With the ECB currently unable, it appears, to make any move without being slammed from one quarter or another, it is pleasing to see one recent decision of theirs that can be applauded. The unnecessarily controversial end to the Kent vs. Sussex match in the Women’s One-Day Championship led to Kent appealing the tied result, on the basis that the ball was dead once the keeper had taken it, thus precluding any further running.
As those who knew the Laws were well aware, Kent were on a hiding to nothing, assuming that the Laws were consistently applied. Law 21.10 (Result not to be changed) is quite clear:
Once the umpires have agreed with the scorers the correctness of the scores at the conclusion of the match – see Laws 3.15 (Correctness of scores) and 4.2 (Correctness of scores) – the result cannot thereafter be changed.
Case closed. Yet even if the result could, hypothetically, have been changed, the Dead ball Laws also offered little support to Kent’s complaint.
Kent, it seems, felt the Sussex players were somehow underhanded in running whilst Kent imagined the ball was dead. As Laws 16.2 (Call of Time), 23.1 (Ball is dead) and 23.2 (Ball finally settled) state, however:
The bowler’s end umpire shall call Time when the ball is dead on the cessation of play before any interval or interruption and at the conclusion of the match.
The ball becomes dead when […] it is finally settled in the hands of the wicket-keeper or of the bowler. […] The ball shall be considered to be dead when it is clear to the bowler’s end umpire that the fielding side and both batsmen at the wicket have ceased to regard it as in play. […] Whether the ball is finally settled or not is a matter for the umpire alone to decide.
Had the umpires called “time”? If not, the ball was potentially still in play. Was it finally settled? Not if the umpires had reason to suppose that either the batters or the fielders still viewed it as in play. Sussex clearly viewed it as in play, so the umpires rightly ruled it as not being dead.
It’s disappointing to see the Kent coach take to Twitter, claiming that the “Spirit of Cricket has taken a big U-Turn this weekend.” As I have written elsewhere, such inappropriate invocations of the Spirit of Cricket only serve to confuse the matter. Why should the Spirit of Cricket be thought to have anything to do with attempting a fair run?
Since the Laws are so clear, it cannot have been very difficult, for the ECB to come to their stated conclusion as reported by CRICKETHer:
It has been decided that there is no reason to overturn any decision made by the umpires on the day, nor the outcome of the game as had been determined on the day. The match is therefore a tie.
One cannot help but feel, though, that the ECB nonetheless could, and ideally should, have gone further in their statement. As it stands, the statement leaves open the possibility that they could have changed the result, had there been sufficient reasons to do so. This should not be possible. In the case of a result which they did consider to be in error, governing bodies should never overturn the result itself. That is a breach of the authority of the umpires, who have the sole responsibility for determining the result of the game. The ICC famously did so in the Oval Test of 2006, only to reverse their reversal following condemnation by MCC.
The most that a governing body should be able to do is to apply some competition penalty to nullify the result, rather than alter it. This could be done, for instance, by deducting points, or by disqualifying the team. Indeed, this happened in the infamous Worcestershire vs Somerset match when Somerset declared after one over. Somerset would have proceeded to the knockout stages, had the TCCB not voted, somewhat controversially in itself, to disqualify them.
Returning to the present day, it would have been preferable for the ECB to emphasise three points:
- that the ECB in principle has no right to alter the result determined by the umpires;
- that the ECB, incidentally, saw no error in the umpires’ judgement on this occasion;
- that the ECB therefore saw no reason to add or deduct points from any team, or take any further action.
Asking a governing body to recognise, highlight and advertise the limits of its own authority may, however, be expecting a little too much.