Hands tied: why governing bodies must not change match results

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:

  1. that the ECB in principle has no right to alter the result determined by the umpires;
  2. that the ECB, incidentally, saw no error in the umpires’ judgement on this occasion;
  3. 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.

Remove the Penalty Runs signals from the attack

How many of the 14 umpiring signals can you name and recognise? Some are certainly more familiar than others. Top of the list is probably “out” – “raising an index finger above the head”. Next in line would be the boundary signals: “boundary four” being “waving an arm from side to side finishing with the arm across the chest” and “boundary six” being “raising both arms above the head.” These are familiar to even those with only a casual acquaintance with the game.

Next would come those familiar only to those with some knowledge of the game, including such gestures as “no ball” (“extending one arm horizontally”) and “bye” (“raising an open hand above the head”). Even signals such as “revoke” (“touching both shoulders, each with last signal the opposite hand”) are becoming more familiar, thanks to DRS. However, even amongst players, it’s surprising how some are unfamiliar with the signals, let alone the underlying laws.

At the bottom of the list in Law 3.14 come the rarely seen signals such as “new ball” (“holding the ball above the head”) and “short run” (“bending one arm upwards and touching the nearer shoulder with the tips of the fingers”). Considering that the occasions on which players would see these are few and far between, it’s excusable for your average player not to know them.

Scorers, of course, have to recognise all the signals, as their recognition or non-recognition may have a direct impact on the result – a short run missed, for instance, could turn a tie into a loss.

There are, however, two particularly troublesome signals that I wish to criticise. These are the signals for five penalty runs awarded to the batting and fielding sides respectively. To illustrate my point, can you, without checking, state what these are?

I’ll even give you the definitions for the two maddeningly similar signals:

  • “placing one hand on the opposite shoulder”
  • “repeated tapping of one shoulder with the opposite hand”

Can you determine, without simply guessing at random, which means the runs are awarded to the batting side, and which to the fielding side?

As far as I can see, there’s nothing that obviously associates either gesture with either team. The closest I’ve got is that “repeated tapping” might suggest hitting an object, and so could be loosely tied to the batting team. Weak as that may be, it’s better than the “placing one hand” on the shoulder that indicates awarding runs to the fielding side. Perhaps placing the hand around the ball of the shoulder could be reminiscent of gripping a cricket ball. Unfortunately, this could easily instead suggest ball-tampering, thus giving exactly the wrong idea of who the runs should be awarded to.
By contrast, several of the more common signals have a good match with the real world. It doesn’t take a genius to see, for instance, how waving a hand translates to “bye”. Even slightly more obscure ones like “boundary four” can be interpreted as the action for sweeping or pulling a ball to the boundary.

If a missed short run could alter a match result, then it’s clear that awarding 5 runs to the wrong team could have an even greater impact, leading to a 10-run error. Theoretically the scorers should check with the umpires; however, in real-life situations, things don’t always work out that way.

At this point I’d like to bring in some concepts from a field more associated with technology, that of usability. We can regard the umpire signalling as a system, the users of which are the scorer, umpire, and players. There are a few principles that bear on the design of these signals.

Of the famous 10 Usability Heuristics that Jakob Nielsen listed, two in particular seem to be violated:

“Error prevention: even better than good error messages [umpires alerting scorers to the incorrect score] is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. […] Eliminate error-prone conditions […].”
“Match between system and the real world: The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user […] Follow real-world conventions […].”

On both these heuristics the Penalty Runs signals don’t fare well. Their similarity causes confusion and their lack of reference to the real world makes them hard to decipher. Are they the best we can do?

Having said all that, I have no firm suggestions for what could replace them. Since a significant amount of their confusion is down to their similarity, I would say that only one needs to be replaced: the one that awards runs to the fielding side.

It’s tempting to incorporate the “five” element into the gesture, since, as of 2014, that is the number of runs awarded. Since it’s conceivable that the number might be altered by MCC at some stage, though, perhaps it would be best not to use it.

The best I have come up with so far is “raising a clenched fist vertically above the head.” The clenched fist would signify the ball, and the arm position would also suggest bowling, thus associating it with the fielding side. It should be possible for the scorer to differentiate it from the signal for “bye”, since the latter involves waving, and from “out”, since that specifies an index finger to be raised.

I’m interested to hear other suggestions on this topic. In the meantime, though, we have to be realistic – the signal won’t change. As a scorer, there’s no option other than learning the official signals, and learning them correctly.