Club Cricket Conference

Sunday, 25th August 2019

Buttler should have been saved by anti-deception spirit

By Charles Randall

28 March 2019

The way that the Laws of Cricket have been framed suggests that Jos Buttler should not have been given out while backing up during the recent Indian Premier League game in Jaipur. The umpire surely had every reason to rule dead ball due to deception.

Opinion about the incident seemed to differ sharply amid confusion about fair play after Ravi Ashwin had surprised Buttler. So the MCC should step in as Law makers to clarify as soon as possible, as they did to soften the interpretation of 'dangerous' full tosses.

Law 41.5.1 on deception has not been mentioned in the debate. It says: "It is unfair for any fielder wilfully to attempt, by word or action, to distract, deceive or obstruct either batsman after the striker has received the ball." While this does not apply directly to the Ashwin incident - a bowler mis-leading a non-striker before delivery - there is a clear implication that the fielding side has a duty of fairness.

The non-striker should be given not out if he is clearly not trying to gain an unfair advantage. To perish six inches outside the crease after being duped by the bowler is clearly not in cricket's interest, though the benefit of doubt should generally go with the bowler, as the new Law 41.16.1 implies. This would be brought correctly into focus if the non-striker were desperate for a run and knows there is risk of dismissal without warning.

The MCC, the Law makers, must have debated for a long time  the best way to deter batsmen from stealing yards while the bowler went through his delivery. It was acceptable to decide that point of release was the best way to define the moment after which the ball is in play. This put the onus on the non-striker to ensure he would remain in his ground on delivery. Otherwise he could be run out legitimately without argument.

The MCC statement, issued after Ashwin had run out Buttler in Jaipur, reiterated that warnings were not necessary and that the bowler was within his rights and so on. Quite so. But another Law make it clear that the fielding side is not permitted to use deception, for example by feigning fielding moves that might cause indecision in the  batsmen, aimed at saving a run or even gaining a possible run-out. 

Fraser Stewart, the MCC manager of the Laws, said that on "further reflection" Buttler should not have been given out due to the pause between Ashwin's stride and breaking the wicket. Michael Vaughan made the good point in the Daily Telegraph that young cricketers should be coached with a different midset - that is to watch the ball out of the bowler's hand before setting off as non-striker.

One would have thought that the fielding side should not be forced into giving unwary batsmen an easy ride, but the MCC ruled otherwise in the new deception Laws of 2017. With this logic, Buttler was fooled into leaving his ground and the umpire should have called dead ball.

The point is that nobody could claim that Buttler was stealing yards unfairly. He was barely a foot outside his crease and hardly moving.

From the video one can see Ashwin watching Buttler out of the corner of his eye and he pretends to go through the motions of bowling off-spin. His left foot attacks the crease as though his arm is turning. Instead he removes the bails after a pause, which draws Buttler out of his crease.

As Buttler had no momentum, this was sheer deception and arguably outside the Spirit of Cricket. Before the recent changes in the Laws feints of various kinds were deemed part of the game, and nobody would have thought pretending to field a  ball was somehow illegal if it saved a run through batsmen indecision.

The act of 'Mankadding' was long regarded as unsporting if a warning was not given at some earlier moment. This encouraged too much moralising. In any case the convention was unfair on the bowling side because a non-striker always had at least one chance to steal yards in tight matches by sprinting the instance the ball was delivered.

As a Radlett club batsman, I was once run out as non-striker when the bowler, a left-arm spinner, stamped his right foot on the crease as though bowling and held on to the ball. Standing only  a single stride out of the crease, I thought he had injured himself and walked over to him to commiserate without actually grounding my bat. It was a surprise when he took off a bail and appealed, the umpire raising his finger.

The bowler's logic was that I had benefited from a tight stumping decision the previous over and deserved to go. It looked as though my form could win the game and, as with Buttler, my team failed to do so. Nevertheless the deception was blatant and surely outside the current Spirit of Cricket.

If Buttler had been on his way up the pitch seeking a run in Jaipur, Ashwin's action would have been beyond reproach. But what actually happened left a sour taste in the mouth.