Steven Finn was denied Graeme Smith's wicket when Umpire Steve Davis signalled dead ball after the bowler disturbed the stumps at the non-striker's end. Was he right?
No specific Law dictates that a bowler should be penalised for accidentally disturbing the stumps at the non-striker's end, and Finn is one of a number of bowlers down the years who have regularly done so, as they attempt to get as close to the stumps as possible to deliver the ball. Rarely has dead ball been called on such occasions.
However, Umpire Davis chose to apply Law 23.4(b)(vi) which states that either umpire should call and signal dead ball when: “The striker is distracted by any noise or movement or in any other way while he is preparing to receive, or receiving a delivery. This shall apply whether the source of the distraction is within the game or outside it. The ball shall not count as one of the over.”
Jeff Crowe, ICC Match Referee, confirmed to MCC that Finn had broken the wicket at least three times prior to this specific incident. Both batsmen complained that it was a distraction and Finn was told to move over. The umpires decided that if it happened again they would call dead ball. It did and so Davis called it under 23.4(b)(vi).
Law 23.4(b)(iv) states that the umpire should call dead ball if “one or both bails fall from the striker’s wicket before the striker has had the opportunity of playing the ball.” By referring only to the striker’s wicket in that section, it follows that it should not automatically become a dead ball if the wicket at the bowler’s end is disturbed.
Whether the batsman is distracted – or indeed has time to be distracted – is a moot point. Smith hit two subsequent balls for four when Finn had broken the wicket but the runs were disallowed as dead ball had been called. If the striker really feels he is distracted, he can try to pull away and make no attempt to play the ball, although this may not always be possible with a fast bowler like Finn.
A precedent may have been set but it remains to be seen whether dead ball will be called on each occasion that this happens for the remainder of the match. Unlike some other Laws, there is no specified warning procedure for this situation. MCC’s Laws sub-committee will discuss the matter at its next meeting and will work closely with ICC on issuing guidance to umpires.
Of course, what the Umpire feels is distracting to the batsman is entirely subjective, but Davis was within his rights to signal dead ball if he was sure that Smith was indeed distracted.