Chappelli’s Achilles Heel: A Critique of the Proposed LBW Law Change

As much as I like Ian Chappell personally and as much as I have learned from his many writings and listening to him on TV. I am truly baffled by the new LBW law that he has proposed in a column for ESPNcricinfo. I could not believe what I was reading, especially from a thinker I had so long admired.

The following is a verbatim excerpt from Ian Chappell’s latest article for ESPNcricinfo titled – “Change the ball-tampering and lbw laws”

“And while they are in a magnanimous mood, the administrators should also make a change to the lbw law that would be welcomed by all bowlers.

The new lbw law should simply say: “Any delivery that strikes the pad without first hitting the bat and, in the umpire’s opinion, would go on to hit the stumps is out regardless of whether or not a shot is attempted.

Forget where the ball pitches and whether it strikes the pad outside the line or not; if it’s going to hit the stumps, it’s out.

There will be screams of horror – particularly from pampered batsmen – but there are numerous positives this change would bring to the game. Most important is fairness. If a bowler is prepared to attack the stumps regularly, the batsman should only be able to protect his wicket with the bat. The pads are there to save the batsman from injury not dismissal.

It would also force batsmen to seek an attacking method to combat a wristspinner pitching in the rough outside the right-hander’s leg stump.

Contrast Sachin Tendulkar’s aggressive and successful approach to Shane Warne coming round the wicket in Chennai in 1997-98 with a batsman who kicks away deliveries pitching in the rough and turning in toward the stumps. Which would you rather watch?

The current law encourages “pad play” to balls pitching outside leg while this change would force them to use their bat. The change would reward bowlers who attack the stumps and decrease the need for negative wide deliveries to a packed off-side field.

The law, as it pertains to pitching outside leg, was originally introduced to stop negative tactics to slow the scoring. Imagine trying to stifle players like VVS Laxman and Mark Waugh by bowling at their pads. The law should retain the current clause where negative bowling down the leg side is deemed illegal.

This change to the lbw law would also simplify umpiring and result in fewer frivolous DRS challenges. Consequently, it would speed up a game that has slowed drastically in recent times. It would also make four-day Tests an even more viable proposition as mind-numbing huge first-innings totals would be virtually non-existent.

The priority for cricket administrators should be to maintain an even balance between bat and ball. These law changes would help redress any imbalance and make the game, particularly Test cricket, a far more entertaining spectacle.”

Source: https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/29155144/ian-chappell-change-ball-tampering-lbw-laws

I can very well appreciate Ian Chappell’s intent of maintaining balance between bat and ball to make Test cricket more enchanting. It is the right intent and all great thinkers of the game should come forward and contribute with ideas to revive Test cricket. However, to pretend that Chappell’s proposed change in the LBW law would bring about the much talked about balance and that it should be taken seriously by cricket administrators, would be patently absurd
Sorry, Chappelli, but the idea you propose does not create any balance between bat and ball, if anything it only shifts the balance from bat to the ball. If such a thing is ever implemented, Test cricket which is already on life support would die soon as it would completely change the game.

LBW law was first introduced in the eighteenth century, to prevent the batsmen from padding up to deliveries pitching outside off. Ever since the law has gone through several revisions as the batsmen were increasing becoming experts at pad-play. The current version of the law which is in use since 1972 allows umpires to adjudge batters out lbw even if the ball is pitched outside off but batter did not attempt to hit the ball with the bat. Today the use of technology such as ball-tracking has increased the no of lbw dismissals.

Point to be noted is, the law was introduced to prevent batsmen from padding up to deliveries as otherwise the batter could just try to block the ball with his pads. But there are two distinctions as per the current law, one is when the impact is in line of the stumps, over which there is no debate. Other being – when the ball is pitching outside the off-stump and the impact is also outside the off stump and the ball is going on to hit the stumps. In this case if the batter did not offer a shot he will be given out, but if he attempted to play a shot, he cannot be given out. What Ian Chappell is suggesting is to change the law so that batters can be given out even if they are attempting to play a shot with the impact being outside off. This would completely change the game plan of the batsmen and would discourage them to use their feet to reach out for the ball for driving through the off-side especially to the off-spinners and in-swingers. The idea of the lbw rule wasn’t to prevent a batsmen from playing a ball outside off, which this proposed lbw rule will make them do, but only to prevent them from simply padding up.

Moving on to the leg side rule, as per the current law – if the ball is pitched outside leg a batsmen cannot be given out lbw. This is because when the ball is pitched outside leg, the batsmen is often blinded as due to the stance it is difficult to rotate the head further leg-side which creates a bit of blind spot. If this fragment of the law is changed as per Chappell’s suggestion, it would encourage negative bowling as bowlers would stack up the leg side field. Leg-spinners and left arm orthodox will bowl into the rough. Fast bowlers would start going around the wicket a lot more and move wider of the crease to create an angle. Batters will often find it difficult to spot the ball. That would be a recipe for some very unattractive cricket which would encourage negative tactics. We would see low scores and the games would seldom go beyond the third day.

There is an English proverb which says, “Why fix something that isn’t broken.”  The current lbw law is fine as it is, however, if anything a crackdown must be made against the tactics of hiding the bat behind the pads which should not be regarded as playing a shot. But implementing the radical changes to the law as suggested by Ian Chappell would be massively altering the game of cricket as a spectacle for no reason. It would completely change the complexion of Test cricket as we know today.

I would be very interested to find out what other great thinkers of the game have to say about the idea, in my opinion atleast if this idea is ever presented to a jury, it will be ruled out leg before wicket. I also expect that Ian Chappell will welcome this critical feedback.

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