Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 8th April 2020

MCC change Law to allow fielding Smith-style


By Charles Randall

6 October 2015 

As from this week, the first in October, a new Law has been introduced to clarify the movement of fielders during play as a result of an incident involving Steve Smith, the Australia captain.

Smith triggered a debate when he moved from slip to leg slip to catch Fawad Alam, having seen the batsman prepare to play a sweep shot. This happened in a one-day international against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi in 2014, and there was a suggestion that Smith had contravened Law 41.7 that deemed any significant movement before the ball had reached the batsman as “unfair”. And 41.8 restricted close fielders to “minor adjustments” only.

Alam might well have been saved by an umpire's call of dead ball – which never came. The umpires Richard Illingworth and Ahsan Raza discussed the catch with the third umpire Nigel Llong before giving Fawad out. ICC match regulations allowed umpires' discretion in these circumstances.

The MCC cited the Smith example when they decided to amend Law 41.7 and delete 41.8 completely. Fielders can be deemed to move fairly if it is “in response to the stroke that the striker is playing or that his actions suggest he intends to play”. The sight of batsmen such as Ian Bell and Josh Buttler waiting to play a dinked sweep almost before the ball is delivered has become increasingly common. The restriction of leg-side fielders to two behind square would still apply, which would have rendered Smith's catch illegal if he had become a third leg-side fielder.

The MCC said in a statement: “The purpose of the existing Law was to prevent a fielder significantly altering his position as the ball comes into play, until the ball reaches the striker, for example running back from square leg to deep square leg as the bowler runs in - this being seen as deception and/or distraction of the striker. Close fielders were only allowed minor adjustments to stance or position, whereas outfielders were permitted to ‘walk in’ normally towards the striker or the striker’s wicket. Anything other than slight movement off line or away from the striker was disallowed.”

“The intention of the redrafted Law is to retain all of the thrust of the existing Law, but to allow a fielder to move significantly, before the ball has reached the striker, if it is in response to the stroke the striker is playing or that his actions suggest he is intending to play. It is felt that such movement is ‘intelligent fielding’ in response to a stroke, and should therefore be allowed.”

Over the years it has been regarded as good cricket at all levels when a slip fielder moves rapidly across for a leg-side ball, perhaps to save byes, but sophisticated strokes such as the dink sweep and even the 'ramp' are often telegraphed early by the batsman. Heaven knows, bowlers need all the help they can get these days.