By Charles Randall
13 April 2017
The thickness of bats will be officially limited for the first time from October when new Laws of Cricket are due to take affect.
This attempt to redress the balance between bat and ball is probably the most significant change in a summary document issued by the MCC this week, but there are a number of other important Law changes such as introducing a new Law 42 to give umpires the power to punish on-field misbehaviour and scrapping 'handled ball' as a mode of dismissal, which might trap the unwary in quizzes next winter.
MCC issued a summary document this week, outlining changes to the Laws of Cricket due to come into effect around the world on 1 October 2017, updating the last raft of changes made in 2000.
The safety issue in recreational cricket, rather than restricting run-scoring power against spin, lies at the heart of the bat thickness changes. Fielders and umpires have become more exposed to injury from the power hitting of monster bats, not to mention people outside the match at risk from flying sixes.
The proscribed edge limit in what will be Law 5 (now Law 6) is to be 40mm, almost three times the standard edge of normal bats in the 1960s and before. The new overall thickness will be limited to 60mm, still a great deal thicker than the old traditional measure of about 45mm. The width of the bat, at 108mm, has remained unchanged since at least 1771 when gauges were introduced to eliminate cheating.
A report on bat size, compiled by Imperial College London for the MCC in 2014, covered several makes of Gray-Nicolls bat. The Nemesis, the biggest, had an overall thickness of 69mm with a 41mm edge, and since then bats have grown even thicker to ridiculous proportions, many people would say.
Bat blades must still be made "solely" of wood, one piece and not coloured, but the MCC law makers have written in concessions for bats size 6 or smaller, in junior cricket. The MCC explained: "In an attempt to reduce the cost of junior bats, lamination (the gluing of two or more pieces of wood) will now be allowed in the blade. This will allow manufacturers to use more off-cuts in bats for juniors, hopefully reducing the price."
The MCC added: "Following Cricket Australia’s playing regulation allowing the use of coloured bats – not currently allowed under the Laws – in the Big Bash, such bats will now be allowed for juniors as another means of attracting them to the game, provided that the bats do not discolour the ball. A new category of bat, Type D, is therefore introduced, for bats of size 6 or smaller (81.3cm), which will allow laminated and coloured bats for use only in junior cricket."
On other issues, the current Law 33 on 'handled the ball' will be merged with Law 37 on 'obstructing the field' so that handling will cease to become a dismissal. The mere act of handling the ball - such as the batsman returning it to the bowler as a courtesy - can no longer be used by the fielding side to dismiss a batsman. The umpire must adjudge obstructing the field.
The current Law 20 for 'lost ball' will be scrapped, leaving the umpire to call dead ball and allow runs already completed, as before. Though a lost ball happens extremely rarely, a ball could disappear down a goalpost hole, for example, and become irretrievable within the field of play. Lost ball was nearly scrapped in 2000.
Another change affecting recreational cricket confirms the right of a bowler to run out the non-striking batsman, a move intended to eliminate a grey area and reduce controversy. The current Law 42.15 allows the bowler to take action until he "enters" his delivery stride. From October the bowler can run out the non-striker until the moment the ball would normally be released.
Fraser Stewart, the MCC's laws manager, said that MCC had left no stone unturned in researching and redrafting the new Laws to make the Laws work in a way that "made sense" to players, umpires and spectators.
He added: "The Laws are applicable worldwide so they need to be as simple as possible to understand and inclusive to all. The MCC hopes to encourage interest in the game at all levels and believes these new Laws are reflective of the present time and easier for cricketers and umpires to interpret."
The redrafting process took nearly three years, led by a group comprising Stewart, John Stephenson, Mark Williams, Stan Bennett, John Jameson, Deborah Burns and Alan Fordham. The Australian umpire Simon Taufel provided input via email and occasionally at meetings.
The significant changes to the Laws from 1 October 2017 include:
*Laws written in language applying to all persons, regardless of gender
*The 'handled the ball' Law deleted and merged into 'obstructing the field'
*Lost ball is covered under dead ball
*Injuries hoped to be prevented in a new Law allowing mechanisms tethering the bails to the stumps
*Bowling of deliberate front foot no-balls to be treated in same way as deliberate full tosses
*A new Law of the game, players’ conduct, is introduced, giving an in-match consequence for on-field behaviour
*Law on running out the non-striker has been altered
*The 'bouncing bat’ issue in run-outs acknowledged; substitutes now allowed to keep wicket; concept of penalty time amended
*Batsman cannot take stance in a position encroaching inevitably on the protected area.
Changes to the Laws of Cricket 2017 Code: