve the standard of decision-making.
2. It would give the batsman a little more time to change his shot and take advantage of the no-ball.
3. It might even bring down the number of no-balls per match and improve the alarmingly slow over-rates these days.

In fact, it would give bowlers with long bowling strides like Shaun Pollock and Brett Lee the opportunity go get further down the wicket with their front foot by a few inches. Would the batsmen relish it?

Under the old back foot no ball law, the bowling crease (the white line on which the stumps are pitched) was used. Your back foot had to be behind this line when the ball was bowled; otherwise it was a no-ball. Cricket shifted to the current front foot law in 1980, so that now the bowling crease is redundant in terms of where you can bowl from. In fact, why have the bowling crease?

A few experts including Ian Chappell have been strongly advocating a return to the back foot no-ball rule. Reportedly, Sir Donald Bradman was strongly in favour of continuing with the back-foot no-ball rule and in fact he was then the lone voice against the MCC’s introduction of the now in-vogue front foot no-ball rule.

It is reasonable at this point to wonder what the logic behind adopting the front-foot no-ball rule from the eighties was. More on that in an upcoming article.

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