The Unfinished Business of Sports Laws and When Rulemakers Go Too Far | Cricket

Tthe latest iteration of the Football Association Law is 26,868 words long. Despite having to deal with variations for sevens and tens, rugby union manages to cope with its laws in 22,480. Including rink and equipment specifications, hockey sticks in 11,408 words. The Darts Authority’s latest playing rules are barely a third of that, three times that at 4,275 words. The part of the International Weightlifting Federation rules that actually concerns weightlifting is only 1,325 words, clean and with minimal evidence of jerks. And so on, all the way to the World Association of Rock Paper Scissors, which needs just 62 words to explain the finer points of its game, and those involved may have learned from bitter experience the potential consequences of overuse of paper.

Every sport has its nuances, only some have more than others. Cricket, a sport where a single match can last five whole days, has a bit more to cover, and as updated last September, its regulations finally run out after 34,602 words. Add the preface and indexes and the entire document comes to 37,827. Used wisely, these are enough words to create an entire world – CS Lewis only needed 594 more for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It’s almost exactly half the length of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (but 52 times the length of the conversation between Potter and Oliver Wood establishing the rules of Quidditch) and represents 42% of The Handmaid’s Tale. Like those novels, it tries to conjure up its own, fully realized alternative reality. However, unlike them, no editor intervened when the authors’ imaginations got a little out of control.

Over the years, cricketers, with their underarm bowling, aluminum bat-wielding ways, have pulled at every stray thread left dangling by their rule weavers, repeatedly forcing them back into action to repair the damage. But now we’ve reached the point where almost everything imaginable is explicitly covered. Take, for example, Rule 19.5.1 subsection four: “A fielder is grounded out of bounds if any part of his/her person is in contact with another fielder who is grounded out of bounds, if the umpire considers that was the intention of any player in field that the contact should assist in putting the ball in the field.”

This is a section of the law of cricket which deals specifically with the possibility of one fielder standing on the shoulders of another, or perhaps being thrown into the air like a gymnast from a human pyramid, while both are outside the field of play, collecting the ball, and being carried back inside the ropes before that he returned to earth and claimed that he had caught well. At some point the committee gathered in one of the beautiful wood-paneled rooms inside the Lord’s Pavilion to specifically discuss the possibility that the captain, with at least 12,000 square meters of grass to defend, should decide not only to field two of his fielders outfield entirely, but also to select placing one on top of the other.

The picture that the next paragraph conjures is even better. Here we learn that “a player not in contact with the ground is considered to be grounded out of bounds if his/her last contact with the ground, prior to his/her first contact with the ball after being delivered by the pitcher, was not entirely in bounds”. Here, our brave team of legislators determined whether a fielder can catch the ball in bounds, throw it back into the air, catch it again out of bounds, throw it back into the air again, repeat the process as many times as fancy, and the batter is still out. Which they certainly can, as long as whenever they are in contact with the ball, they are also in the air. As New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham put it after becoming aware of this law a few years ago: “So I can endlessly jump up and down on the spot across the boundary patting the ball in the air until the other fielder runs to me , then touch it? Well, that’s stupid.”

Brisbane Heat's Michael Neser controversially dropped Sydney Sixers' Jordan Silk during the Big Bash.
Michael Neser controversially ditches Jordan Silk. Photo: Channel Seven

These are potentially unique laws in all serious sports, because they are very specifically conceived and worded to be as stupid as possible. And while the odds of the former ever being needed seem slim, last weekend in Australia’s Big Bash League, Brisbane Heat’s Michael Neser performed a double-jump and juggle on the boundary to dismiss Jordan Silk and remind the world of the absolute absurdity that Law 19.5 .1 subsection five.

Two days later, in the same contest, Tom Rogers was saved from a run on the non-offending side – Mankaded, if you will – because the pitcher’s arm went off the vertical before he turned to take the bails (law 38.3 .1), a nuance that I bowler, Australian Adam Zampa, a 30-year veteran of 148 international matches, was unaware until then. Then on Friday in Karachi, Pakistan were 15 runs from victory, one wicket from defeat and one way or another not more than 20 minutes from concluding a convincing Test against New Zealand with a score that both teams had spent five full days trying to achieve , when – and despite the presence of searchlights that enabled everyone involved to see clearly – the judges declared it a draw because it was getting a little dark elsewhere (Law 12.9.2).

If anything could be seen more clearly than the handling of the illuminated floodlights as the game ended unsatisfactorily, it was that, long as the laws of cricket are, they remain unfinished. Perhaps that committee should hurry back to its dingy wood-paneled room in St John’s Wood and, ideally, be a little more serious this time.

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