A BATTING WITH BIMAL BREAKING REPORT: Steven Finn’s dislodging of bails at non-striker’s end sparks rules debate

Finn was in disbelief after umpire Davis signalled a dead ball

The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) have announced that they will be reviewing the Laws of the game after an incident in the second Test between England and South Africa at Headingley.

The incident in question happened when England celebrated after Graeme Smith was caught at first slip, however, to their horror, Smith was called back to the middle after the delivery from pace bowler Steven Finn was called a dead ball by the on-field umpire since Finn’s knee had dislodged the bails at the non-striker’s end.

Steve Davis, who was the on-field umpire that made the decision, cited Law 23.4(b)(vi), which states that Smith, who was on six runs at the time, was distracted by Finn’s right knee breaking the stumps at the non-striker’s end.

In fact, both opening batsmen had earlier complained that Finn’s habit of breaking the stumps with his hand or knee was affecting their concentration.

During his first couple of overs, Finn had dislodged the bails at the non-striker’s end three times without umpire Davis intervening, but after Smith edged the ball to first slip, umpire Davis started to call dead balls every time that Finn broke the stumps, twice on occasions where Smith had hit the ball to the boundary.

However, according to fast bowler James Anderson, the on-field umpires had never alerted them about Finn’s problem.

“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,” Anderson said.

But, South African wicketkeeper AB de Villiers insisted that the umpires had warned the England players about the situation.

“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,” de Villiers said.

According to Law 23.4(b)(iv), an umpire should call and signal a 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 maintains the Laws of cricket since their formation in 1787, issued a press release that explained how this incident was a grey area.

“Whether the batsman is distracted – or indeed has time to be distracted – is a moot point, 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,” the release said.

The MCC also noted that it was the umpire has every right to signal a dead ball if he thinks the batsmen are being distracted.

“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,” the release added.

The MCC rarely act if bowlers hit the stumps at the non-striker’s end just once by accident, but in Finn’s case, he has done it a countless number of times in the past few months.

To resolve the problem, Finn has been working with Middlesex bowling coach Richard Johnson to try and break the unusual habit.

Australian captain Michael Clarke was bowled by Finn in the Natwest series at Chester-le-Street after the England pace bowler collided with the stumps at the non-striker’s end.

Laws manager at the MCC,  Fraser Stewart, who spoke exclusively to ESPNcricinfo said: “We will discuss amending the Laws, 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 analyse the situation.”

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