• England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 1st day

Finn controversy sparks Laws debate

George Dobell at Headingley
August 3, 2012 « France fume after Hindes' comments mar Hoy gold | Chartbeat test »
Steve Davis calls 'dead ball' after Steven Finn dislodges the bails at the non-striker's end © Getty Images
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The MCC will review the Laws of the game following the incident at Headingley when Graeme Smith was reprieved following an edge to first slip, off a delivery from Steven Finn that had already been called dead ball, due to the bowler dislodging the bails at the non-striker's end with his knee.

Umpire Steve Davis called dead ball, citing Law 23.4(b)(vi), stating that Smith, who was on six at the time, had been distracted by Finn's right knee breaking the stumps in his delivery stride. It later transpired that both batsmen had previously complained to the umpires that Finn's habit of knocking into the stumps was off-putting.

Finn had collided with the stumps three times in his first couple of overs without Davis intervening but, starting with the ball Smith edged, Davis called dead ball every time Finn dislodged the bails, twice on occasions when Smith hit boundaries.

However, James Anderson said the umpire had not alerted them about the situation. "It was frustrating for us because the umpire didn't warn us he was going to do it but the batsmen said it was distracting and they had been in the umpire's ear. Finny was told to be careful because it was distracting the batsmen, at no stage was he told it would be called dead ball

"There is nothing in the rules that says the umpire can't do that. It's strange that no batsmen have complained about it before and he has done it 50 times this summer if they thought it was distracting and they told the umpire, then fair enough."

AB de Villiers, though, insisted a warning had been given: "Graeme and Alviro made the point between balls. Steve said there was going to be a warning. He could easily have turned it down and say it won't be a dead ball."

Law 23.4(b)(iv) states that either umpire should call and signal dead ball when: "The striker is distracted by any noise or movement or in any other way while he is preparing to receive, or receiving a delivery. This shall apply whether the source of the distraction is within the game or outside it. The ball shall not count as one of the over."

The MCC, who have been the custodians of the Laws since their formation in 1787, subsequently issued a press release that underlined the impression that there is a grey area in the Laws in relation to the issue.

"Whether the batsman is distracted - or indeed has time to be distracted - is a moot point," the MCC stated. "Smith hit two subsequent balls for four when Finn had broken the wicket but the runs were disallowed as dead ball had been called. If the striker really feels he is distracted, he can try to pull away and make no attempt to play the ball, although this may not always be possible with a fast bowler like Finn.

"A precedent may have been set but it remains to be seen whether dead ball will be called on each occasion that this happens for the remainder of the match. Unlike some other Laws, there is no specified warning procedure for this situation. MCC's Laws sub-committee will discuss the matter at its next meeting and will work closely with ICC on issuing guidance to umpires.

"Of course, what the umpire feels is distracting to the batsman is entirely subjective, but Davis was within his rights to signal dead ball if he was sure that Smith was indeed distracted."

There is precedent for Davis' decision. Earlier this season, in a first-class game between Cambridge MCCU and Lancashire, the umpires called dead ball in similar circumstances. Cambridge seamer Peter Turnbull, like Finn, was also in the habit of dislodging the bails with his leg in his delivery stride and, after the Lancashire batsmen complained to the umpires about the distraction at the lunch interval, it was decided that all such repeat occurrences would result in the ball being called dead.

The issue of 'repeat offending' may be key here. The MCC are reluctant to intervene in one-off issues where bowlers brush the bails with their hand as they pass the stumps, but Finn and Turnbull have gone through periods of bashing into the stumps unusually heavily and unusually often. Finn has been working with Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson on trying to eradicate the problem from his game.

In retrospect Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, who was bowled in the NatWest Series at Chester-le-Street when Finn also collided with the stumps, may reflect that he missed a trick in not complaining about Finn's habit earlier.

"We will discuss amending the Laws," Fraser Stewart, Laws manager at the MCC, told ESPNcricinfo. "But we will not rush into anything.

"While it is true that the Laws would be clarified if they stated that every delivery would be called dead if the bails were dislodged, there are good reasons that is not the case. Nowhere in the Laws does it say that, whenever this happens, a dead ball must be called, and there is a danger that club umpires on Saturday will suddenly start thinking that they should.

"The fact that Finn is a repeat offender may be relevant. Unlike the Laws on bowlers running on the pitch, there is no element of 'three strikes and you're out' about this. There is, instead, an element of subjectivity.

"The ICC will need to get the various managers together - we have already been in communication with them - and we will discuss the issue at the next Laws sub-committee meeting. It would easy to react in a knee-jerk way, but we will sit down and calmly analyses the situation."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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