Voges reprieve shows it’s time to restore back-foot no-ball rule

  • Ian Chappell
  • Updated: Feb 22, 2016 22:25 IST
The front-foot no-ball law is creating controversy, most recently with umpire Richard Illingworth’s error giving Adam Voges a monumental reprieve in the Wellington Test between Australia and New Zealand. Voges was bowled but it was incorrectly called a no ball. (AFP Photo)

No one should be surprised that the front-foot no-ball law is creating controversy and that umpire Richard Illingworth’s error gave Adam Voges a monumental reprieve in the Wellington Test.

In 1962, Richie Benaud asked Sir Don Bradman (both favoured a back-foot law) to act as an umpire in the nets to prove how the then, new front-foot no-ball law was unworkable. When the photographs taken in that experiment were developed, Benaud found, “An umpire, on more occasions than not, would be calling no-ball when in fact the ball was perfectly legitimate, by something like half an inch. It was just that the umpire’s line of sight was pushing the bowler’s boot forward so it looked as though it was a no-ball.”

Knowing that, it’s no surprise Illingworth incorrectly called Doug Bracewell’s delivery that bowled Voges a no-ball. What’s less clear is why a batsman is reprieved by video replay of a no-ball but a bowler isn’t entitled to similar privileges.

The answer, we’re told, is the poor old batsman might alter his shot on hearing the umpire’s call of ‘no-ball’.

Makes no sense

What planet are these officials from? If a bowler --- even one operating at 150-160 kph --- oversteps by mere millimetres (the general infringement), it makes no difference at the batsman’s end. Secondly, under the front-foot no-ball law, a batsman facing a fast bowler doesn’t have time to change his mind let alone his shot by the time the umpire’s call registers.

Over the years, all sorts of weird and not-so-wonderful changes to the law have been proposed, including placing a third umpire on the field to adjudicate solely on the front foot. I wonder what excuse would be offered when this umpire inevitably got in a tangle with a fielder during either an attempted catch or run out?

A simple return to a back-foot no-ball law, which was only abandoned because of draggers, would not only eradicate the confusion and inconsistency but also bring other positives to the game.

Old law better

A back-foot no-ball law would virtually eradicate the infringement and make over rates less of a blight on the game. By having the standing umpire concentrate on the bowler’s back rather than front foot, he would have more time to focus on the batsman’s end of the pitch. This should improve umpiring standards, especially when fast bowlers are operating.

How do you overcome the sole objection to this change --- the possibility it would resurrect draggers with their front foot landing way beyond the batting crease?

If the umpire placed a disc where he wants the bowler to land his back foot so that he’s not encroaching on the batsman’s territory, it should ensure fair play all round.

How does the umpire know where to place the disc for each bowler?

Use video support

There’s footage of every international bowler taken from side-on via run-out cameras, so by viewing this footage, a mark is established for all bowlers. This is one way technology can be utilised to improve the game and bowlers’ marks could be reviewed from time to time.

There are two constant complaints about this system.

1) It is arbitrary.

No more so than the front-foot no-ball law where bowlers of differing heights land their back foot in vastly different positions. This would be the same under the proposed law but the umpire has more time to adjudicate by watching the back rather than the front foot.

2) Umpires prefer laws that are black and white.

What can be more muddled than the current situation where replays of two different deliveries, striking exactly the same spot on a stump, show one is out and the other is not out lbw, because of the decision made by the on-field umpire? The black-and-white excuse is pure obfuscation.

As I often hear, “The problem with common sense is it’s not that common.” That saying is applicable to many of the current laws and it’s time the flaws were seriously addressed.

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