Cow Corner

One bowler’s ‘bad habit’ leads to a bizarre law change

The rule-changer: Steven Finn

It is generally accepted that if a sportsman repeatedly does something wrong, unhelpful or against the rules then they will be punished for it or admonished; it is less likely to directly result in a positive and welcome rule change.

England paceman Steven Finn is far from an awkward or controversial type, and is as nice a man as one could wish to meet, most often to be found Tweeting inanely about his love of boybands, hair products and breakfast cereals.

But it is his 'bad habit' of clumsily hitting the stumps on his follow through that has prompted a sudden and, previously considered unnecessary, flourish of an over-priced fountain pen in St John's Wood.

The change to the laws of the game, rubber-stamped by the the Earl Grey-swilling MCC Committee, has been brought about specifically in response to Finn's persistent problem - almost like an eager-to-please agony aunt, only the alteration to the rules is certainly not in the favour of the bowler.

Essentially, if - well, let's be realistic, when - Finn next brushes his knee against the stumps in his follow through, as of October this year, it will result in a no-ball being called by the white coat in question, rather than the previous signal of a dead ball.

Although Finn has been running around cones and jumping over strangely-positioned ropes and ladders with England bowling coach David Saker for a number of months in an attempt to fix the lingering problem in his delivery stride, frustratingly, it has not gone away.

The 'bad habit' has seen umpires call dead-balls with annoying regularity since last August, and cost Finn another valuable wicket during the ODI series in India, when Suresh Raina edged a beautiful outswinging delivery to slip.

In the second ODI against New Zealand, Finn trialled a new, shortened run-up - with four strides removed - but still clipped the stumps at one point during the match. It was the exasperated expression on the Middlesex bowler's face on a world-weary trudge back to his mark that said it all.

As with most things in world cricket, this was all Graeme Smith's fault. The issue came to wider attention during England's home series against South Africa last summer, after a complaint from the batsmen - Smith in particular - that it was causing a distraction during the second Test at Headingley.

Clearly a touch of cheeky and brazen gamesmanship, it worked wonders for the tourists as England's prized hitman was almost immediately left subdued and shaken.

Smith was caught at slip off a fine delivery from Finn that was called dead-ball by the umpires, as Finn had clipped the stumps at the non-striker's end. At the time, the MCC announced that it would review the laws, but that was laughed off as being a 'committee matter' in the same way that the choice of white wine in the members' bars is reviewed bi-monthly.

Finn had been allowed one warning per series before a dead-ball was called, but even this on-the-hoof solution was not deemed fair or reasonable.

The half-baked previous ruling caused utter chaos earlier in the tour of New Zealand when Finn collided with the stumps during the second ODI and Brendon McCullum – of course – slogged it away for four. On this occasion, umpire Rod 'I've only got one set of eyes!' Tucker rather bizarrely allowed the delivery to stand as legal, and Alastair Cook could be heard on the stump mic asking him why a dead-ball wasn't called as it was earlier in the tour.

White coats have previously only been able to refer to 'Law 23.4(b)(iv)', which clearly (well, actually not very clearly at all) states that a dead-ball should be called whenever a batsman is "distracted by any noise or movement or in any other way while he is preparing to receive, or receiving a delivery".

But - hoorah! - the new ruling will now come into effect from October of this year, but the famously indecisive ICC can decide to implement the change immediately to reflect the law-to-be if they so wish.

Without doubt, the rule change is a good one: a dead ball from Finn could have prevented the winning runs being scored in the final over of a crucial match. Equally, he could have just continued to take wickets off 'dead balls' with the farcical scenes that duly follow.

Time for some deliciously pompous quotes from an 'egg 'n bacon' tie-wearing MCC suit...

"The MCC continues to act as a robust guardian of the laws of cricket, and must ensure that it consults widely within the amateur and professional game before making changes that will affect anyone who plays the game," the MCC's head of cricket, John Stephenson, said.

"The MCC's decision today to make the breaking of the stumps during the act of delivery a no-ball provides clarity to the situation and removes the need for a subjective assessment to be made by the umpire as to whether the striker has been genuinely distracted or not. It also ensures that the striker will still be credited with any runs that he scores from the delivery, and will act as a significant disincentive to the bowler from doing it."

Has that cleared things up satisfactorily? Okay, no - well we tried.

Cowers has always had a certain amount of scepticism that the 'MCC's Laws sub-committee' actually existed beyond a group of elderly gents meeting at The Ball and Bails pub every Thursday evening for a game of bridge, much like the mysterious Football Pools Panel, but this intervention has finally put that shameful misconception to bed.

The good old game of cricket now has a new (well, amended) law to add to the books and books of others - another quirk for ardent supporters to have to try to explain to their friends and family - and it's all Finn's fault, or Smith's, or both.

It's now time for the England paceman to well and truly shake this 'bad habit' of his, ensure that it does not now result in costly no-balls for his side, and to put his name in the history books of the game for all the right reasons.