Blind, Deaf and Clueless: Morality and the LBW Decision

The batsman took off for a quick single, point ran in, scooped the ball up, and flung the ball at the bowler’s end. It took out middle stump, sending it cartwheeling towards mid-on. The fielding team erupted in an excited appeal. The batsman was in by a mile, but the fielding team was sure it was out, run out.


Why does a fielding team think that any direct hit must be ‘out, run out’? It is part of the moral umpire syndrome; the syndrome where what would be so, in a ‘moral universe’, would be so. I always enjoy asking players who dispute a run out what is their technique? When the bat, ball, keeper’s gloves and the bails are all in play what do they watch as everything happens at once separated by a distance of at least four feet?


My technique is to mutter, “Watch the line, watch the line”, if I realise that a run out decision is likely at my end. I aim to pick up the bat, as it comes into view, watching the line, and pick up the breaking of the wicket with my peripheral vision. A thought that a technique is required in a run out decision is something that a most cricket fans have never considered.


The fielding team consider a great effort should be rewarded, but life is not fair. Morality is a more nuanced issue.


Umpires are infested by the ‘moral umpire syndrome’. Players expect and demand that they are so. Another moral umpiring decision that is contaminated by morality is the LBW decision required when a batsman pads up to a delivery. Most players demand that the normal thought of ‘when in doubt, not out’, is weakened or should go completely out the window when a batsman ‘pads up’. Even an umpire of the standing of Robyn Bailache told me that most of his LBW out decisions were when no shot was played.


Let’s think about this.  When the ball hits the pad outside the off stump, mid off is in the best position to see if the ball is going to hit the stumps. The umpire is not behind the line of the ball and this is why I rarely give these sorts of decisions out. I do ask mid off what he thought of the decision. I am not a moral LBW umpire.


I do have morals of course. I went to a catholic boarding school and learnt the Ten Commandments and the Hail Mary and my morality was tested on Sunday out in Clayton.


A Monash batsman was winning the game for his side until I gave him out LBW. He played one of those little paddle strokes, to a ball pitching on the stumps going on to hit middle, a stroke that an Australia born player would never had played. One of the joys of watching international cricket is watching the various nationalities play the way they do. Watching Azharuddin whip the ball through the leg side, Greenidge creaming the ball on the up through the off side, Boycott, upright and correct, playing the text book straight drive are all joys of our game.


The great Neville Cardus said of the great Ranjitsinhji that he never played a Christian stroke in his life.


This batsman I gave out claimed he had got a bottom edge to the ball. I reckon he was wrong. I reckon he probably hit the ball with the middle of the bat but deflected so little it went straight on and hit his pad. In keeping with the Cardus construction, this was a Hindu stroke, not a muscular Christian stroke i.e. stepping forward and hitting it through mid on. Why should I have to put up with these subcontinental perversions!


The bowler, Chris, thought it was out, and if he thought about it, I am sure he would agree that the batsman also deserved to be out.


I was mortified after realising I had got the decision wrong as one of my objectives is to get to Christmas without giving a bloke out LBW who has hit the ball. It isn’t going to happen this year but I am relieved somewhat by the circumstances. It was a poor decision, an incorrect decision, but a moral one.


Finally I use to love watching Lara bat as he hit the ball on the up outside the off stump like a West Indian but played off his pads like an Indian batsman. When I first saw him I assumed he was from mixed background. He isn’t but I wonder if playing with Indian kids lead him to become such a versatile player.


I would never have given Lara out, not ever.


  1. John Butler says

    Phil, to ask any batsman, no one has ever been out LBW. Ever.

    They are not to be trusted on the subject.

    I know. I was one of them.

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