The Principle Behind LBWs And Why Technology Fails

Both Russ and A Cricketing View have excellent dissections of the merits of Hawk-Eye and its use in LBW decisions. Read both, especially Russ’ thorough analysis of Tendulkar’s referral of Saeed Ajmal’s LBW appeal (ultimately upheld, to the shock of most observers in the stadium and in the commentary box).

Let me just add this: the above discussions — and the broader debate right now in cricket — concern the accuracy of the technology. That’s important, but there’s a bigger principle at stake than scientific precision. I’m increasingly of the view that LBWs are not simply about the strict rules, but about a larger point: batsmen are supposed to hit balls with bats, not with pads. And when they fail to do so — intentionally or otherwise — they should be penalized.

Stay with me here. Right now, to adjudicate LBWs, we focus on a) where did the ball land; b) did it hit a batsman’s pads in line with the stumps; c) does it seem, looking at both height and the ball’s trajectory, that the ball will hit the stumps? But what if we added other, admittedly subjective criteria, like: a) was the batsman snookered by a brilliant ball? (E.g., Shane Warne’s flipper, anyone?) b) Did the batsman fail at a basic level and simply miss a ball? c) Umpires are loath to admit it, but I’m certain some LBWs are decided depending on the situation of a match — so, tailenders are easier to give out, unless they are the 9th wicket in a close match (recall Mitchell Johnson v. P. Ohja, during V.V.S. Laxman’s innings against Austalia).

Some people really resent these decisions, seeing them as a less-than-objective divergence from set rules. There should be no room for interpretation, these people say, because the umpire will have too much independence. In an earlier post on Asad Rauf, I compared this debate to the one in America concerning “activist” judges and “originalist” ones, who prefer a very strict reading of a legal text in reaching decisions. Well, count me in the first camp here. The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.

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9 thoughts on “The Principle Behind LBWs And Why Technology Fails

  1. Mahek says:

    Maybe the umpire should also be allowed to award a batsman more than 4 runs if he plays a gorgeous stroke. Maybe when the bowler beats the bat with 3 perfect outswingers the batsman should be adjudged caught behind.

    Yeah, that’s exactly how stupid this theory of having more subjectivity in LBW decisions (There’s already plenty of subjectivity in the onfield umpires’ decision-making) is.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Damn, Mahek. It was just a thought.

      • duckingbeamers says:

        Let me try and address this more clearly: you’re basically applying the ‘slippery slope’ argument, which, while valid, isn’t all that convincing. (Or is it reductio ad absurdum?)

        So, I tried to make a limited argument for more flexibility in LBW decisions, and you applied the same logic to other areas (catches; boundaries).

        I don’t think that’s completely fair. LBWs are different from other ‘outs’ — with a catch, the questions really are simple (did he hit it? Did he catch it?). Not so with LBWs; I think a certain amount of subjectivity or interpretation is implied (as Russ’ analysis of the Tendulkar referral showed — he basically got the benefit of an extremely slim doubt).

        And my larger argument is that LBWs aren’t just about where balls land, and where they hit the batsman. There’s a principle at stake: again, batsmen are supposed to hit the ball with their bats. (This is, as Russ says below, why we are less kind to batsmen who are struck on the pads when they leave a ball.)

        Technology, as it is currently used, cannot take account of this logic. It only looks at a strict version of the criteria. My point is that that’s not exactly how cricket has worked, and I think allowing some flexibility enriches the sport. This is a legitimate disagreement to be had, and umpires should be given the leeway to adjudicate.

  2. Russ says:

    Mahek, maybe the batsman should be given the benefit of the doubt… no wait, that happens already. The answer lies somewhere in between; you can’t have 100% accurate technology, and the system created, whereby an flawed umpire and his set of knowledge is second-guessed by a flawed replay system and its set of knowledge (albeit the set of knowledge most similar to what the viewer sees) is sub-optimal.

    As I’ve said before, my preferred option is for the technology to be given to the central umpire pre-decision; where it is better than 90% certain, tell the umpire what is obvious, where it is uncertain, let the umpire judge. And where it is uncertain, I agree with DB, the umpire should give due regard to whether the batsman has been beaten by the delivery, and the extent to which they played a stroke. On the latter, umpires already favour the bowlers under uncertainty when a batsman uses the pad instead of the bat, and rightly so.

  3. I would analyse this slightly differently. The principle isn’t really that batsmen are meant to hit balls with bats; that isn’t imperative in cricket. Theoretically, a batsman could remain in the crease indefinitely without ever making contact with the ball at all, though s/he’d certainly be a candidate to take over the title of ‘corpse with pads on’ from Bill Lawry. As long as the ball isn’t going to make contact with the stumps, that bat needn’t be swung at all; s/he won’t be given out for it – it will just be recorded as a dot ball.

    The principle, as I see it, is that batsmen must *defend the stumps* with the bat and not with the pads, etc. If the stumps aren’t in jeopardy, than it doesn’t really matter (as far as the batsman’s continued presence in the crease is concerned) what, if anything, the ball may have touched. As such, I think the question should rightly remain: ‘Would the ball have gone on to hit the stumps had it not first made contact with the pads?’, which, judging from the UDRS statistics I’ve seen, quite a few on-field umpires due more or less just as well as Hawk-Eye.

    • duckingbeamers says:

      Elise, thanks for the comment — and for the much-needed specificity. Yes, you are right; my description of the principle is too broad, and perhaps influenced too much by the T20 ethos of run-making.

  4. […] few off-the-cuff answers: 1) LBW rules are simple enough, even though I’ve argued for a more flexible approach. The problem, I suspect, is that in a pick-up game, you can’t create the Hobbesian umpire […]

  5. […] have talked before about how the rules of LBW should be open to the umpire’s interpretation (within reason). It is fine with me if some […]

  6. LBW has always been a confusing aspect for me and everyone I have spoken to. Even so that when we played friendly matches we more often than not left it default not-out else there is simply so much that make-shift umpires cant figure it out.

    I have always wondered why would we simply figure out one rule – “Is the ball going to hit the stumps” why worry about where it pitched and where it hit. If a bowler like Warne can spin the ball from behind for a wicket, why would a pad placed in between not be given out. The core principle as called out already remains – “Play with the bat”.

    But, DRS being new will be subject to criticism until people accept it for what it is and how it improves.

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