When we watch or listen to matches on the television or radio, there are often events that prompt the commentators to ask where such an eventuality is covered in the Laws.
They sometimes end up explaining away the incident by stating that “there must have been a change in the Laws”, or by criticising a Law but actually confusing it with a Playing Condition.
This results in a knock-on effect that on the village green on a Saturday afternoon, an umpire’s decision may result in comments to the effect that it wouldn’t have happened in a Test match.
Often, however, it is nothing to do with the Laws, but a matter of Playing Conditions that apply to the match, series or tournament in question.
The Laws apply at all levels of cricket throughout the world, and to provide a consistent framework for the playing of cricket matches. Playing Conditions are written by the organisers of competitions or governing bodies – at international level that would be the ICC, at county level the ECB and so on.
Playing Conditions exist to modify, replace or suspend certain Laws to suit the level and type of cricket in question. These Playing Conditions may cover situations that appear on the surface to be obvious, and others not quite so.
As an example, Law 3.1 states that two umpires shall be appointed for a match, but in televised international matches, the ICC playing conditions confirm that there are four (two standing umpires, a third umpire and a reserve umpire), and also detail how they are appointed and their remit.
Clearly having the Law state that four umpires can be appointed to matches is inappropriate for the 99.99% of non-televised matches that are played around the world.
ICC has written a Playing Condition that bans the use of runners in international cricket – something that MCC has no intention of copying in the Laws.
So when a commentator says "you’re no longer allowed a runner", unless he explains that it is simply an ICC Playing Condition, the viewer may well think that he cannot have a runner on a Saturday afternoon.
A more subtle example of a variance between the Laws and the ICC’s Playing Conditions relates to Law 42.6. According to Law if a delivery, after pitching, passes over head height of the striker standing upright at the popping crease, the umpire is to call and signal No ball.
According to ICC Playing Conditions, such an occurrence in international cricket would require the umpire to call and signal Wide ball.