The International Cricket Council never knew it would have to face such a dilemma until Sri Lanka’s Angelo Matthews’ acrobatic effort ‘off the field’ tested its law books.
Matthews’ effort was one of a kind. He reacted in a flash, looked like a gymnast and flew like a bird before he hit the ball inside the park- an effort that gave the viewers goose bumps. However, the magnificent effort sparked controversies all around on whether or not the result for that shot should have been awarded a six.
The Lankan almost pulled off the blinder in the 16th over of the West Indian run chase. Just when he realised that the momentum was pushing him beyond the boundary, he popped the ball in the air, trying to keep the ball in play, and went past the boundary line. However, his attempt could not keep the ball inside the line and followed him instead. The fielder then jumped up in the air and played some ‘volleyball’ to hit the ball in the area of play again.
Billy Bowden and Simon Taufel, the officials in the match, referred the matter to the third umpire and after a number of replays. The result was three runs to Sarwan instead of a six.
According to the decree of cricket, Law 32 of the MCC law book, Rule 32.4.b states that six runs shall be scored if a fielder (i) has any part of his person touching, or grounded beyond, the boundary when he catches the ball. (ii) catches the ball and subsequently touches the boundary or grounds some part of his person over the boundary while carrying the ball but before completing the catch.
And Angelo Matthews was absolutely clear as per the above guidelines. He did not have the ball touching him when he was outside the boundary. At no point was he touching the boundary and the ball simultaneously.
Now the question here is:
What if the player on the boundary anticipates early on, that the ball would fall a couple of yards beyond the rope and walks back, clear of the boundary ropes, jumps up and punches the ball back into play?
As per the decision on Matthews’ attempt, the ruling for the question above should be the same too. But this raises a finger on the spirit of the game.
It is high time that the law makers sit down and set clear rules for such incidents on the field.
The solution is sort of simple. Either, draft a rule similar to that in the game of football which states that if the ball crosses the line, irrespective of whether the ball hits the back of the net or not, the attacking team would be awarded the goal; or, lay down a statute that, to punch the cricket ball inside the area of play from outside the boundary line, it is mandatory for the fielder to have touched the ball once inside the boundary ropes.
Hopefully, that would not degrade the level of such effort by the fieldsmen. And also prevent controversies that have been on a steady rise in the Gentleman’s game…!