By Charles Randall
19 July 2019
Reigate Priory CC, the Surrey Championship leaders, were justifiably elated at Jason Roy's impact on the World Cup. England did not seem to play so well without his skilful explosive batting at the top of the order, suffering two of their three defeats in his absence.
The Reigate right-hander had his one off-game in their first defeat, when he dropped a catch and failed with the bat against Pakistan, but he proved to be an inspiration in the tournament, and the throw from the deep that clinched victory at Lord's etched his name in posterity. The boy who embraced club cricket so enthusiastically came good in spectacular fashion.
The World Cup tournament produced wonderful cricket and, no, New Zealand were not denied justice in a sporting final by conceding six runs under Law 19.8, for reasons given below. The only sour note was the decision by the ICC to sell out to a television pay wall, which makes one despair about cricket's governance. The ICC ruthlessly sought funds to 'grow' the game worldwide while ignoring the participation crisis in the UK. Sky deserved credit for allowing an England final to be broadcast by Channel 4.
Roy finished as England's most successful batsman by scoring 443 runs in his seven appearances, a reduced number due to injury. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow scored more runs from more innings, but Roy's average of 63.29 was the best, and his strike rate was a phenomenal 115.36 runs per 100 balls, the fastest among top order batsmen from any country.
England won the ultra-tight final at Lord's, having struck lucky when a throw-in deflected off Ben Stokes, but far too many pundits belittled their achievement by blaming an umpire. The four overthrows off Stokes came at a crucial time when England needed nine runs off three balls. The world thought Kumar Dharmasena, the Sri Lankan umpire, made an error by signalling six runs when Martin Guptill's power throw from the deep ricocheted off the diving Stokes to the boundary. But was this an error? No, it wasn't. The case can be made.
The media drew attention to Law 19.8 on overthrows, and a swarm of former international umpires opined that Dharmasena had been mistaken. Absolutely certain. Simon Taufel, for example, said: "It’s a clear mistake... it’s an error of judgment. England should have been awarded five runs, not six." Taufel was a magnificent umpire from Australia in his time, top-rated by the ICC for five years.
Krishna Hariharan, the Indian umpire, echoed the general view that the umpires should have conferred and ruled five runs, making Stokes return to the non-striker's end. He went further and said: "Kumar Dharmasena killed the World Cup for New Zealand." Many pundits agreed with the general tone without examining closely the wording of Law 19.8. They simply followed assumptions that everyone made about runs allowed from overthrows. But a lawyer would see things differently, which in turn will require the MCC to rephrase the wording as law-makers.
Here is the actual wording of the Law, omitting the irrelevant mention of penalty runs.
If the boundary results from an overthrow or from the wilful act of a fielder, the runs scored shall be the allowance for the boundary and the runs completed by the batsmen, together with the run in progress if they had already crossed at the instant of the throw or act.
In short it can be argued realistically that the diving Stokes had "completed" a second run and that there were no runs "in progress". This meant that the fact the batsmen had not crossed when the throw was released became irrelevant. Stokes seemed to have made his ground a split second before the ball arrived, but television screen shots did not examine that question.
Imagine any situation where the batsmen have not crossed, perhaps due to a mix-up, and they continue to attempt a single to a deep fielder. The ball hits the stumps, but the batsman has scrambled the run just in time. The ball ricochets clear and the batsmen run another. Does anyone seriously think that somehow the first run should be cancelled and the overthrow allowed, requiring the batsmen to change ends? No. That would be ridiculous and incorrect by any interpretation as the batsmen had clearly "completed" a run even though they had not crossed before the throw.
In the Stokes case, because the ball deflected off the batsman and the wicket was not broken, the umpires needed to adjudge whether Stokes "completed" his second run. At the very least he could have been given the doubt because there was no guarantee the wicket would have been broken early enough for a notional run-out.
If Dharmasena had awarded five runs, England could claim to have been inequitably treated because Stokes would have lost the strike by returning to the non-striker's end. All he had done was complete the required two runs, according to plan. The accidental boundary overthrow was not his fault and five runs would have been desperately unlucky for England and lucky for New Zealand. Which brings us around to the question of luck, where we started...