Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if he wilfully attempts to obstruct or distract the fielding side by word or action. In particular, but not solely, it shall be regarded as obstruction and either batsman will be out Obstructing the field if while the ball is in play and after the striker has completed the act of playing the ball, as defined in Law 33.1, he wilfully strikes the ball with
(i) a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury. See also Law 33.2 (Not out Handled the ball). (ii) any other part of his person or with his bat. See also Law 34 (Hit the ball twice).
37.2. Accidental obstruction
It is for either umpire to decide whether any obstruction or distraction is wilful or not. He shall consult the other umpire if he has any doubt.
37.3. Obstructing a ball from being caught
The striker is out should wilful obstruction or distraction by either batsman prevent a catch being made. This shall apply even though the obstruction is caused by the striker himself in lawfully guarding his wicket under the provision of Law 34.3 (Ball lawfully struck more than once).
37.4. Returning the ball to a fielder
Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if, at any time while the ball is in play and without the consent of a fielder, he uses his bat or any part of his person, including a hand not holding the bat, to return the ball to any fielder.
37.5. Runs scored
When either batsman is dismissed Obstructing the field,
(a) unless the obstruction prevents a catch from being made, runs completed by the batsmen before the offence shall be scored, together with any runs awarded for penalties to either side. See Laws 18.6 (Runs awarded for penalties) and 18.9 (Runs scored when a batsman is dismissed).
(b) if the obstruction prevents a catch from being made, runs completed by the batsmen shall not be scored but any penalties awarded to either side shall stand.
Reasons for the changes
Further to the comments relating to Law 33 (Handled the ball) above, much of the wording of Law 37 has been amended to tighten the wording and to clarify that self-defence can be allowed.
Interpretation and application
As well as continuing largely in its present form, Obstructing the field now takes over all the instances that in the past might have been Handled the ball, but now are not so because he is not playing (at) the ball. It is still paramount that any action is wilful.
37.1 It has been made clear that it will be obstruction, although not the only form of obstruction, if, once the striker has finished playing (at) the ball, either batsman wilfully strikes the ball with his bat or person. It must be remembered that ‘playing (at) the ball’ includes any second or later stroke in defence of his wicket and ‘person’ includes a hand not holding the bat. This includes the previous situation in which the illegal strike was after the ball has been touched by a fielder. In the case of a hand not holding the bat, as usual, no penalty will be incurred if it was an attempt to avoid injury.
37.3 It is confirmed that obstructing a fielder from making a catch is always a case of Obstructing the field, even though the action is by a hand not holding the bat and even though it arose from the striker making a second or further stroke in defence of his wicket.
37.4 Either batsman returning the ball to a fielder, without consent and while the ball is in play, is always to be regarded as obstruction, even though the action is by the striker using a hand not holding the bat. If, of course, he is returning the ball to a fielder, he is not playing the ball.
37.5 There is no substantive change here, only an adjustment to the wording.
Distinction between Obstructing the field and Handled the ball
The ‘offence’ in this incident is with a hand not holding the bat but, with the change to Law 33 restricting the moment when Handled the ball applies, only Law 37 (Obstructing the field) is now relevant.
For it to be given out Obstructing the field, the action of the batsman must be wilful and, if it is with a hand not holding the bat, it must not be done in self-defence.
It is not always clear, as in this example, whether the batsman’s motive is self-defence or obstructing the field. The umpires have to use their judgement on this.
Returning the ball to a fielder -- out Obstructing the field
The striker has picked up the ball, with a view to pass it to the fielding side. However, he picked it up without seeking their permission, and so will be out Obstructing the field, on appeal.
He will not be out Handled the ball, as he had finished playing the ball.
Example of Obstructing the field
The obstruction here is wilful
There is no reason for the batsman to hit the ball after it had been thrown by the fielder.