Mohammad Hafeez's dismissal for Obstructing the field in an ODI between Pakistan and South Africa brought this sometimes forgotten Law into the spotlight.
Hafeez was given out Obstructing the field early in Pakistan's chase in the fourth ODI at Kingsmead, Durban, by fourth Umpire Billy Bowden, following an appeal from the South Africa fieldsmen.
The dismissal brought Law 37 (Obstructing the field) into the spotlight.
Law 37 reads: 37.1 Out Obstructing the field
Either batsman is out Obstructing the field if he wilfully obstructs or distracts the fielding side by word or action.
Furthermore, it shall be regarded as obstruction if while the ball is in play either batsman wilfully, and without the consent of a fielder, strikes the ball with his bat or person, other than a hand not holding the bat, after the ball has been touched by a fielder. This shall apply whether or not there is any disadvantage to the fielding side.
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.
In 2011 the ICC added a clarification to their playing conditions for international cricket, which stated:
Law 37 shall apply.
For the avoidance of doubt, if an umpire feels that a batsman, in running between the wickets, has significantly changed his direction without probable cause and thereby obstructed a fielder’s attempt to effect a run out, the batsman should, on appeal, be given out, obstructing the field. It shall not be relevant whether a run out would have occurred or not.
If the change of direction involves the batsman crossing the pitch, Law 42.14 shall also apply.
MCC felt that the ICC clarification was contained within the first line of the Law, hence the use of their phrasing of “for the avoidance of doubt” rather than a stronger word like “additionally”. However, MCC had no concern over the ICC clarification and indeed the Club worked closely with ICC when this matter was being discussed.
When adjudicating on the Hafeez run out, Bowden would have been assessing both these statements, paying particular attention to whether the batsman has:
- Wilfully obstructed the fielding side through his action while running between the wickets.
He would have also considered whether;
- Hafeez significantly changed his direction without probable cause and obstructed the run out attempt.
Bowden clearly felt that the incident satisfied the Law and Hafeez was dismissed - though Pakistan had the last laugh, going on to level the series at 2-2 with a three-wicket win