Switch-Hits and Misguided Motives

June 18, 2008

Cricinfo reports today that the MCC has approved Kevin Pietersen's so-called "switch-hit" reverse slog for six which drew so much attention this week, because it raised several interesting problems within the existing Laws of the game. This is not the first time Pietersen has used this stroke. Indeed, he has been playing the stroke for over a year now, and i wrote about the problems this raises on this blog on May 20, 2007. That post has drawn a number of hits over the past couple of days, yet the most interesting thing is that nothing that the MCC has said addresses any of the problems raised in that post (Laws wise) which arise as a result of Pietersen's switch hit.

The cricinfo story does acknowledge problems with the LBW Law, which one would think is a fairly fundamental, consequential alteration (the Law was modified only once in the 20th century as far as i know). What is troubling though, is that if one went purely by the quotes offered in the Cricinfo story, then the MCC was swayed by Pietersen's skilfull execution of the innovative stoke, than by legal considerations, which is precisely the sort of thing that the law making body should have discounted in their considerations. Pietersen's innovation is different from the modification of the bowling law, because in the case of the bowling law, new technology brought new information to light and thus rendered the old position untenable. The response to the new information in terms of the new Law is problematic, but at least it was based on serious information.

This is the gist of the MCC's response -

The committee concluded that the "superb execution" of the stroke should not disguise its difficulty. "It incurs a great deal of risk for the batsman. It also offers bowlers a good chance of taking a wicket and therefore MCC believes that the shot is fair to both batsman and bowlers."
This risk argument is not relevant the question at hand. This is because as the Law currently stands, it is precisely because the risk of the LBW is mitigated with balls pitching outside leg-stump that Pietersen and co. can attempt the stroke with impunity - with almost no risk of dismissal.

The tone of the MCC's argument begs the question - what if it was some batsman other than Pietersen playing the stroke? Would they have responded in a similar way? Given all the hoopla in England about ball-tampering with Wasim and Waqar and reverse-swing and the horror with which that innovation was viewed, this is a question worth asking. But it is also a question which is unlikely to ever be answered satisfactorily, so lets set it aside.

It might be more useful to ask - why not allow bowlers to tamper with the ball (they are already allowed to apply spit and/or sweat on the ball, and are also allowed to shine the ball - both actions involve manipulating the condition of the ball), if the switch-hit (which cause huge problems from the point of view of existing Law) is to be allowed simply because it is a fine innovation?

The switch-hit ruling is a slippery slope. Here's why. Lets consider a situation, where the law has been changed - that switching hands (i.e turning from a top right hand to a top left hand), opens up the possibility of the LBW for the left arm spinner (for example) bowling over the wicket, into the rough at the right handed batsman. Now consider a situation where you have a right handed batsmen facing a really good medium-fast bowler, bowling over the wicket. A 7-2 field is in operation and the bowler is aiming to keep it tight outside offstump, and try the occasional off cutter to see if an LBW is possible. What is to stop a batsman in such an event, from switching hands on the bat handle, every time he shoulder's arms? This way, he would never be out LBW even if he was padding up to an off-cutter coming back into the stumps after pitching outside off stump, because the "switch" would be in operation.

So the switch-hits brings with it two very bad options - one, where the batsman is able to counter bowling into the rough outside his leg-stump and effectively sweep without the risk of the LBW, or it could create an opportunity for a batsman (an anti-Pietersen, if the MCC would like) to completely negate the contest between bat and ball as it stands today. Either ways, allowing the switch-hit skews the contest further in favor of the batsman.

All this arises from the misguided (in my view) notion that fours and sixes are what entertain people. Every significant rule change in the modern era has been in favor of the batsman - the rule limiting bouncers, the front foot no-ball rule, the rule with regard to over-rates, ball-tampering rules. Some of these are admittedly good rules, others are problematic. The only rule change in the modern era which can be said to have been to the bowlers benefit is the new bowling law, and this law has in my view been a disaster. The response, given new information has involved defining what is legal, instead of further refining a description of the what is illegal as far as the bowling action is concerned. The old law explicitly described the illegal delivery. The new bowling law, while it has accomodated Shoaib Akthar, Mutthiah Muralitharan and a host of other bowlers, has made Cricket more rancorous and more uncertain.

This switch-hit rule promises to do the same.

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Switch-Hits and Misguided Motives


Author: Kartikeya


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